World Bulletin/News Desk
On Feb. 10, the EU agreed to begin negotiations with Cuba to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights in its most significant diplomatic shift since Brussels lifted sanctions on the communist-ruled country in 2008.
After more than a year of discussions, EU foreign ministers decided last month to seek better ties with Havana to support the Caribbean island nation's market-oriented reforms and to position European companies for any transition to a more open economy.
EU negotiators aim to complete the so-called Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement by the end of 2015 and say Cuba has signaled a willingness to sign.
While EU investment in Cuba and progress toward multiparty democracy are not expected to change dramatically in the near future, the pursuit of the accord is symbolic, highlighting the bloc's warmer ties with Cuba in contrast with the United States, which has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba since 1962.
To do so, the two sides will have to reach a new accord that is agreeable to all 28 member states, including Poland and the Czech Republic, which have taken a hard line on Cuba given their own communist pasts.
EU officials have repeatedly said human rights would be a core issue in the negotiations.
Cuba and the European Union share "common ground" on Cuba's social and collective human rights but differ on individual rights, EU Ambassador Herman Portocarero told reporters in Havana last month. Cuba's one-party system inhibits dissent and free speech.
Although U.S.-Cuba relations have taken a more pragmatic tone recently, with officials from both sides pointing to improvements, Washington has barely budged since easing Cuban travel restrictions in 2011.Last Mod: 06 Mart 2014, 17:57