The first priority is to institutionalize a relation that has been out of the ordinary. If a bilateral agreement is reached, it would be a contradiction for the EU to maintain the Common Position, stated Eduardo Perera, expert on European affairs.
Cuba might cease to be an exception in the European foreign policy if the group of the 28 and the Caribbean nation reach a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement. The first steps in this regard were taken on April 29 and 30 in Havana during a meeting where representatives from Cuba and Brussels agreed on the course and the bases and procedures that would define the long and complex negotiations to come, considering the tension that has characterized the links between both parts.
This meeting was arranged almost two months after Cuba accepted a proposal by the high representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton —presented on February 10–, with the purpose of retaking negotiations on the standardization of relations.
PhD. Eduardo Perera, professor of Contemporary History at the University of Havana, talked with OnCuba about the context of these negotiations, the position of the parts, the political significance of the agreement they aim at reaching and its scope.
Why has the EU decided to boost dialogues with Cuba on the standardization of their relations after a gap of more than 25 years?
In order to answer that question, it is necessary to make reference to the Common Position, which was adopted unilaterally by the Council of Ministers of the EU in December 1996. It is the document that governs the EU’s relations with Cuba, a document that disregarded Cuba’s stand about its content.
This instrument is still valid, though there have been some changes. A few times it has been revised every six months and some others once a yearto check its validity, but it hasn’t been checked nor publicly mentioned lately.
I make this reference because the main reason of the EU’s decision to initiate the dialogue with Cuba has to do with the fact that its member countries have noticed the ineffectiveness of this instrument to accomplish the objectives of the foreign policy of the EU to Cuba.
The influence any foreign policy by an international actor can legally exert on other international actors, in the case of the Common Position, is entirely inoperable. Even the member States of the EU have no respect for it. At present, there are nations that belong to the EU and maintain cooperation with Cuba, which is in disagreement with the content of the Common Position.
In short, the Common Position establishes that there will be no progress in bilateral cooperation until Cuba has made some advancements in terms of democracy and human rights, in accordance with the EU’s perception.
However, from 2008 on, bilateral cooperation has moved on and Cuba maintains regular relations with half the EU’s member States. Therefore, something has changed.
We could say there is a contradiction. The Common Position is valid and there is cooperation. If there is cooperation is because there has been a change of circumstances. Then, why isn’t it abolished? It is a paradox.
I believe that the member countries of the EU, encouraged by those with a clearer view of and perhaps more interested in Cuba, have realized of the ineffectiveness of the Common Position.
Obviously, the changing international context has also had some influence. Firstly, in 2008, the sanctions approved in 2003 against Cuba were lifted during the so-called Black Spring when 75 dissidents were arrested and imprisoned. In 2005, regardless of the fact that these sanctions had been suspended they remained in force. Their implementation was left to the discretion of the EU member States, but, in 2008, after several diplomatic negotiations, they were fully lifted. This was a first step that opened up possibilities of cooperation with the European Commission and political dialogues with the EU.
Another important factor was the change of government in the United States. It is a fact that Barack Obama’s administration has not met the expectations aroused regarding a change of policy and relations with Cuba, butundeniably it has created a better atmosphere than that of his predecessor George W. Bush. Obama’s administration with regards to the EU’s policy to Cuba has been less invasive… For instance, in this process by the EU to begin negotiations with Cuba, there have been no official statements by the US government, at least not that I’m aware of. During George Bush junior, I think this would have been impossible.
There is another element related to Cuba’s mission in the Group of Rio, the subsequent constitution of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) and Cuba’s leading role in it.
In addition, there have been some other regional elements such as the agreement by the Organization of American States (OAS) to lift the resolution suspending Cuba from that organization, even though Cuba did not want to be a part of it.
These are significant regional changes. The change in the perception of the regionin contrast with Cuba cannot be avoided by the EU. The EU’s relation with Latin America and the Caribbean is defective and troublesome but Cuba must be part of it because it is included in the regional context.
To what extent this will to begin negotiations with Cuba is due to the recent changes Cuba is engaged in?
The updating of the Cuban economic model, the Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Cuban Communist Partyand the current economic and institutional changes have been perceived by the EU and by the rest of the international actors.
The internal Cuban context is part of the package. The EU values all those elements in the frame of their platform of interests with Cuba and their conception of liberalization in Cuba. There is a change in the conception of the way things work in Cuba. I think that’s the EU’s conclusion, that’s what it is interested in.
In your opinion, what is the reach of the agreement to be negotiated in Havana?
I believe it will be a simple agreement in contrast with other agreements the EU has signed with international counterparts. But that may be a guarantee for success.
Cuba and the EU have maintained relations for 26 years; however, up to present day, they have not agreed on a legal instrument to support them. Pretending that the first negotiations will result in a thorough agreement would be a mistake on both sides.
For that reason, I think that in the first place they will negotiate a simple agreement to institutionalize the relations between Cuba and the EU, mostly those built gradually but on solid grounds since 2008, when the sanctions were lifted.
If they reach an agreement, this might leave an open door for going further in the terms previously agreed. In other instruments of the EU this is called evolutionary clause, which acknowledges that agreements can evolve into thorough agreements. I think they will probably leave that door open.
It is a clever option to institutionalize what exists already rather than aiming at getting to the top with a single step. This is about taking a step at a time.
Which would you say the EU’s and Cuba’s priorities are?
The first priority is to normalize relations, which have not been regular along these 26 years due to several factors. First, because none of the two actors involved is normal. The EU is an international organization, not a state-owned entity – regardless of the efforts to present it as such– that aims at maintaining a common international projection with lots of faults and limitations, mainly now in the midst of a crisis. Therefore, it is really hard to take a stand in representation of its 28 member countries.
Though this might sound a bit odd, Cuba is not a normal actor either for two reasons. First, Cuba is a developing nation from the third world. However, it records economic and social rates similar to nations from the first world in fields like health, education, population aging, etc. If you check the UN’s Human Development Report you will observe Cuba is in a good position in those statistics.
Second, throughout the Cuban revolutionary history, it has been a geopolitical challenge for the US regional hegemony. Is there any other nation with Cuba’s social and economic conditions that would stand up to the US as Cuba has done during the past 55 years? From this perspective, Cuba is not a normal actor either. Hence, it is impossible to have a regular relationship with an actor from the first world as the EU taking into account the said Cuba’s and the EU’s characteristics.
I wanted to explain all these elements to make you understand why I am talking about standardizing relations. For standardizing I mean establishing a relation that does not discriminate any of the parts in contrast with those they independently have with other international actors. This does not imply there will be future conflicts. On the contrary, normal relations face internal conflicts, but there must not be a relation governed by a unilateral instrument.
Once they reach an agreement, this can be favorable for both actors on a daily basis.
For both, probably more for Cuba, it is a priority from the political viewpoint. Cuba is the only Latin American nation that is not linked to the EU by a legal instrument, and one of the few countries worldwide in that situation.
That’s a problem, because the lack of an agreement is assessed from the image it conveys. Many people wonder: Why isn’t therean agreement with Cuba? Is Cuba’s situation so exceptional internationally that it doesn’t deserve an agreement with the EU?, mostly when they know the arguments presented by the EU and are aware of the fact that it has agreements with nationsin deplorable situations in terms of democracy and human rights.
Then, it is discrimination. This fact enhances the significance of the political dialogue with their counterparts, no matter the results. The EU wants to maintain a political dialogue with Cuba as a means of exerting some influence on the internal situation, on the way the economy, politics and institutions work in Cuba.
On the other hand, the EU gives a political use to the cooperation for development it offers to third world nations, it makes it politically conditional, and Cuba has to watch that.
Then, the agreement doesn’t have an economic value?
This does not mean it doesn’t have an economic value. It does, because by institutionalizing relations it will acknowledge the existing cooperation and will probably bring about new cooperation projects and financings. Nonetheless, this kind of agreement lacks a financial protocol; there is not an outline of resources where Cuba will be granted a certain amount of million euros during a period of time.
Yet, by institutionalizing the relation it gains value because Cuba might have access to the European Investment Bank, but for that there is a prerequisite: to be the signatory of a bilateral agreement with the EU.
There are not reasons for expecting multimillionfunds, but they are considerable funds for certain projects, mainly infrastructure projects, which are privileged by the European Investment Bank. In the current situation, Cuba has publicly expressed that foreign investment is a key factor for development and that might become an additional element to taking positive steps in the economic front.
There is another economic and institutional element. An agreement with the EU speeds up any proceedings that may need to be carried out in institutions in the EU.
If there isn’t an agreement, projects have to go through an endless number of steps before its approval. Nevertheless, if there is an agreement, approvals are remitted to the agreement and the process is faster.
There isn’t to be expected either that an increase in the cooperation funds will solve Cuba’s economic situation.
The EU will supposedly get to the negotiations with a consensus among its 28 members. However, nations like Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Sweden are reluctant to leave the Common Position aside. Does this imply an additional element to the intended negotiations now?
A singular element of these negotiations is that they will be carried out while the Common Position is still in force. That’s very particular because the Common Position has been eroded even within the hall of the EU’s institutions. Most member nations do not comply with it. It has been ineffective, but it is an instrument the EU still has in its power.
Considering the EU’s way of acting, its members would have to vote unanimously in order to eliminate the Common Position, and that would imply acknowledging they have made a mistake or that there has been a radical change of epoch. But they will not be able to do it because there isn’t unanimity to change that policy, nor to maintain it either. I mean, the Europeans are trapped in a dead alley.
It calls my attention the opening of negotiations while the Common Position is still in force. It probably shows a more pragmatic position towards Cuba. And I don’t mean Cuba accepts the Common Position. I am sure it will never agree to that. The thing is that if they reach an agreement it would be a coup de grace for the Common Position.
I think that’s included in the Cuban position, which not only makes it more pragmatic but also more flexible than the EU’s, given that it has declared nothing will change its position. We will have to wait and see because if the agreement is reached, the Common Position and the agreement will create a legal contradiction.
The Common Position establishes that as long as Cuba makes no progress in terms of democracy and human rights, for instance, there will be no progress in bilateral cooperation but, if an agreement is reached and all the EU’s institutions approve it, how will they maintain the Common Position if the agreement establishes the opposite? That would be a legal aberration that could not be backed up.
Still, with the EU it is necessary to be clear about everything. Although it is presented as a whole, including all actors, it is essential to take into account the individual positions of every member and the balance of power among them.
Last February 10, all the European nations voted in favor of starting dialogues with Havana, but it is not a secret that some of them will try to prevent it. How? Cuba doesn’t negotiate with all the nations at the same time. It will dialogue with a negotiating team of the European Foreign Action Service, but the wording of the agreement must be presented to each member country and afterwards to the European Parliament, and that’s where it can get thorny.
At some point you stated that the Common Position is not implemented by the member countries of the EU and then you said that a bilateral agreement with Cuba would be the coup de grace for that instrument. So, what is the use of that instrument at present?
It is a pressure instrument. They know it generates discomfort. Besides, it is still in force, it has not been eliminated and at any point the member states might start using it as the ruling document for Cuba.
It was recently published that the EU and the US are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement. Would that and the negotiations between Havana and Brussels have an effect on Washington’s policy towards Cuba?
The EU is in a weak position to bear some influence on the US, and even less in terms of its policy towards Cuba. In the US Cuba is a matter of domestic rather than foreign policy. During more than 50 years of blockade against Cuba, all the evidence confirming that is a wrong and counterproductive policy that affects US entrepreneurs has not been enough for a change. Therefore, a simple agreement between Cuba and the EU cannot trigger a change of that magnitude. So, I don’t think that’s possible.
Another example: the US has included Cuba in a list of nations that sponsor terrorism; the EU hasn’t and that has had no effect.
The EU lacks international influence. It is huge from the economic and commercial point of view, with outstanding heavy weights such as Germany and in that regard they have to take it into account. But it is not the same for politics.
From the political and moral perspective, the agreement with the EU can be added to the list of international actions againts the US blockade.
Then again, Cuba will negotiate with European institutions, not with the enterprises that trade with it. If a European company that undertakes a project with Cuba as part of that agreement breaches the provisions by the US blockade, the US government will sanction it. I don’t think the agreement to be signed with the EU will be able to solve that contradiction.
Furthermore, despite Obama’s administration policy can stop being invasive and become permissive in the case of the negotiations between Cuba and the EU, we still have to wait and see, until the agreement is concluded, if Washington will do something. It can promote actions that don’t directly involve the US government, but it can certainly encourage them.
One of the risks of the negotiation is its extension. There is no problem if it is for the sake of a measured, successful, well-thought agreement acceptable for both parts. However, taking into account the vulnerability that has characterized the links between the EU and Cuba, the longer the negotiations the weaker it becomes.
It is necessary to keep in mind that these negotiations have enemies in and out of Europe.
By Jorge Luis Rodríguez González