EU outlines new Central Asia strategy

EU foreign ministers discussed the main building blocks of a draft Central Asia strategy due to be adopted at the EU Summit in June, strengthening ties with five Central Asian countries on the rule of law, education, training and energy.

At an informal external relations Council meeting on 23 April 2007, member states decided to intensify co-operation with Central Asia on a number of areas, including human rights, trade, education, environmental issues and energy.

This first-ever strategy for Central Asia is mainly directed at Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and will build on a mix of regional and bilateral approaches.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “Countries such as Russia, China, Japan, Turkey and the US are very present there. We have some catching up to do in Europe.”

However, he underlined that beyond trade relations, the EU was “pursuing a far-sighted security policy, but also promoting pluralism, democracy and human rights in these countries”.

According to Steinmeier, rule of law, education and training are “at the forefront” of the EU’s concerns, adding that “it may well be that in our new partnership the energy dialogue will be something that we seek to promote”.

Central Asia’s richness in gas and oil reserves makes the region especially attractive. The EU seeks to secure energy supplies, especially in view of its dependency on Russia, which delivers 30% of its oil and 40% of its gas imports.

Foreign ministers also launched an initiative for a regular human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan. The EU had started to impose sanctions on Uzbekistan following the violent breakdown of protests by Uzbek authorities in the city of Andijan, causing the deaths of hundreds in 2005. Human rights groups have urged not to lift the sanctions, which will be reasessed by EU foreign ministers on 14-15 May.

The new Central Asia strategy is to be endorsed by member states at the European Council in June.

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