- Title: Europe gently presses change in Cuba with political deal
- Date: 12th December 2016
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (FILE) (REUTERS) EU FLAGS OUTSIDE COUNCIL BUILDING
- Embargoed: 27th December 2016 10:41
- Keywords: EU Cuba relations U.S. Trump
- Location: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- City: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- Country: Belgium
- Reuters ID: LVA0015CKVZ9J
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:The European Union and Cuba signed a political accord on Monday (December 12) that the EU hopes will position its companies for Cuba's transition to a more open economy and allow it to press for political freedoms on the island.
In the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since the EU lifted sanctions on the communist island in 2008, the so-called political dialogue and cooperation agreement is the first accord between Cuba and the 28-nation bloc.
Although modest in scope, it follows more than two decades of EU diplomacy to set out a framework for stronger ties and comes weeks after the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, whose imprisonment of dissidents long hampered better relations.
Offering condolences for Castro's death, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the European Union was moving closer to Cuba as it underwent "profound change." EU officials say the deal gives European diplomats and officials the right to raise human rights issues directly with Cuba and to gently press for reforms.
"It is a historic day. We've turned the page and, today, we begin to write a new chapter together. In fact, I'm also pleased to inform you that the European Council has adopted the decision to overturn the 1996 European Union's common position on Cuba, effective as of today's signature," Mogherini said at signing ceremony with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in Brussels, along with EU foreign ministers and ambassadors.
Rodriguez Parrilla said the agreement would develop commercial, cultural, financial and scientific links across the Atlantic, saying the accord was a proof both sides could "rise above our differences" and return to "mutual respect".
"There are opportunities and, indeed, some very favourable conditions, despite the exterritorial application of the ongoing United States blockade of Cuba. These conditions exist and the European Union and its member states can actually play a major part, an increasing part in our development plans. Economic links with Europe will continue to be a priority for Cuba, as we build an efficient, sustainable, socialist economy," he said.
Normalization of relations has been tortuous partly because of resistance from the EU's eastern members due to their own communist past, while Havana's arrest of dissidents in 2003 led the bloc to impose diplomatic sanctions, limiting contacts.
The EU's strategy has been less trumpeted that Barack Obama's push for better ties with Havana, which culminated in his historic visit this year, the first by a U.S. president to Cuba in 88 years.
But EU officials say that given the United States economic embargo on Cuba since 1962 remains in place, Europe's new accord may do far more to end the communist island's isolation, with the EU already the top foreign investor in Cuba.
Rodriguez Parrilla and Mogherini, at a joint news conference, dismissed any risk to the agreement following the U.S. election victory of Donald Trump, who has threatened to reverse Obama's easing of travel and other restrictions on Cuba.
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