ASTANA – The European Union is working on adapting its 2007 strategy for Central Asia with a greater emphasis on different approaches to relations with individual countries, a top European diplomat said.
Toivo Klaar, head of the Central Asian Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS), spoke with The Astana Times following a March 27 meeting with Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Volkov. EEAS is the foreign service of the European Union (EU) and the session was held in the framework of the trade, investment, energy, environment and transport sub-committee of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the EU and Kazakhstan.
While Klaar noted the existing EU strategy for Central Asia is “a solid foundation,” he said plans, pushed forward by the Latvian EU presidency, are underway to adopt a new road map for its implementation and focus in specific areas. EEAS will prepare the draft of the document and present it to the member states, whose representatives will discuss and possibly modify certain points. The EU Council of Ministers is expected to adopt the revised document “in late spring or early summer,” he said.
Initiated by Germany and adopted in 2007, the strategy is reviewed every two years, Klaar said noting the current revision is a subsequent modification. Each review highlights certain aspects which are considered based on the context of the present geopolitical and economic situation and state of the EEAS relations with the individual countries.
“The Strategy of 2007 was more oriented on the Central Asian region [generally],” Klaar, who has been with the EEAS five years, including three months in the current position, said. “In the final edition of this review, we put greater stress on the individual approach to each country, considering different needs.”
While the EU strategy for Central Asia covers relations with the five traditional states of the region, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Klaar added that the developments in neighbouring Afghanistan would have an important effect on bordering countries, as well as the entire region. He noted when talk centres on security, it is important to include Afghanistan in the discussion, which was in fact the case during a recent session of the so-called High-Level Security Dialogue between the EU and Central Asia in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
The revised strategy is expected to cover issues such as security, energy connections, the environment and water resources usage in the region. Building relationships between the EU and Central Asia will also be addressed.
Turning to relations between the European Union and Kazakhstan, Klaar explained that a major effort is underway to translate the draft of a new enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement into the 22 official languages of the EU. The parties announced the conclusion of negotiations on the new agreement during President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to Brussels in October 2014, and in January 2015 the document was initialed in Astana, paving the way for its eventual signature.
“I would hope that we can sign it quickly. We have multiple institutions and languages to translate and all of that requires coordination,” said Klaar. “I hope by the end of the year it will be signed.”
Ratification by the national parliaments can be a lengthy process, as the EU has 28 member countries, Klaar said adding that in some countries regional parliaments will also have to ratify the document. As a result, some provisions of the agreement, which covers 29 areas of cooperation, may come into force before the ratification, the European diplomat explained adding this was a normal practice.
He recalled a similar situation with the Association Agreement which was signed by his native Estonia with the EU in mid-1990s and which was partially implemented before many years have passed prior to its full ratification by all parliaments.
Taken as a whole, the European Union is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, accounting for roughly 40 percent of its annual foreign trade of $100 billion. The EU is also the largest foreign investor in Kazakhstan with more than $50 billion invested already. The negotiations on the new enhanced PCA began in 2011 following the expiration of the previous agreement that went into effect in 1999.