EU policy in Central Asia is not geopolitically accentuated

On November 9, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU, Federica Mogherini, visited Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to the press service of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, the agenda included a new bilateral agreement between the EU and Kyrgyzstan, which is intended to replace the previous agreement, adopted in 1999. In turn, the Foreign Ministry of Uzbekistan informs that within the framework of the visit the EU delegation will participate in the inter-regional ministerial meeting “European Union – Central Asia” and the international conference “Central Asia: shared past and common future, cooperation for sustainable development and mutual prosperity.” Head of the Almaty representative office of IWEP under the Foundation of the First President of Kazakhstan, Askar Nursha, said in an interview with the Sayasat: after the Ukrainian events, there was a pause in the implementation of the EU strategy in Central Asia.

The EU foreign minister began her Central Asian tour from Bishkek and Tashkent. In Uzbekistan, the platform of the foreign ministers “5 + 1” is launched by the countries of Central Asia and the EU. What are your expectations this meeting format?

This visit concerns the EU's development of a new regional strategy. Before launching a project, they conduct a series of consultations with the countries of the region to convey the priorities of the new program, on the one hand, and assess the needs of the Central Asian countries, on the other hand. It is crucial to listen to the opinion of the countries of the region to ensure the effective implementation of this strategy. This strategy largely depends not only on funding from the EU but on the degree of readiness of the regional countries to implement the strategy.

At the same time, some changes have taken place in the region. The EU seeks to establish contacts with the new leadership of the Central Asian states – the president of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and the elected president of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov.

Can we state that the EU has become more active in the Central Asian region? Or is it a trial balloon?

In recent years, there has been a marked decrease in EU activity in the region, which is natural. The EU is focused on its internal problems. The EU is in the process of improving the instruments of cooperation, including those on a regional level. They are conducting an audit of how successful the previous regional strategy has been in achieving the goals set. And now it is crucial for them to improve the instruments so that the new regional strategy works as it should.

Another important point is that the EU is busy updating the contractual basis for cooperation with many countries of the post-Soviet space. The fact is that these relations were based on documents signed in the 90s.

As for the Central Asian countries, of all the countries of the region only Kazakhstan has signed such a document so far. The updated version of the document. It is an agreement on deepened cooperation. At the same time, negotiations are being held with Azerbaijan and other countries regarding the renewal of the contractual base to bring the relations to a new level.

Thus, the work of the EU goes in bi-directional. The first is bilateral relations. The second is the multilateral level in the “5 + 1” format.

There are different opinions about that. But how efficient this model of interaction may be in your opinion?

It is quite efficient. The strength of the EU's efforts is that their actions are financially supported. But for the EU it is important now to understand which programs are working, which ones are not. If something is not  working, then why and what areas need to be boosted. It is about improving cooperation.

After the Ukrainian events, there was a pause in the EU strategy development in Central Asia. It was caused by the effect that the Ukrainian events had produced, the impact on the EU neighborly policy and, in general, the deterioration of the environment with the complication of relations between Russia and the West.

We see that the EU claims to overcome the economic crisis. With the development of a new strategy, we can expect the activation of the EU strategy in Central Asia. This will not be an ideological resource, but rather a material one, within the framework of those programs that the EU previously proposed to discuss with the Central Asian countries.

In general, in your opinion, what niche can the EU take up in our region?

Unlike the rest of Eurasia, the EU's policy in Central Asia is not accentuated geopolitically. The European Union is still in the process of decision-making, attempts are now being made to work out a common attitude to the region and its importance among the members of the EU. Europeans are trying to understand what they need from the region and what they are ready to offer. Most likely, emphasis will be placed on trade and economic relations. Within the framework of WTO, it is of crucial importance. Secondly, the EU is more than likely to continue its programs in the field of transport and communications; it will support the policy of market reforms and, in fact, it will carry on with the projects concerning security.