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My apologies for the delay.
This reflects the fact that we had not complicated but very fruitful and very intense discussions with the Ministers [of the Central Asian countries], in an excellent session of our Ministerial meeting with the Central Asian countries. I wanted to take the time to brief you on the results of this very important meeting we had today, starting early this morning with bilateral ministerial meetings and then two sessions of work with all five Central Asian Foreign Ministers.
I have visited Central Asia twice over the past year and we are meeting with increasing frequency, both bilaterally and in a regional format like we did today. This shows the European Union's strong commitment to the region and our interest in stepping up our cooperation.
Our meeting today took place in a very intense week for our relations – very intense and important. On Monday the European Union Member States' Foreign Ministers discussed the new positive dynamics in Central Asia and the many opportunities that these dynamics create for us Europeans.
Earlier today, I launched negotiations together with Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz] Kamilov for an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Uzbekistan. Negotiations for a similar agreement with Kyrgyzstan are ongoing and we have already signed one with Kazakhstan back in December 2015.
Tajikistan signalled to us today that they would also want to negotiate a new cooperation agreement with the European Union, so we will look at starting negotiations soon.
Today, I have also taken the decision to open a new European Union Delegation in the only country in Central Asia where we do not currently have a fully-fledged Delegation, which is Turkmenistan. So we will open a new embassy in Turkmenistan as of next year. This is a clear, positive response to the demand we see and hear very clearly from the country to engage more with the European Union as we are seen as a reliable partner in the reform and modernisation process. It also reflects the fact that the European Union has a strategic interest in engaging more systematically with Turkmenistan, from security issues, to energy, to human rights.
Central Asia is a region where there is a strong and increasing demand for new partnerships – for a diversification of partnerships, I would say - and a region which is definitely looking for more engagement from and with the European Union. And the message we have shared today is that the European Union is also interested in increasing this partnership.
We share this interest to strengthen our engagement – whether it is on security, on trade, on energy, on connectivity, on development matters – the list is very long.
It is in our interest that Central Asia develops as a more resilient and more closely interconnected economic and political space, and this is something we are actively supporting.
We had a useful exchange of views during the Ministerial about the new Strategy on Central Asia that the European Union is planning to adopt next year. I have heard the strong expectations of our Central Asian partners and can say that we are working on our European side to match those expectations so that we can strengthen our partnership more than ever before.
We discussed ways to intensify our cooperation on sustainable connectivity. Last month, the European Union adopted a new strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia, which has obviously a particular relevance for Central Asia, as it is the crossroads, the meeting point of two continents. We share a mutual interest in developing and strengthening connections between Europe and Central Asia, whether that is transport links, digital infrastructure, energy networks, or contacts between people. We decided to intensify our bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation on connectivity across all these areas and it is vital that the connections we create are sustainable and of good quality.
On that note, today, I can also announce €124 million in support of sustainable development across all five of the Central Asian countries. The programmes we are financing will help to develop the private sector, trade and investment, will help to protect the environment, tackle climate change, promote the rule of law, and create effective and inclusive education policies. This is another concrete illustration of how we are working together to tackle the everyday priorities in the individual countries, but also in the region as a whole.
We are witnessing unprecedented regional cooperation currently developing in the region – for example on water management, on border management, and trade facilitation. Central Asian countries will make their own choices and find their own models of regional cooperation but as the European Union, we are ready to support and accompany that process and we are share our experiences.
We also discussed ways to intensify our cooperation in the wider region, particularly when it comes to our common security. The most evident example, the one we discussed at length during our second session, is Afghanistan, where we are already working together, not least following the Afghanistan Conference in Tashkent in March that I attended.
I will meet again with most of my Central Asian counterparts in a couple of days' time at the Geneva [Ministerial] Conference on Afghanistan. At the present moment, we all believe - the five Foreign Ministers and myself - that there is a real window for peace in the country and that it is up to all of us to take this opportunity, to encourage the commitment and engagement of all stakeholders - and I under line all of them - in an Afghan-led and –owned peace process. We decided with the five [Central Asian] Foreign Ministers to coordinate our positions in view of the Geneva Conference [on Afghanistan] next Tuesday and Wednesday.
We are currently developing several projects – on trade facilitation, border management, women's education – that aim to link up Central Asia and Afghanistan more closely. It is clear we have a joint interest in making Afghanistan successful and secure. This would benefit Afghans first and foremost but it would also benefit Afghanistan's neighbours, which means Central Asia and also Europe.
Another country in our common neighbourhood is Iran. I thanked the Ministers for their support to the nuclear agreement with Iran, the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], which is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and crucial for the security of the region, for Europe, for Central Asia and beyond. The European Union remains committed to implementing the nuclear deal with Iran, and the efforts of the countries of Central Asia are also helping enormously to ensure that this implementation continues fully and effectively. We confirmed this today with all the five [Central Asian] Foreign Ministers.
So, I am sorry that I have been not only late but also very long, but this shows that the agenda that we have together is extremely rich and that the cooperation we are developing is increasingly dynamic.
It is definitely a part of the world where the European Union can and will continue to have a positive impact. So, to sum it up, we decided today to coordinate our positions even closer and to cooperate even more on all these different fields that I mentioned during this long explanation I presented to you.
We will hold the next [EU-Central Asia] Ministerial meeting in the first half of 2019 and I believe we have a joint statement that is also public by now.
I thank you very much.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I163700