Regional cooperation in Central Asia
EU cooperation in Central Asia is structured around 2 overall strategies: the EU-Central Asia Strategy for a New Partnership approved by EU Heads of State and Government in June 2007 and the EC Regional Strategy Paper for Assistance to Central Asia.
The EU started cooperation with the Central Asia region as soon as the five countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan became independent in 1991. The relationship strengthened further in 2007 when the "Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia" [2,36 MB] as adopted by the European Council. The EU Strategy for Central Asia reflects the growing importance of the region for the EU, and responds to an equally growing interest from Central Asia to move politically and economically closer to the EU. The strategy foresees greater cooperation, reinforced by regular political dialogue at the ministerial level. Under a coherent policy framework, it provides for dialogue and cooperation in human rights, education, rule of law, energy, transport, environment and water, trade and economic relations, as well as in dealing with common threats and challenges. The EU Strategy for Central Asia was reviewed by the Council of the European Union in June 2012 ("Council conclusions on Central Asia" [96 KB]). Both strategy and priority areas for cooperation were found to still be relevant. In addition, it was recognised that the region is facing increasing new challenges, notably as regards developments in Afghanistan, and that security issues have come to fore in relations with the EU.
EU – Central Asia Cooperation
EU cooperation and development assistance to Central Asia began with the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme, aimed at supporting the five newly independent states in their economic and social development during the transition period.
In 2007, TACIS was replaced by the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) with an overall objective of alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable economic and social development. The DCI focuses on development areas such as health, education, social cohesion and employment, which are key areas for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as the promotion of democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The "Regional Strategy Paper for Assistance to Central Asia for the period 2007- 13" [276 KB] sets out the areas of development cooperation to be supported, at both regional and national levels. In line with the Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia, the Regional Strategy promotes sustainable development, stability and security, and closer regional cooperation, within the region and with the EU.
An overall budget of € 675 million has been allocated under the DCI for cooperation with Central Asia for the period of 2007-2013. The seven-year period has been split into two for planning purposes. The first Central Asia Multi-annual Indicative Programme (2007-10) under the DCI allocated € 354 million for four years. The new Multi-annual Indicative Programme (2011-13) provides for € 321 million over three years which represents an annual increase of about 20% per year. It allocates € 216 million for bilateral, and € 105 million for regional cooperation with Central Asia.
Regional cooperation in Central Asia
The "Regional Strategy Paper for Assistance to Central Asia" [276 KB] set up the framework of the cooperation between the European Commission and the five Central Asian States. This document is a fundamental complement to the Strategy.
To strengthen their common approach in Central Asia, EU Members States and the European Commission have committed to collaborate closely in the seven topics identified by the Strategy
- Human rights, rule of law, good governance and democratization
- Investing in the future: youth and education
- Economic development, trade and investment
- Strengthening energy and transport links
- Environmental sustainability and water
- Combating common threats and challenges
- Building bridges: intercultural dialogue
The strategy puts a clear focus on three main areas of intensified policy dialogue and enhanced co-operation: Rule of Law, Education and Environment. Accordingly, three related initiatives have been launched:
- Rule of Law: Rule of Law is an essential condition for the development of a stable political framework and efficient economic structures. In the context of the EU-CA Strategy, the EU – Central Asia Rule of Law Initiative launched in November 2008 has supported reforms and sharing of experience between the EU and Central Asia in the area of legal and judicial reforms, including intensified policy dialogue at all levels. The Initiative envisages two kinds of actions: an EU-Central Asia Rule of Law Platform (with regular meetings at ministerial level, regional level and national level) and specific long-term projects.
The EU-Central Asia Rule of Law Platform project became operational at the end of 2011. This project supports the cooperation objectives set between the European Union and Central Asia, and provides services required for an efficient implementation of the Rule of Law Initiative work plan, also promoting regional cooperation between the countries of Central Asia, in order to advance constitutional, legal and judicial reform in the region.
- Education: The EU – Central Asia Education Initiative, endorsed by the European Council in 2007, has led to closer links of Central Asia with the European Education Area, supported by a significant increase in EU support for educational exchanges, education reform, and vocational training, a key area for economic and social development. The initiative also plays the role of a coordination mechanism for EU donors. Under the initiative a number of cooperation programmes take place at a regional level: Tempus (modernisation in the higher education sector), Erasmus Mundus Partnerships (academic partnerships and student/scholar mobility) and the Central Asia Research and Education Network – CAREN (financing for high-speed information and communication networks).
The European Union also supports the EU-Central Asia Education Platform which started in February 2012 aims to strengthen education reforms in the region by promoting policy dialogue as well as better coordination of donor financed education projects and programmes.
- Environment: The EU-Central Asia Environment and Water Initiative is led by Italy with the support of the European Commission, representatives from the Central Asian countries, and international organisations such as the OECD or the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The second EU-Asia High-level Conference on Environment and Water in 2008 established an EU-Central Asia Join Expert Working Group to facilitate regional cooperation in the fields of climate change, protection of the environment, rational use of water resources as well as land and forest management.
The regional environmental programmes for Central Asia – in accordance with the objectives of the Environment and Water Initiative – aim at enhancing regional cooperation and partnership with Europe. The programmes facilitate the development of the EU - Central Asia Environment and Water Cooperation Platform and focus on integrated water resource management, environmental protection measures, environmental governance and climate change.
The Investment Facility for Central Asia (IFCA)
At the regional level, the Investment Facility for Central Asia (IFCA) was launched in 2010. Its main objectives are to promote additional investments and key infrastructure in the fields of energy, environment, SMEs and social infrastructure. Based on the development of the Central Asia strategies, a later extension to transport is envisaged.
IFCA offers the possibility of blending EU grants with loans from European Financial institutions. The EU grants may be channeled in the form of investment grants, technical assistance support and risk capital operations (credit enhancement schemes, local currency lending). Specific investments have been financed through IFCA with EU grants, notably in the energy and water sector.
€ 65 million were earmarked for IFCA in the years 2010-2013. Out of this amount almost half of the funds were already committed to implement projects supporting: local banks in Kazakhstan in financing energy efficiency projects, upgrading and reduction of energy losses as well improvement of water sanitary systems in Tajikistan.