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Thank you very much, Mr Minister [for Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, Chingiz Aidarbekov], first of all for your very warn and excellent hospitality. I would like to thank you personally and your team for having hosted this ministerial meeting between the European Union and Central Asian countries.
We had an extremely fruitful meeting and this comes as no surprise to me - all the previous ministerial meetings have been particularly fruitful, but this time something new - and special was in the air. First of all, we have built relations of trust and mutual understanding that allow us to tackle all issues without any exception in a very frank and constructive manner, as friends do.
We have also used this opportunity - this is the fourth visit I pay to the region and I think my seventh visit to one of the Central Asian countries - to intensify bilateral relations between the European Union and some of the five countries in Central Asia.
Yesterday, we had the pleasure to witness the initialling of our agreement between the European Union and the Kyrgyz Republic, the new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
Also yesterday morning, I was in Ashgabat, signing an agreement to establish a European Union Delegation to Turkmenistan. In this way, the presence of the European Union in the region will cover all five countries at the highest diplomatic level.
This has also been the opportunity to present the new European Union Strategy on Central Asia - not just presenting it, I would need to refer to the work we have done this morning discussing its implementation.
The Strategy in itself is the result of a long and fruitful work that the European Union has done with the five Central Asian countries through constant consultations. This morning I presented its details to the Ministers.
The Strategy was adopted by the Ministers of the 28 Member States of the European Union, as the Minister reminded us, on the 17 June.
We have gone through the different sectors of cooperation that our Strategy envisages - the list is very long. We have seen in each of these fields of cooperation what steps we can take together, starting in the coming weeks and months, towards the implementation of projects in very concrete terms.
We share this interest to strengthen our common engagement. We see, as European Union, a strong demand from our Central Asian partners for more engagement with the European Union as a reliable partner for reforms and modernisation in the region.
This is why our Strategy envisages the strengthening of our cooperation on this extremely broad range of sectors - from security to trade, human rights, rule of law, good governance, energy, connectivity, development. The list is very long.
We want to support the countries of Central Asia in becoming first and foremost more resilient. This means strengthening societies, independent media, opening space for civil society, reinforcing the rule of law and good governance, combating corruption, and empowering young people and women in particular.
I was very pleased to attend the closing session of the first-ever EU-Central Asia Forumthat we had in Bishkek, involving civil society representatives, to accompany our EU-Central Asia ministerial meeting. We would like this to become an annual meeting accompanying the ministerial meetings we will have.
We also want as Europeans to contribute to the region’s prosperity. The European Union is the largest source of private investment worldwide, in some of these five countries, it is also the first source of private investment and the trade partner. The potential we see is still huge so we can do more to bring significant quality investment for sustainable connectivity projects in particular in Central Asia, provided a sound business climate is put in place.
We will continue to support the economic reforms and the modernisation of the countries, including of a strong investment in the private sector. We also remain a key supporter of the accession of all Central Asian states to the World Trade Organisation.
The European Union will also continue to work on connectivity in particular to further connect our two regions, to enhance links within Central Asia itself - one of the reasons why this partnership has been so successful so far is because it has benefitted our relations between the European Union and Central Asia, but also because we are supporting relations among Central Asian themselves.
We want to continue doing so - and to focus on projects that are sustainable, open and rules-based. We want to partner with Central Asia to develop its own forms of regional cooperation. We are investing as European Union in accompanying an increased level of cooperation and dialogue within the region.
We believe this would help to face the many challenges that no single country can address alone - think of environment, water management, border management, the fight against terrorism, trafficking of illicit drugs but also climate related issues.
Another issue we discussed, and that is at the centre of our cooperation, is peace in Afghanistan. This also requires an active support of the international community and the European Union is extremely involved in trying an Afghan owned and led peace process. We value enormously our cooperation with our Central Asian partners in this respect. Integrating Afghanistan in relevant regional meetings, programmes and projects, as appropriate, will therefore remain a priority in our joint work.
The European Union is fully committed, as I was saying, to implementing the new Strategy. We has today a very positive, optimistic and operational atmosphere on how to move forward in the next steps.
I presented today a number of initiativeson how we can take our cooperation forward, and I will mention a couple of them to you, as examples of very concrete projects we have decided to do in the coming months:
In addition to that, as an example:
These are just a few very concrete, practical and substantial examples of our cooperation that is already ongoing and that we have decided to intensify. This is a cooperation that involves every single country of the region and the region as a whole.
In our meeting today we also discussed ways to intensify our cooperation in the wider region, in particular when it comes to our common security. The most evident example is obviously Afghanistan, but we also discussed the situation in the broader region, our relations with other partners and interlocutors. We are currently working to intensify these consultations even further.
Apologies for being a little long, but I think this shows that our common agenda is extremely rich, that the cooperation we are developing is increasingly dynamic. Again, there are points of discussion, there are situations that we assess and that need to be improved.
But I believe this has been the most positive and fruitful ministerial meeting we have had in the past five years. I want to personally thank the Minister [Chingiz Aidarbekov, Foreign Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic] and his team for an excellent preparation of this meeting, but also each of the Ministers of the five countries for their commitment and engagement.
Central Asia is definitely a part of the world where the European Union can and will continue to have a positive impact, in full cooperation with our partners, in a very respectful, clear and transparent manner.
I can say that today is a very positive day for our partnership.
Thank you very much.