New Kyrgyzstan president sails through first EU visit

Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Jean-Claude Juncker on 12 April 2018. [Commission]

The leaders of the EU institutions received the new Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov on Thursday (12 April) for talks that focused on steadily improving relations between the countries of Central Asia and the negotiation of a new Kyrgyzstan-EU agreement.

Jeenbekov won the presidential elections on 15 October 2017 with 54.7% of the vote, against 33.7 percent for Omurbek Babanov, another ex-prime minister and one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country.

In a statement after the meeting, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had congratulated Jeenbekov once again on his victory and added that the election outcome hadn’t been contested, which he said was “something not normal in the world we live in”.

A report by Freedom House published on Wednesday ranked Kyrgyzstan as “consolidated authoritarian regime”. Freedom House is a US-based government-sponsored NGO which evaluates the quality of democracy in the countries of Eastern Europe,

The country report on Kyrgyzstan says that the peaceful transition of power through elections could not disguise serious problems in the quality of political competition, and the presence of multiple parties in the parliament did not result in political pluralism.

Juncker said the two sides had started negotiations for a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

Among the five countries of Central Asia, (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan), the EU has the most advanced relations with Kazakhstan, with which it signed an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in December.

Juncker said he had invited his guest to step up the fight against corruption and improve the situation with human rights and press freedom. He also said he had gladly accepted the invitation to visit Kyrgyzstan. “I am sure Kyrgyzstan has something to say to the world”, Juncker said.

Speaking in Russian, Jeenbekov said his visit was proof that his country considers the relations with the EU as a priority. He said Kyrgyzstan sees the EU as an important partner for its sustainable development and that Bishkek is ready for closer relations.

He said that the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was of crucial importance for economic cooperation, but also for regional security and for strengthening democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in his country.

As journalists did not ask any questions, Juncker said he wanted to add “a word of sympathy for the people of Kyrgyzstan.

“I would like Europe to support them in all their efforts and all their ambitions. Everything that concerns Kyrgyzstan doesn’t leave the EU indifferent,” Juncker said.

“Kyrgyzstan and Europe are things, realities and dreams that go together”, the Commission president said, quoting the French philosopher Blaise Pascal.

Jeenbekov had also met Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini).

In a separate meeting with Mogherini, they discussed positive dynamics in the region, primarily the significant improvement in relations and regional cooperation. Mogherini had recently discussed these developments with the Foreign Ministers of the five Central Asian countries on the sidelines of the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan.

Mogherini discusses future of Afghanistan at Central Asia forum

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini arrived in the Uzbek capital Tashkent yesterday (26 March) and met with the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries, ahead of a conference on Afghanistan under the heading “Peace process, security cooperation and regional connectivity” which takes place today.

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