During the first State visit by a Cuban President to France and a member nation of the European Union – at the beginning of last month – following on from the first visit made by a French President to Cuba (May 2015), Army General Raúl Castro described how the two countries are working toward “promoting construction of a new stage of relations between the European Union and Cuba, on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocity, in particular regarding negotiation of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, underway since April of 2014, currently in a very advanced phase.”
The President of the ProgressiveAlliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D Group)in the European Parliament, renowned Italian politician Gianni Pittella, who recently led a delegation of MEPs to the island, spoke about this and other relevant matters which, if we consider ourselves to be cohabitants of the same planet, not only concern the European Parliament, but us all.
The leader of the S&D noted that the agreement in question – supported by his group – is a priority, given that Cuba is the only country in the region with which the EU does not have a document of this kind.
“Negotiations with Cuba must advance with greater speed in order to reach a definitive cooperation agreement because until now this matter has been a black hole which must be filled, and secondly, we must promote and develop integration with Latin America as a part of a political project, because the EU itself is a political integration mechanism.”
Two successful CELAC-EU Summits and, in Cuba’s case specifically, visits by senior officials from both sides, such as that of the S&D delegation to Havana, which coincided with a visit by Germany’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Minister of Economy and Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, represent noteworthy events in the history of ties between the two regional organizations.
Speaking to Granma on various occasions, EU Ambassador and head of the organization’s delegation in Cuba, Herman Portocarero, has highlighted the positive state of relations between the two parties which are currently at “an extremely interesting” phase of their development, while also noting substantial progress made toward reaching the aforementioned agreement. The core aspect of the accord not only concerns exchanges between diplomats, but also the need for bi-directional inter-institutional dialogue.
This is an important matter for the Cuban delegation, given that the EU – an organization with global reach – is the island’s second most important trading partner; top export destination, number two – after Venezuela – on the island’s list of importers and main source of foreign investment projects (71%) established in the country.
During his intense visit to Havana, Pittella, with a longstanding and solid career in Italian politics and the European Parliament, made the most of every encounter, every space, to demonstrate both his and the group’s support for the continuation of the European Union and the rapprochement with the island.
During one of his exchanges with the press, Pittella described the S&D’s current priorities, including those specifically related to Cuba.
First, he noted, “is to ensure an economic revival within the region and policies with a broader reach, after a long phase of austerity which has greatly weakened the European economy and has brought social unity to its knees.
”The second priority is to effectively manage the movement of peoples and the migratory crisis, by distributing refugees in accordance with member nation’s capacity to receive them, underpinned by the key principle of solidarity,” he noted.
The third is “to develop the EU’s foreign policy, to make it a genuine actor, player and contributor on the international stage, and not only though our relations with the United States, but also with Latin America given that they have been somewhat neglected over recent years and must be revived.”
Speaking about elements which he believes to be of strategic importance, such as expanding ties, social cohesion and sustainable development, factors which for him continue to be the ingredients for a European recipe to escape the economic crisis, Pittella noted that “in order to achieve sustainable development, you have to consider the basis on which relations between both countries are established and try to make it more flexible to allow for investments in sectors which are more productive in terms of work and cohesion.”
Co-author, together with Thomas Fazi, of the book The night of Europe –which explores regional tensions given Greece’s possible exit from the Eurozone – the member of parliament warned of certain issues which (in his opinion) spell the end of the EU. Among them, he highlighted the migratory crisis which has met with “a diversity of responses from countries, a consensus hasn’t been reached among them, with the main division lying between eastern and western European countries. And in this regard – once again with the support of the entire Group – I have made the commitment to ensure that division doesn’t occur and we remain united in the face of the crisis.”
Pittella highlighted increasing investment in receiver countries (which despite proving a quick way to resolve the refugee crisis, also acts as an incentive to migrants), or in emissary nations, as the most effective solution to deal with the migration crisis, while also noting that far from what is being claimed by various political groups via different media outlets, Europe is “not experiencing an invasion.”
An encouraging sign of the region’s willingness to provide more substantial assistance to refugees, is the recent proposal by the European Commission to create a new emergency assistance mechanism, which according to a March 2 press release, is “to be used within the European Union to provide a faster, more targeted response to major crises, including helping Member States cope with large numbers of refugees.”
In the statement, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides said: “With this proposal, we will be able to deliver emergency assistance for crises much faster than before, inside the European Union. Right now, there’s no doubt that this will be particularly needed to support refugees. No time can be lost in deploying all means possible to prevent humanitarian suffering within our own borders. Today’s proposal will make €700 million available to provide help where it is most needed. I now look to European governments and the European Parliament to quickly back the proposal.”
The document continues: “The Commission will urgently propose, to the European Parliament and to the Council as the budgetary authorities, an amending budget for 2016 to create the budget line for the instrument. The estimated needs for 2016 are €300 million with a further €200 million each for use in 2017 and 2018, respectively.”
As such “funding would therefore not be diverted from existing external humanitarian aid programmes outside the EU.” The proposal thus constitutes an attempt at reversing the migration crisis which according to some media is seeing several European governments on the brink of suspending the region’s passport-free travel zone under the terms of the Schengen Agreement.
A close look at these matters reveals that inside the EU clear actions in support of maintaining the regional bloc are being carried out across various spheres; while if we turn our attention to its relationship with Latin America we see another potential area for greater interaction.