I am glad to be here today – although only virtually - for the Second Civil Society Forum organised by the European Union, together with the Central Asian countries.
An active civil society promotes tolerance and respect for different opinions, offers ideas for reforms and progress, defends rights and justice, creates demand for discussion and civic engagement.
This is exactly how the EU works with our partners, by engaging with everyone: political leaders, authorities and NGOs. All of them are representative of a country and its society.
The new EU Strategy on Central Asia reflects a renewed dynamic in our partnership. We see Central Asia as a strategic region, linking Europe and Asia together.
But in order to benefit from its strategic location and its young and dynamic population, this region has to speed up its transformation and integration processes.
And the civil society has a crucial part along the way.
The EU continues to be a reliable partner but our partnership is being tested in the most difficult of times. The pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities, reminding how fragile and interconnected we are.
Thousands of volunteers in Central Asia have already been on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 and way before that.
Without civil society organisations in Central Asia, victims of domestic violence would lose support, people with disabilities would lose assistance, disinformation would remain unchecked and many voices would remain unheard.
Civil society will continue to play a vital role in the post-Covid recovery. You will be essential to fight climate change, to ask for better governance and transparency, to defend human rights and the rule of law. You will be essential to build back better.
The European Union admires and recognises your invaluable work. You are integral partners in Central Asia - in our programs and in our dialogue - as we start a difficult journey for an inclusive and green recovery.
I look forward to your recommendations from today’s discussions before the Ministerial meeting in November.
I sincerely wish that Forums like this one can become a platform to further empower civil society, to feed and generate new ideas in the EU-Central Asia partnership.