Netherlands breaks with EU to open dialogue with Cuba

Frans Timmermans [European Commission]

The Dutch foreign minister signed an agreement on Tuesday (7 January) with his Cuban counterpart to engage in political consultations, breaking ranks with the European Union which limits high-level visits and talks with the Communist-run Caribbean island.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, on the second of a two-day visit to Cuba, urged the European Union to adjust its relationship with Cuba, stating, "Havana through the centuries has been a meeting point between Europe and the Americas and I believe it still has an important role to play in this regard."

Timmermans, as he sat down for talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, praised Cuba's efforts to "bring an end to the last violent conflict in the region," referring to its hosting of peace talks between the Colombian government and local rebels.

Rodriguez said he welcomed the opportunity to hold discussions on issues of common interest and that changes underway on the island represented an opportunity for Dutch businesses.

As part of market-oriented reforms under President Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, Cuba recently opened a Chinese-style special economic zone and is preparing a new foreign investment law.

A delegation of businessmen accompanied Timmermans on his visit, the first by a Dutch foreign minister since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

The Netherlands is a staunch advocate of human rights and democracy and actively supports dissident organizations in Cuba. It also has strong commercial ties with the island, with the Port of Rotterdam serving as an entry point for Cuban nickel and other goods headed for various countries.

Trade between the two countries was €581 million in 2012, almost exclusively Cuban exports.

It was not clear if Timmermans would meet with dissidents before his departure later on Tuesday.

The European Union adopted what is known as the "common position" in 1996, which conditions its relations with Cuba to progress towards a pluralistic political system and respect for human rights.

Cuba has rejected the policy on the grounds that it interferes in the country's internal affairs.

"I think dialogue is a better way than turning our backs to each other," Timmermans said on Monday.

"I think it is time for Europe to revise its position on Cuba and see if we can negotiate a new position towards Cuba," he said at the opening of a soccer training workshop in Havana, hosted by Dutch players. 

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Patrick Sudlow's picture

Congratulations to Holland, for doing something that should of happened when Castro came to power. The boycott is an USA attack on another countries sovereignty because they had the will, to nationalise corrupt USA interests in Cuba. The continued boycott of Cuba is immoral, as is the EU's continued support of Israel, which should be boycotted.

Vladan Lausevic's picture

As liberal and EU-citizen I support further development and function of EU: s common foreign and security policy. However foreign policy is often hard to “federalize” and some changes have been made in the Cuban society since 1996 which can explain the action taken by Netherlands. If a member state has a long time experience of relationships with country outside of EU than that kind of knowledge can be effectively used for CFSP. Sharing knowledge between member states can provide new ideas and groundwork for discussions in order to solve problems that are affecting Europe’s ability to act on global level.

Restrictions for politicians from totalitarian regime are sometimes positive as in case with Belarus and sometimes ineffective if these regimes are losing legitimacy in eyes of the citizens. It can be far more effective in that case to open up restrictions in order to even be able to reach and support citizens that are aspirating for democratic society or economic freedoms such of being able to buy a imported car which the latest case on Cuba. These are some conclusions after meeting with the liberals from Cuba who feel the need of stronger democratic engagement from EU: s side for opposition groups in the country.