The European Union's Commissioner for External Relations Christopher Patten, who will visit four Central Asian states on 15-19 March, said that Central Asian countries are of strategic importance.
"The Central Asian countries are of strategic importance to Europe and EU enlargement will allow us to strengthen political and economic ties with the region, while making clear that a sustainable and fruitful relationship requires tangible steps to consolidate civil rights and the rule of law".
Commissioner Patten's visit to Central Asia will be the first by a European Commissioner since Hans Van Den Broek visited in 1996. In the interim, relations between the European Union and the countries of Central Asia have been significantly strengthened, not least as global events have highlighted the need to work together in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
All four countries to be visited have negotiated a broad agreement with the EU, setting out their political, economic and trade relationship. These Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) entered into force with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan on 1 July 1999. A PCA was initialled with Tajikistan on 16 December 2003.
In terms of trade, the EU is now one of the largest trading partners of the region, ahead even of Russia. The EU's forthcoming enlargement will reinforce the role of the EU as the most important trading partner and investor.
The EC has provided more than 1 billion euros in assistance to Central Asia since 1992. These funds are delivered through a number of different means such as TACIS (technical assistance), ECHO (humanitarian assistance), macro-economic assistance and the Food Security Program.
With a surface of more than 3,5 million sq. km and with 53 million inhabitants, the four countries to be visited are key partners for the EU. In the heart of Asia, the four landlocked Republics border China, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Russia and play an important strategic role (for example in the fight against drugs, terrorism and pollution), especially in the aftermath of conflict in Afghanistan…
What is the framework for the EU's relations with the Kyrgyz Republic?
The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which was signed on the 9 February 1995 and entered into force on the 1 July 1999, provides the framework for broad-based relations between the EU and the Kyrgyz Republic based on market economy and democratic values, including political dialogue and the rule of law.
The first Cooperation Council at the level of foreign ministers took place in Brussels on the 20th July 1999 and is now an annual event. In addition, bilateral meetings take place at ministerial (Cooperation Councils), high official (Cooperation Committees) and expert (Subcommittee) level.
What can the Kyrgyz Republic do to strengthen its relations with the EU?
The Kyrgyz Republic is a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism and provides a home base at Manas airport to allied forces operating over Afghanistan, including those from EU Member States.
The EU welcomes the Kyrgyz Republic's reform-mindedness in the economic sphere, although a more concerted effort is needed in the fight against corruption.
What is the EU's trading relationship with the Kyrgyz Republic?
Total trade turnover was a mere 110 million euros in 2002. Trade balance is positive for the EU. EU trade surplus amounted to 70 million euros in 2002.
What assistance does the EU provide to the Kyrgyz Republic?
The EU supports the most vulnerable in Kyrgyzstan through its Food Security Program, to which more than 100 million euros has been allocated since 1991. The Kyrgyz Republic has also benefited from more than 63 million euros of Community technical assistance under TACIS between 1991 and 2001, and in addition has received a share of the 50 million euros regional TACIS allocation since 2001. Kyrgyzstan benefits in particular from long term TACIS support to poverty reduction activities in its Southern Batken oblast (3 million euros a year). The Kyrgyz Republic also benefits from projects under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
What are the main aims of this assistance?
TACIS assistance in Central Asia is aimed at promoting stability and security in the region by supporting the transition of the country towards democracy and a fully functioning market economy. On the regional level the Central Asian countries benefit from programs intended to improve border management and the illicit trade in drugs.
Does the EU intend to extend its Wider Europe policy to the Central Asia in the future?
There are currently no plans to extend the EU's Wider Europe policy to Central Asia. However, the European Union is fully committed to supporting the countries of the region as they seek to consolidate democracy and develop fully functioning free market economies. Global events have highlighted the geo-strategic importance of the region, especially in the fight against terrorism and drugs trafficking, and the EU is keen to work closely with the region on these issues.
UzReport, March 13, 2004