New EU Strategy for Central Asia

New EU Strategy for Central Asia

The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the European Union discussed the new draft of the EU Strategy for Central Asia at the 14th EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting in Brussels and agreed that the next meeting will be held in Kyrgyzstan in the first half of 2019. The European Union is interested in the region's energy resources, transport corridors and also has plans to expand its influence in Central Asia, including by raising its funding for aid programs.

"Fast changing regional dynamics and the growing importance of sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia bring Central Asia to the centre of our attention. Countries in the region, especially Turkmenistan, are increasingly looking to the EU as a reliable partner for reforms, modernisation and to face the global challenges of today," High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said.

The new Delegation will be established in Ashgabat. It will enable the European Union to step up political, economic and sectoral dialogue and cooperation with Turkmenistan. "The decision reflects the EU's wish to fully engage with Turkmenistan in areas of strategic interest such as security, human rights, energy, climate, and the rule of law," Mogherini stressed.

If Turkmenistan takes only initial steps towards the European direction, then Kazakhstan has become the leader of the region in cooperation with the EU. The EU strategy for Central Asia was developed in 2003 and was periodically adjusted. The document provided for the development of relations between Europe and with each of the regional country in the fields of energy, education, the fight against terrorism, border security, development of legislation and protection of human rights. The EU has financed over 110 projects with a total budget of about 230 million euros. The cooperation strategy should have been revised by the end of 2017, but it did not happen. The reason was simple - Europe has other concerns now, and has no money for Central Asia, while Russia and China are actively working in the region. Therefore, today it is proposed to focus on expanding cooperation through the implementation of infrastructure projects and the involvement of Afghanistan in these projects.

Preference in the new strategy is given to individual cooperation with each regional countries, but Uzbekistan is at the top of the list.. The European Union intends to implement a number of projects there totaling 168 million euros. Director General for International Cooperation and Development Stefano Manservisi, who visited Tashkent last summer, said that the "EU considers Uzbekistan as a strategic partner." According to him, the EU intends to increase Uzbekistan's economic activity, create new jobs, as well as transfer the European experience to Uzbek entrepreneurs. He also said that the EU is considering the possibility of increasing funding for Uzbek projects. "The number of European companies will increase in Uzbekistan," Manservisi noted.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov recalled that the EU remains its largest trade, economic and investment partner, as well as one of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy priorities. If the neighbors are only planning to update the contractual documents, then Kazakhstan is the first of the Central Asian states to conclude the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU.

Mogherini noted that the agreement was ratified by the overwhelming majority of European countries: “Literally these days, the UK and Ireland announced the completion of their internal state procedures and their approval by the parliaments. There are three states left, which  will hopefully complete the ratification of this document. The EU reaffirmed its commitment to intensify cooperation with Central Asia."

The EU foreign ministers noted the positive dynamics of the development of Central Asian countries and new opportunities for cooperation for Europeans. "Central Asia is a region where there is an increasing demand for a diversification of partnerships with the EU. We are also interested in strengthening our engagement in security, on trade, on energy, on connectivity, on development matters. We had a useful exchange of views during the Ministerial about the new Strategy on Central Asia that the European Union is planning to adopt next year," Mogherini noted.

Foreign ministers of the region made counter proposals to the European Union: the EU assistance in the development of education, small and medium business in the countries of the region, as well as the deepening of interconnectedness in cultural and humanitarian cooperation. In particular, Kairat Abdrakhmanov reported on Astana's readiness to provide a platform for starting a dialogue on interaction between the EU, the EEU and China. In addition, Kazakhstan proposed to create a single online portal that could become a "universal virtual window" to Europe for 70 million people in Central Asia.

The Foreign Minister of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin, expressed hope that the EU would increase its assistance to Tajikistan in border security and the prevention of drug trafficking (within the BOMCA and CADAP programs), the effective implementation of socio-economic projects through the new European Union Strategy for Central Asia and the next Multi-Annual Indicative Programme between Tajikistan and the EU.

The German expert on the post-Soviet space, Dr. Ashot Manucharyan, told Vestnik Kavkazka that the EU policy is always focused on certain projects: "The aim of these projects is to stabilize a certain economic sector of each country. In this case, they consider a win-win situation, when both parties - the EU and Central Asia - benefit from the project. Especially since it is not a private investment, but an investment in the infrastructure of the region. In this case, Uzbekistan is considered as the largest Central Asian country in terms of population." The factor of the EU's foreign economic policy works here: economical stabilisation leads to political stabilization in the country (region), or at least does not lead to any crisis. Especially in the period of cardinal transformations of the state's vital activities.

Federica Mogherini announced the EU is providing 124 million euros in support of sustainable development across all five of the Central Asian countries. According to her, the programmes they are financing will help to develop the private sector, trade and investment, will help to protect the environment, tackle climate change, promote the rule of law, and create effective and inclusive education policies. "We discussed ways to intensify our cooperation in the field of common security, including in cooperation on Afghanistan. We also remain committed  to implementing the nuclear deal with Iran, and the efforts of the countries of Central Asia are also helping to ensure that this implementation continues fully and effectively," the head of European diplomacy said.

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