Raúl Castro in Havana
People travel past beside a mural with an image of Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana. Reuters

Cuba’s long journey to healthier international relationships is proceeding slowly, but surely. The latest milestone was marked on Monday, when the European Union announced that Cuba would stop being an exception to its foreign policy.

The EU's foreign ministers signed an order to the European Commission to start negotiating an accord with Cuban President Raúl Castro. The measure represents the end of the veto imposed on Cuba by Brussels in 1996, which was pushed by the Spanish prime minister at the time, conservative José María Aznar.

Once the agreement is signed, the commission will move on to negotiate trade agreements, cooperation and human exchanges like the recently approved program Erasmus+, which will promote student exchanges between Latin American and European colleges, including Cuba.

This initiative will end an anomaly as Cuba was the first country affected by a EU joint action, which united all member states in blocking relations with Cuba.

The union is taking a cautious approach. Some countries have expressed concerns on reopening relations with Cuba – namely Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland -- and have held back from backing the process until they see how negotiations go. These three countries, which all endured Communist rule in whole or part before 1989, have particularly emphasized their worry over Cuba’s human rights violations, an aspect of the agreement deliberately kept vague so far.

The more reluctant European countries have hinted they will closely monitor the observance of new norms in the island to protect freedom of speech and other basic rights, toleration of political opposition and the independence of the judiciary. But the agreement does not spell out the process for such supervision.

Vagueness is a constant in the agreement, and the European Commission will keep its plan of action classified until the negotiations advance further. Investment and cooperation are at the Havana's list: since 2008, Cuba has received around 80 million euros for development projects, according to official sources.

The Cuban government and media have not yet commented on the commission’s decision.