HAVANA, Cuba, Thursday March 26, 2015, CMC – The European Union (EU) says it has agreed with Cuba to expedite the pace of normalizing ties with the hope of reaching an accord by the end of the year.
Federica Mogherini, the highest ranking EU official ever to visit Cuba, said the fact that she travelled to Havana so soon after taking up the foreign policy chief job on November 1 showed how important the relationship was.
“We have decided to speed up the pace of our negotiations, with the hope of signing the framework of our dialogue” by the end of the year, Mogherini said at a press conference here.
The EU said it suspended its relations with Cuba in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists.
But it began talks to restore them again in April 2014, aiming to persuade Havana to improve its human rights record, according to EU Business.
Europe is Cuba’s top trade partner after Venezuela, with trade of US$3.6 billion in 2013. It is also a major investor in Cuba’s key tourism sector, EU Business said.
But after two rounds of talks to normalize ties, Cuba postponed the third in December when its secret negotiations with the United States on restoring ties were in full swing.The third round was finally held earlier this month.
After those talks, the EU’s chief negotiator, Christian Leffler, said the two sides still had to overcome “differences of interpretation” on key issues, including Havana’s refusal to sign certain human rights treaties, according to EU Business.
The top EU diplomat met Tuesday with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, leader of the Catholic Church on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island – the only group there who can talk officially with the Communist government – as well as several ministers and senior officials, including President Raul Castro.
Mogherini said human rights were a key part of the dialogue with Cuba but she did not get into specifics.
She said talks with Castro on this issue were “positive”, announcing a 50-million Euro plan to help Cuba’s agriculture sector and its economic modernization.
Overshadowing these talks is the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States after 50 years of enmity stemming back to the Cold War. In December they announced they plan to restore full diplomatic ties, EU Business said.
Mogherini said there is no competition between the US and the EU with regard to ties with Cuba, calling them “different processes”.
She reiterated EU opposition to the US trade embargo against Cuba.
After US President Barack Obama and Castro announced their countries’ historic move to restore diplomatic ties on December 17, some of the 28 EU members reacted by demanding the bloc accelerate its own normalization talks with Cuba.