The European Commission said on Tuesday that it hoped to see Cuba make a peaceful transition to democracy following the announcement of Fidel Castro's retirement.
John Clancy, spokesman for EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel, said that the commissioner would pursue a scheduled visit to Havana on March 6-7; however, it has not been decided whether he will meet with Castro.
"The objective of the EU in relation with Cuba is to encourage a peaceful process of transition to a pluralistic democracy and to respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms," Clancy told reporters.
He stressed that the EU's common position had remained largely unchanged by Castro's announcement, but said that the 27-nation bloc sought "a sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people."
He said that the EU wanted to reiterate its "willingness to engage with Cuba in a constructive political dialogue."
Frozen relations for past five years
Relations between the EU and Cuba have been icy since 2003, when the Cuban government arrested 75 dissidents, many of whom were to attend national day receptions at European embassies. EU headquarters in Brussels froze diplomatic contacts with the island state.
The EU had explored resuming ties with Cuba in September, with both sides agreeing on a meeting early this year before the EU-Latin America summit from May 16-17.
Nations within the EU have been at odds over relations with Cuba, with former colonial power Spain advocating contact while the Czech Republic led the anti-communist opposition, which has rejected closer ties on human rights grounds.
Communist revolutionary icon Castro gave up the Cuban presidency for good on Tuesday, after disappearing from the public eye 19 months ago following stomach surgery.
He said he would retire as head of state nearly half a century after seizing power in an armed revolution. His rule was repeatedly marked by his defiance of the United States.