New dynamics in Central Asia
The dynamics and interactions within the countries of Central Asia are shifting and Europe needs to adapt to reflect the new realities, writes Atidzhe Alieva-Veli.
The European Union reviewed its EU-Central Asia strategy in June 2019, 12 years after the signature of the first agreement. Central Asia is becoming increasingly important for the European Union, with European trade and investments in the region making the EU the main economic player in Central Asia.
The EU has allocated €1.1bn to development cooperation with Central Asia for 2014-2020, including over €454m for regional programmes, of which €115m is dedicated to Erasmus+. These regional programmes promote cooperation in the areas of sustainable development and regional security.
In other goals for stronger cooperation, the priorities are the rule of law, attracting investment, regional connectivity and private sector development, as well as investing in youth.
The European Union is also a strong supporter of multilateralism, supporting the integration of all Central Asian countries into the world trading system.
The EU, and particularly the European Parliament, are eager to promote respect for human rights, with a focus on freedom of expression, freedom of association, women’s rights, children’s rights, the rights of minorities, the fight against discrimination and the prevention and eradication of torture.
I believe that the main priorities should be democracy building, education, peace and stability in the region, environmental protection and climate change. Water management should also be a focus for attention.
Water is a key driver in the socioeconomic development of Central Asian countries. An ever-growing demand for water generated by economic development, population growth, urbanisation and climate change, along with recurrent natural hazards, presents significant challenges to the region’s economic expansion.
If current water management policies and practices persist, water scarcity could see a significant slowdown in the region’s economic performance.
The almost-vanished Aral Sea, with the resulting dust storms and their catastrophic impact on agricultural lands and human health, should be a powerful incentive for regionally-coordinated development.
"The main priorities should be democracy building, education, peace and stability in the region, environmental protection and climate change"
Last, the fight against terrorism and drugs are also important considerations. Trade should also be considered as a priority. Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian republic to conclude an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) with Brussels.
The EU is currently negotiating similar accords with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, while the EU Council of Foreign Affairs has reaffirmed its commitment to concluding EPCAs with those countries in the region able and willing to improve relations.
Promoting peace in Afghanistan should also continue to be a priority, integrating Afghanistan as appropriate in relevant EU-Central Asia dialogue meetings and regional programmes. There also needs to be greater support for more regional and trilateral cooperation projects with Afghan and Central Asian partners.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is reviving the overland trade routes connecting Europe and Asia via the region. The EU needs to respond to these new dynamics. On transport, the EU wants to assess the possibility of building a trans-Caspian Pipeline beneath the Caspian Sea linking Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
In line with the EU’s Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia, the Council is calling for the establishment of partnerships for sustainable connectivity, where appropriate, with Central Asian countries.
This will promote quality infrastructure and improve the economic, social, fiscal and environmental sustainability in and with Central Asia, ensuring the smooth transit of goods.
We should support efforts to link up Central Asia with Eastern Partnership countries and Afghanistan. There is also a need to cooperate on digital connectivity and e-governance.
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