EU taking foothold in Central Asia

EU taking foothold in Central Asia

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini visited the countries of Central Asia. In Ashgabat, she signed an agreement on opening the EU office in Turkmenistan, while in Bishkek she presented a new EU strategy and discussed a Kyrgyzstan-EU Cooperation Agreement. "This agreement is of great importance, it will become a legal basis for many projects, creating conditions for citizens to effectively cooperate," Mogherini said after talks with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Chingiz Aidarbekov.

Before signing, the agreement should be reviewed by the Kyrgyz Parliament and approved by the EU agencies. The Kyrgyz minister awarded the EU foreign policy chief with the Order 'For the Contribution to the Development of Relations between Kyrgyzstan and the European Union'.

President Sooronbay Jeenbekov noted at a meeting with Mogherini that "cooperation with the European Union, which we consider an important partner, is one of the priority issues for  Kyrgyzstan." The head of state expressed confidence that "the agreement with the European Union will give additional impetus and open a new page of EU-Kyrgyzstan bilateral cooperation." Jeenbekov thanked Brussels for the socio-economic assistance provided by the European Union to the republic, noting that with his support decisive steps are being taken towards sustainable development.

But the main point of the Central Asian program was participation in the 15th EU-Central Asia Ministerial Meeting, which was attended by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where the new EU strategy for Central Asia was presented, as well as in the first EU-Central Asia Economic Forum.

The European Union's main objectives, which it seeks to achieve with the help of a new strategy, are strengthening security and promoting its interests in Central Asia, expanding trade, including in energy. (European Union promotes its interests in Central Asia). "Only with independent media and an open space for civil society, only with strong rule of law and good governance, Central Asia can become stronger and more attractive also for business," Mogherini said.

Experts believe that, in fact, the new EU strategy is a renewal of the 2017 strategy, which was adopted at the initiative of Germany and recognized as ineffective in the EU. "The new strategy was inspired by euphoria of the first regional successes in Central Asia. Brussels was inspired by the fact that Uzbekistan has opened for regional integration, becoming its driver. The EU decided that it's time to launch a new initiative to support and stimulate regional integration. This is one of the points outlined in the strategy," director of the Prudent Solution analytical center (Bishkek) Esen Usubaliev told Vestnik Kavkaza: "But regional integration has stalled, only one regional summit was held in Kazakhstan, the scheduled presidential meeting in Tashkent has been delayed for an indefinite period, the Central Asian countries still have different goals and objectives - their foreign policy is dictated by their own national interests. Therefore, even if we imagine that this strategy is effective, the Central Asian countries still look in different directions. The transition of power is underway in Kazakhstan. Although Uzbekistan does not deny regional cooperation, one cannot be sure that there will be a new round of integration. Most people understand that a real integration between the Central Asian countries is impossible without an external pulse, a country like Russia." Usubaliev also drew attention to the vague wording and the lack of specifics in the new EU strategy.

However, it's possible that by developing relations with the region, the EU relies on Uzbekistan. At the talks with Uzbekistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov, Mogherini discussed the state and prospects for further development of relations in the Uzbekistan-EU format. According to Kamilov, the goals and objectives set out in the new EU strategy for Central Asia fully correspond to the priorities of Uzbekistan's Development Strategy for 2017-2021, which was developed at the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The minister highly appreciated the readiness of the European Union to support the transformation of the economies of the region's states into diversified and competitive ones.

Mogherini recalled that Uzbekistan plays a leading role in building the peace process in Afghanistan. "Uzbekistan had a leading role last year in convening the conference on Afghanistan in Tashkent. It was an important moment because we participated in the conference with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, myself, the ministers and leaders of all neighboring countries and regional players. I believe that Afghan people need to feel and see that the international community unites and supports the reconciliation process in the country.  That's why the EU has decided to work very closely with the Central Asian countries, to support projects that can help connecting the neighboring countries and countries of the region, in particular the connectivity projects, and projects aimed at education and employment, in particular Afghan women. And politically, we share with the Central Asian nations the same approach, that of empowering the Afghan leadership and Afghan people to have Afghan-led and -owned process. This is where the big powers of the world need to come together to help, but responsibility ultimately lies in Afghans and the region. We are ready to to intensify work to support our Afghan friends in their own search for sustainable peace and reconciliation process. The EU and Central Asian countries understand that the peace process is needed and we should keep supporting that," Mogherini said.

Brussels believes that the European Union is the leading partner of Central Asia in the region's development. During 2014-2020, EU financial support in areas such as the rule of law, environment, water, trade and border management exceeded 1 billion euros. Therefore, the EU decided to allocate $72 million more for the development of aid programs in Central Asia. According to the European Commission's press service, of this amount, 20 million euros will be invested in a new hydropower plant in Tajikistan, which will allow exporting electricity to northern Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan will receive 36 million euros for an educational programme. Another 14 million euros will be allocated to extend the activities of the SWITCH Asia Programme, aimed at supporting sustainable consumption, production and the transition to a green economy. The remaining 2 million euros will be invested in the economic empowerment of women in the region, the projects will be implemented jointly with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The project also provides training of Afghan women to involve them in their country's economic development.