Federica Mogherini, Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. – Mr President, the path of dialogue and cooperation, as we just discussed, is not always the easiest, but it is always a path worth taking. As Europeans we have always believed and invested in dialogue. I would say even more so when we have differences and difficulties.
Last summer, this Parliament voted to open a new phase in our relationship with Cuba. We decided, all the European institutions together, to continue to engage to build new channels for a deeper and stronger dialogue with Cuba. Because we believe this is the best possible way, not only to build a more peaceful and cooperative international environment, but also to improve the daily lives of our people, both in Europe and, crucially, inside Cuba.
It is quite clear that we do not see eye-to-eye on all issues, we do have several disagreements with the Cuban Government. But only through dialogue and engagement can we address our differences, explore avenues of cooperation in different sectors and accompany Cuba in its modernisation, in particular in these times of change, with the end of the mandate of President Castro’s coming up.
Today, we are here to discuss the preparations for the first joint Council between the European Union and Cuba and the way ahead. But let me start with a quick mention of what has happened since we signed our political dialogue and cooperation agreement.
Our cooperation has started to make a positive difference for the people, and this is, I believe, what counts the most. I have seen it during my visit to Cuba at the beginning of this year. I have visited the centre for Cuban youth that we have opened in old Havana, together with UNICEF, that is providing young Cubans with the skills they need to live better lives and the space to meet and work on common projects in many different fields. I have also seen the new Centre for EU-Cuba Cultural Relations in the historic Palacio del Segundo Cabo.
International cultural relations for the people of Cuba are an opportunity to meet the world and to look beyond their island, as well as to strengthen their own cultural tradition. And finally, while being there, I heard the stories of 180 000 men, women and children who were hit by Hurricane Irma.
We, the European Union, intervened immediately with our humanitarian aid in their support, and we are also helping them restart their farms and rebuild their homes in a more sustainable way so that the next hurricane will be less devastating than the last one.
These are three examples of concrete projects that have already improved the life of the Cuban people thanks to our cooperation. And to me this is a sign of how promising this new season in our relations can be. The first joint Council meeting, which we plan to hold in mid-May, will be the opportunity to consolidate and expand this work. Together with the Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, we expect to launch a number of sectoral dialogues in new areas of cooperation.
Let me mention just three of them. One, renewable energy, which is key for both of us. Second, sustainable agriculture, especially for the areas most hit by the hurricane. Third, culture. I mentioned that already. Let me stress in particular, as we mark the year of European Culture and in the year when the City of Havana celebrates its 500th anniversary. This is a field where I see enormous potential for our relations to be increased and deepened.
Of course the Joint Council will also be an opportunity to discuss other issues, for instance the US embargo and its extraterritorial effects. As you know, the European position is very clear. We have already expressed it several times, we believe the embargo does not achieve the goal to improve the lives of the Cuban people. On the contrary, it is only damaging the Cuban people and the Cuban economy.
As we prepare for the Joint Council, we are also working to formalise our annual human rights dialogue. As you know, such dialogue has already started informally in 2015. Since then, it has allowed us to exchange on human rights issues directly, in a very open, frank, constructive manner with the Cuban authorities. And let me say if we care about human rights in Cuba – and we all care in this room – if we care about widening the space for civil society, this is the best path to follow, to the benefit of the Cuban people.
Our political dialogue and cooperation agreement is the tool we need to better accompany and support a process of economic and social reform. It is the best tool we have to work for sustainable development, social justice, democracy and human rights. We do have disagreements, as I said, and I am sure our Cuban friends would say the same.
But there is also a lot that unites the European people and the Cuban people. We both believe in international cooperation and dialogue as the best way to address international disputes. We believe that a multilateral global order is possible and it would help us build a more sustainable development world-wide. And I don’t mention here all the cultural, historic links, the social links that are there between our people.
So let us continue engaging, aware of the differences, ready to address them, in a spirit of dialogue, respect and frankness, aware also of the opportunities for our common work in different sectors of cooperation, and continuing to work on our side in unity.
The European Parliament, together with all other European institutions, and continuing to invest in dialogue, again, respectful, without hiding the differences and the difficulties, but also taking all the opportunities that this dialogue can bring about.
Federica Mogherini, Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy First, on the Cuban Civil Society – many of you referred to it I agree it has a critical role to play and to fulfil also through our delegation. Indeed it is not true and it has never been true that we do not have bilateral relations between the European Union and Cuba. The Cuban Ambassador is in Brussels, accredited to the European Union, and our Delegation is active in Havana and all over the island, not only for diplomatic exchanges, but also for running the various projects, including the humanitarian and development projects that we run on the island. So definitely we do have a strong and active diplomatic channel and presence, both of Havana in Brussels and of the European Union in Havana.
Through our delegation in Havana, the role of civil society is constantly encouraged. Meetings and regular exchanges take place. I myself, during a the recent visit and previous visits, have always managed to have the opportunity to meet, even if my visits were always extremely short, members of civil society.
Regarding human rights, I believe, as many of you have said, that it is clear that our ideas, our principles, our practices in terms of human rights and democracy are different. This is no mystery. But I believe that isolation has never proven to be a way to encourage positive developments. What can encourage positive developments and what can channel our approach, our principles and our expectations is a strong, open, frank and constructive dialogue based on respect, but also on very clear messages that we never hide. So I believe it is more communication and more cooperation that will bring about positive developments, including in the area of fundamental freedoms.
It is no mystery that Cuba, the European Union Member States and the European Union as a whole have different political systems; this is obvious to all of us I believe, and as I said, the role of civil society and the issue of human rights and fundamental freedoms are part of our dialogue and our common work. And I believe that one key element of the agreement we have is also the formalisation of the human rights dialogue. I think this is also one of the reasons why this Parliament approved and backed the agreement we negotiated.
As I said, isolation has failed over decades to bring any positive developments, either in the island, or in our relations, including on relations between the European Union and the region. Some of you referred to the fact that Cuba also has a regional role in the Caribbean and in Latin America. Having this channel of dialogue open can be useful and helpful.
Isolation, on the opposite, has, as some of you mentioned, traditionally strengthened conservative forces. And this is why I believe we all together consider it important that this agreement entered into force and this is why this Parliament has given its consent last year to adopt this historical agreement, and the Member States by unanimity adopted it. I believe this is the expectation with which we enter into this process. Some of you rightly mentioned: now we have the agreement, we have the institutional backing on the European side to this agreement, we know all the opportunities and all the challenges we still have in front of us. We simply have the instruments to enter into a different phase.
I believe that now the point is to implement this agreement using this instrument, and I count on this Parliament to accompany this process, as we proceed with the implementation of the agreement in all its different sectors, which also means holding the first Joint Council in May. As I mentioned, we have discussed, when I was in Havana in January, to open different sectoral dialogues, to explore the different opportunities that open up, but also to address the difficulties we might have, including the formalisation of the human rights dialogue. So I would expect that this Parliament will accompany us in this implementation phase, keeping clear our perspectives, our differences and our points of convergence.
Let me finish by supporting very much what the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) mentioned, David McAllister, about the need and opportunity to have an AFET delegation visiting Cuba. I raised this personally with the Cuban authorities during my visit in January, including with the President of the National Assembly of the Parliament there, who welcomed this idea in a positive manner. Obviously, I will continue to encourage to move in this direction, because I believe that the contacts need to be deepened, as I said, in respect of the differences and in openness of the differences at all levels – institutions, but also, as I mentioned, civil society, human rights activists, and the Parliament as well has an important role to play here that I believe is important.
So I thank you for this debate and I thank you most of all for the work you will continue to do to accompany me in the implementation of this agreement.