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Speeches, 10/13/2006

Opening statement by Secretary of State, Mr. Torstila at the EU Ambassadors’ Regional Conference in Kazakhstan

Mr Pertti Torstila
Secretary of State

Opening statement at the EU Ambassadors’ Regional Conference
Astana, Kazakhstan, 9 October 2006

Growing interest of the EU towards Central Asia

I am happy to see so many of you gathered here today to discuss the future outlines of EU relations with Central Asia. This clearly is a timely issue and one that deserves to be addressed at the political level of the European Union.

The region of  Central Asia is no more a distant and meaningless part of the world for the European Union. It has started to matter. The EU has direct security interests in the region. There is a growing economic, business and investment interest of the EU in the region and our energy dependence on external supply underlines the importance of  our relations with the countries in Central Asia. Even the events of the September eleventh brought Central Asia to the awareness of the world community. There were fears of a large scale terrorist activity originating from around the region and an urgency to ensure the stability of  Central Asia.

We need a common framework for the EU activities in the area. We must ensure more effective and coherent action. We must design a policy where we serve both the interests of our member states and of Central Asia as well. EU activity in the region must be based on a comprehensive approach that aims at consolidating the very structures of the Central Asian states and promotes long-term peaceful and sustainable social and political development. In practise this means focusing on building comprehensive security, democracy, rule of law, economic reform and prosperity - activities that are all in line and supportive to the terms and conditions of the EU Security Strategy.   

EU already has structures in place in Central Asia. We don’t have to start from the beginning.

PCA agreements define the terms of our bilateral economic and political cooperation with each Central Asian state. They form the ground for EU relations with Central Asia. When implemented, they allow a regular dialogue and exchange of views to take place between the parties. They also commit the parties to discuss more delicate issues such as human rights situation and development of democracy.

Since 2005 the EU Special Representative has given the EU the much needed face in the region and provided the union with a high level communication channel with Central Asia. In the absence of a EU strategy the role of the EUSR has been central. The EUSR has built bridges and helped the member states understand the region better and form a better sense of ownership

I am convinced that our newly appointed Special Representative, Ambassador Pierre Morel will continue the good work started by Jan Kubis.

The EU Commission has delegation offices in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Three EU information centres are in place in the same countries. TACIS funding programme has enabled the EU to start a number of activities which aim at speeding up the transition to democracy and market economy. Through Tacis these issues can be tackled at the grassroots level, for example via programmes for border control, transport and energy. EU also has delivered humanitarian assistance to the region. 

The EU funding programmes are currently being reshaped. Under the new funding structures emphasis will be set on supporting sustainable economic and social development as well as poverty reduction. This is a focus that fits well to the needs of Central Asia. The Finnish presidency is doing its best to ensure that the necessary instruments are in place by 2007. 

The crucial question is, is this enough? Are we as effective as we could be?  Despite the number of our activities in Central Asia, we have not clearly defined our overall regional priorities nor our long-term political objectives. We lack tools for ensuring the coherence of the activities.  In short, there is no common political framework to guide us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is our task today to ponder what this common framework might look like and what our priorities are in Central Asia. While doing this, we need to consider how to best coordinate our efforts with the number of international actors that are already present and working in the region. Furthermore, we need to think how to accommodate the objectives of our strategy to those held by the Central Asians themselves. For our strategy to be effective it needs to be acceptable for the counterpart. We will also have to ask ourselves where to draw the geographic line: are we talking about a Central Asia composed of five states or something wider? How far are we willing to go?

I would now like to spend a few moments looking at the discussion paper that has been delivered to you before hand. The paper contains possible elements and ideas for the EU strategy for Central Asia.

It has been prepared to provide food for thought and create a ground for a vivid discussion today. 

The first two sections of the paper look at our point of departure, which I have already talked about. 

The third section moves to the essence of the issue. There we have outlined a few overarching themes, which we believe are central for the overall development of the region. The list is by no means exhaustive. However, it points out a few most pressing themes that need to be addressed. Some of them point towards the negative developments that have taken place in Central Asia and are worrying.  Others are of a more positive note indicating areas where possibilities for enhanced cooperation exist.  Both ways, all of these themes have a role to play in defining the future course of Central Asia.

First, there is a range of security issues that are present in the whole of Central Asia. These cause an increased potential for instability and have a negative impact on the everyday lives of those who live in the region and outside. How is the EU able to tackle these ? 

Secondly, there is the question of human rights and democracy.  Commitment to human rights protection varies greatly in the region and the idea of democracy held by many Central Asian leaders is different to our western thinking. The EU has a number of tools available for encouraging commitment to human rights and democratic development, but are they enough? Could we be more innovative?

Thirdly, we note that there is little experience on regional co-operation and trade in Central Asia.  Despite several regional economic integration agreements, the trade between Central Asian states has declined. Export capacities and import needs do not meet and policy reforms have progressed unevenly. Furthermore, the defining geographic characteristic of the region is its remoteness and the transportation routes often in need of repair. This impedes the development of trade relations. Yet increased economic cooperation would be the tool for overall regional integration. A prime example of this is the European Union itself. Do we have a way of translating any of this experience to Central Asia?

Fourth, the energy resources within the region are unevenly distributed. In the field of energy, each state has something the others need. This further emphasises the need for increased cooperation and a well-functioning internal energy market. Equally, further cooperation is needed in the field of environment, including environment protection, environmentally sustainable development of industries and thematic issues such as water resources management.     

Lastly, there is a need to assess what could be done together. There are a number of actors working in the Central Asia region. Coordinating activities with them is likely to generate better and more effective results. We could also see what there is to draw from the experience of others, share best practises and learn from the mistakes already made.

Dear Colleagues,

I have listed some overarching themes that have to be taken into account when thinking of our future activities regarding Central Asia. For our strategy to be successful it must address both the risks listed above as well as exploit the potential fields where co-operation could be deepened. It is our task today to consider how these themes are best tackled; through a regional viewpoint or via lenses that look at each country individually.

The fourth part of the paper is devoted to looking at the Central Asian issues from two angles: from a regional viewpoint and looking at each country individually.  

In this section we pay attention to the fact that despite the efforts of EU and other international actors, the regional cooperation in Central Asia has not prospered. There are a number of obstacles on the way. The paper suggests a few measures by which these might be tackled. This will be a central and perhaps one of the most challenging tasks of the EU strategy.    

Despite the need for regional approach, we have to acknowledge that the five Central Asian states are in a very different internal situation. At the last part of the paper, we have looked at the Central Asian states each individually, pointing out some of the defining features of each. This section reminds us of the fact that a comprehensive strategy cannot rely on a regional approach only but has to be complemented by measures that take into account the individual circumstances of each state.

The question is, of course, how to best balance the regional and country-based approach?  It is upon us here today to come up with some of the answers to this and other questions put forward in the Finnish discussion paper.

I hope the conversation today will be lively and innovative and point us at the right direction towards defining a comprehensive EU strategy for Central Asia.


Updated 10/13/2006

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