Central Asia countries & EU
Central Asia, strategically located between two continents, is the historical bridge between Europe and Asia. The former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan make up Central Asia.
To the West, the coastline of the world’s largest body of enclosed water, the Caspian Sea, runs along the length of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. To the North is Russia and in the South both Afghanistan and Iran share its borders. Further east is China. Fostering relations, peaceful ties, and prosperity throughout is in the interest of the EU and the countries involved.
Since the launch of the strategy between the EU and Central Asia in 2007, Central Asia and indeed the EU, continue to benefit from close co-operation and improved relations. The strategy assesses the needs of each while pursuing several distinct objectives. These objectives include the promotion of stability and security, the pursuit of sustainable economic development and poverty reduction, and closer regional co-operation both within Central Asia and between Central Asia and the EU.
Today, the EU continues to invest in the region and in each country. In fact, the Union has budgeted around EUR 719 million in regional programmes and country-based projects between 2007 and 2013.
The regional programmes are allocated around six specific sectors:
Energy and water :
To help harness and realise the potential energy emanating from Central Asia’s natural resources, the EU developed the Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe programme (Inogate). Inogate covers the areas of oil and gas, electricity, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The programme provides a number of services, including feasibility and technical studies, legal and institutional support, and technical assistance. In addition, Inogate supports small-scale investments in interstate infrastructure.
The Silk Route ran through Central Asia and brought along with it merchants, goods, and differing cultures. Today, Central Asia is once again pursuing a strategy to improve transport infrastructure. Getting from one point to another with ease is vital to the development and improvement of trade in the region. Building roads and rail within and between the countries is a priority.
To aid the process, the EU’s Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia programme (Traceca) provides a number of transport and trade-related expertise and services. These aim to improve trade, promote the integration of the Europe-Caucasus-Asia international transport corridor and identify problems in the region’s transport and trade systems. The project also attracts funding from international financing institutions, development partners and private investors.
Regional co-operation to promote development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is another priority. Initiatives are in place, for instance the Central Asia Invest regional programme, to encourage the development of SMEs through capacity-building projects. In particular, the programme helps develop local Business Intermediary Organisations (BIOs) to support SMEs. BIOs are chambers of commerce, sector-specific trade, industrial and professional associations, regulatory bodies and agencies promoting trade, investment and commercial activities as well as sector-based agencies.
Border management and the fight against drugs :
Regional stability also entails stopping the production, sale and traffic of illicit drugs. Associated criminal activities of the drug trade and its devastating human consequences have been well documented.
To help the fight against drugs and improve border management, the EU has initiated two programmes. The Border Management in Central Asia programme (BOMCA) aims to increase security in the Central Asian region, contribute towards the facilitation of legitimate trade and transit, and reduce the illicit movement of goods and people. While the Central Asia Drug Action Programme (CADAP) aims to gradually adopt EU and international good practices on drug policies.
Education and science :
The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for universal primary education will hopefully be achieved by 2015. EU-funded programmes are currently in place to help ensure that this MDG is met in Central Asia as well. But alongside primary education, the EU is also developing a high-capacity regional research and education network which will provide high-speed internet for universities and research centres. Visit the Central Asian Research and Education Network (CAREN) website for more information.
With the world’s northernmost desert and its largest enclosed body of water, Central Asia boasts an extremely diverse landscape. But deforestation, desertification, natural disasters and climate change are a constant threat. Protecting natural resources and biodiversities is the priority of the Central Asia Environment programme. The programme is divided up into two phases. The first phase focuses on water and runs until 2012. The second phase is under development but is expected to broaden the first and will run until 2013.