On the eve of the ministerial meeting between European Commissions Vice President and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and five Central Asian foreign ministers in Samarkand on Nov. 10, she spoke about the current state and future of the European Union’s relations with the countries of the region, as well as about the recent changes in Uzbekistan and the joint responses to the challenges of Afghanistan.
What are the main topics of the agenda to discuss during the Ministerial Meeting in Samarkand? And, what are your main expectations from the event?
Meeting with all the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries at once gives us a unique opportunity to discuss, in a very open way, issues that are better addressed in that format than bilaterally.
As probably the most advanced and successful regional integration project in the world, the European Union has long experienced the benefits of working together to address common challenges. And the benefits we can bring to our respective populations are far greater if we adopt a cooperative approach.
The meeting in Samarkand will be my third such meeting, and over the past years I have seen a change in approach exactly to this effect. This is extremely positive and has resulted in increasingly innovative and collaborative approaches to issues that either cannot be addressed by one country alone, because of their nature – for example water management across borders – or that are better tackled as a region than by individual countries, for example counter-terrorism and radicalisation.
The European Union is there to facilitate this process of regional integration and the discussions aimed at finding common solutions.
As such, our meeting in Samarkand will look at the issues that are common to the region. We will for sure look at opportunities to expand economic and trade cooperation both between the European Union and Central Asia, as well as between the countries of Central Asia themselves. Security-related issues, as I mentioned, from water to extremism will also be a focus, following a number of common actions that were agreed in past meetings, and I hope that we will be able to further deepen our cooperation in these areas. And human rights and rule of law will be surely raised in our exchanges. The European Union is always a strong defender of human rights and proponent of democratic institutions; we are always willing to support our Central Asian partners in achieving further progress in this respect.
Security issues to be discussed during the meeting in Samarkand are closely related to the situation in Afghanistan. How is the situation assessed in Brussels? To what extent the latest U.S. initiatives are feasible, are there any differences in the way the EU and the U.S. see the strategy in Afghanistan?
The objective of the European Union in Afghanistan is to bring positive change to the people of the country.
Both in terms of security and when it comes to the economy, it is clear that the situation in Afghanistan is full of challenges, but this cannot prevent us from doing all that we can to achieve stability, peace and prosperity for the population.
Just a few weeks ago, the European Union adopted a new strategy on Afghanistan to refocus our engagement. The strategy reflects the fact that Afghanistan’s priorities are also the European Union’s priorities.
We will work together with the Afghan authorities and other actors in the country, as well as regional and international players – including the United States and the countries of Central Asia – in four priority areas: first, to promote peace, stability and regional security; second, to reinforce democracy, the rule of law and human rights and to promote good governance and women’s empowerment; third, to support economic and human development; and fourth, to address challenges related to migration. Our new EU Strategy is the latest illustration of the European Union’s strong engagement in and commitment to Afghanistan, following the signature of a new Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development in February and the appointment of an EU Special Envoy to Afghanistan in June.
At the time of the last EU-Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ meeting, in October 2016, the European Union hosted the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. Some people had doubted the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan. Our collective response was strong, with the European Union providing €5 billion of the €13.6 billion that was pledged in support of the country’s reforms for 2017-2020, and one hundred countries and international organisations coming together in firm support for a prosperous, peaceful future for Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan is important not only for stability and prosperity but also for Afghanistan’s neighbours and the wider region. That is what I will discuss with the Central Asian ministers in Samarkand. Progress towards peace is essential, and this requires both the active support of the region and the EU’s support to the region, which you can count on.
Analysing the political initiatives of the new Uzbek leadership, the majority of experts tend to say that Tashkent has changed the situation in the region towards warming relations with neighbours. In your opinion, is this trend sustainable?
Recent reforms that have been introduced and are being implemented are important and are having a positive effect both on the internal situation in the country as well as on Uzbekistan’s relations with its neighbours.
President Mirziyoyev has said that relations with Central Asian partners are a priority of Uzbek foreign policy, and has taken steps that translate these words into concrete action. As a result, we have already seen a number of deliverables including the delimitation of borders, boosting regional economic cooperation, invigorating contacts between people and their mobility, and an overall improvement in terms of working with partners in the region.
Obviously, we are aware that there is still much to be achieved in further enhancing dialogue between our regional partners, and certain aspects and issues will require a lot of work and trust, but this is certainly a promising path. In today’s world of challenges that go beyond and across territorial borders, good neighbourly relations and a cooperative approach is the only way to find sustainable solutions. The European Union will always be there to support regions and countries which look to work in this way.
It is widely believed that the main players in Central Asia are the Russian Federation, the U.S. and China. The role of the European Union in the region is perceived to be less significant. What do you think about it? Are there any moves for change?
Last year, the European Union presented its new foreign policy strategy. The EU’s Global Strategy sets out how we see our Union and how we want others to see it: as a reliable global power, a credible security provider, an indispensable trade and economic partner, a peace-builder, a defender of human rights and enabler for civil society, and a force for merit-based human development.
Our Union is a staunch defender and proponent of a rules-based, multilateral system. We work hand-in-hand with the United Nations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the European Union and our member states together provide development funding that is higher than the rest of the world put together.
We are also the number one donor of humanitarian assistance worldwide, providing vital help for those who, faced with man-made or natural disasters, need it most.
In Central Asia, the European Union has funded over 110 projects totalling around €230 million, in particular focusing on those communities that are vulnerable to natural hazards such as flooding, avalanches, and earthquakes, as well as past outbreaks of violence or difficult winters.
The European Union upholds the highest standards when it comes to strong, democratic institutions, good governance and the rule of law, fighting corruption, trading freely with protection for consumers and those who invest.
We work closely with our international partners on important security related questions, such as the prevention of terrorism and countering radicalisation, in particular among young people. These are all pillars of the European Union’s foreign policy, one that applies in full to our engagement with Central Asia.
The European Union’s relations with the countries of Central Asia are not about competing with other countries or powers; our engagement is aimed solely at making the lives of the people who live there, better. We are proud of it and we feel the responsibility that comes from being an indispensable partner for so many countries around the world.
Ten years after the adoption of the first Central Asia strategy, the Council adopted conclusions on the EU strategy for the region. The Council invites the High Representative and the Commission to come forward with a proposal for a new Strategy by the end of 2019. What have changed in these 10 years, and what are the priority fields for the EU engagement in Central Asia?
Many things have changed over the last ten years, both in Central Asian countries and in Europe. This is why we think it is time to review and renew our Strategy.
New opportunities and challenges keep coming and if you do not advance, you fall back. Recent developments in Central Asia have opened new perspectives for our cooperation with the region. And I see that it is not only from the European Union where there is a demand for an enhanced partnership; I see it clearly also from all my interlocutors in the region.
Relations with our Central Asian partners already cover many areas and we want to further build on this. I have said it before: our aim is bring positive change to the peoples of the respective countries, and the region as a whole. Opening up new markets for local farmers to increase their revenue and standard of living; supporting local business people to nurture and grow their ideas; strengthening democratic institutions across the region so that citizens’ voices are heard and their rights are respected; helping communities to develop in a sustainable way; improving infrastructure to bring energy, water, and transport to areas where resources are more limited; and raising the quality of education so that children can reach their full potential. These are just some of the many areas where the European Union has been and will be increasingly active.
Security issues – such as tackling radicalisation or illicit trafficking – will also remain important both for Central Asia and the European Union and are other areas where we need more cooperation across borders. It is an ambitious, positive agenda, reflecting the priorities we share, the challenges we face, and the opportunities we can make the most of.
Is there unanimity in making decisions towards Central Asia? Where would you place Central Asia in the EU Global Strategy?
Across the European Union, there is a clear feeling that this is the right time to engage more with Central Asia and to support the positive developments in the region. As I said, this is also a reason why we want to renew our EU Central Asia Strategy. EU member states participate in the elaboration and implementation of the current and future Strategy, since decisions in the foreign and security policies of the European Union are still taken by unanimity – that is by the 28 EU member states. Of course, we do this together in close consultations with our Central Asian partners. The European Union has regular meetings in Brussels and our EU delegations in the Central Asian countries coordinate with the member states’ embassies to agree on common approaches.
The EU Global Strategy also provides guidance for our relations with Central Asia. In response to the threats and challenges that we see around the world, the European Union has placed great importance on supporting countries to build their resilience, and has also developed a more comprehensive and all-rounded approach to addressing conflicts and crises, regional cooperation and global governance. Central Asia as a region and each of the individual countries are important partners for the European Union. Now is the moment to step up our engagement and to take our partnership to the next level.
The story was originally published in Russian at the Gazeta.uz. To read the original click here.