A treasure trove of opportunities
Central Asia remains a largely undiscovered region despite the opportunities it presents both commercially and strategically. It’s time the EU enhances its presence in the region, writes Fulvio Martusciello.
The countries of Central Asia are characterised, apart from Mongolia, by the suffix “stan”: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan. These are evocative and ancient names, which today pose several challenges in their relationship with the European Union.
Lying at the heart of the vast eastern continent, landlocked and for a long time on the fringes of significant trade, tourist and cultural routes, Central Asia remains a largely undiscovered region.
This requires a special effort in various fields, given the essential role that some of these countries will play in the new land transport axes between China and Europe.
As an area rich in raw materials, including gas, oil, cotton, water and rare earths, the countries of Central Asia represent an indispensable interlocutor on both a commercial and strategic level. Relations with Central Asia is crucial for Europe.
There are other issues. With the exception of Mongolia, all the countries of Central Asia are characterised - albeit to varying degrees - by Presidential regimes that can be autocratic and despotic, with uncertain democratic transitions and frequent abuses of human rights.
"Central Asia is characterised by its geopolitical complexity: it is part of Asia, but it is also part of Europe"
Its location between China and Russia makes Central Asia easy prey to predominant political and economic influences from these neighbours. There is therefore a pressing need for the EU to enhance its presence in the region.
Central Asia is also close to the Middle East and Iran and encompasses Afghanistan, a country with a dedicated European Parliament delegation. This makes it a crucial area in the fight against terrorism and Islamic radicalism, able to count on governments with a stable system of secular institutions.
For some time, the European Parliament has been preparing to deal with the complexity of these relations, including creating a permanent delegation. I have had the honour of chairing this delegation, which for five years has been dealing with these countries.
Inter-parliamentary dialogue is a fundamental element of this; whether the parliaments in the countries of Central Asia are authoritative or weak, they remain the closest institutional relationship to the citizen, to society and its drivers.
All Central Asian countries are gradually taking steps that strengthen the parliamentary dimension – Mongolia is a shining example of this, followed by Kyrgyzstan, where legislative assemblies are playing a leading role in strengthening democracy.
"As an area rich in raw materials, including gas, oil, cotton, water and rare earths, the countries of Central Asia represent an indispensable interlocutor on both a commercial and strategic level"
Central Asia is characterised by its geopolitical complexity: it is part of Asia, but it is also part of Europe. Kazakhstan, for example, has a large part of its territory located in Europe.
They speak Indo-European languages, they fought in the European conflicts of the twentieth century, they have a secular tradition which is typical of our civilisation.
In other words, they feel more European than Chinese and are a sort of distant cousins. Central Asia is a much closer world than it may seem.
It is a challenging yet open sphere - as long as we take the time and have the desire to dedicate ourselves to it with passion, as we do in the European Parliament.
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