The European Union began its engagement with Tajikistan in the early 1990s, following the country's independence from the Soviet Union. In 1992, a TACIS programme office was opened in Dushanbe. Due to the Tajik civil war, the programme office was largely non-operational until 2000, when direct project funding began in earnest. In 2001, the first annual EU-Tajikistan Joint Committee meeting was held in Brussels. In 2004, Commissioner Patten visited Dushanbe, and a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) was signed by President Rahmon in Luxembourg; it entered into force following ratification in 2010. EU-Tajikistan relations today are conducted within the framework of the EU Central Asia Strategy 2014-2020. Cooperation under the PCA is comprehensive and includes the facilitation of economic transition for Tajikistan, and the promotion of inclusive, sustainable human and economic development. The EU is assisting the government of Tajikistan with its structural reform process, notably through providing around one third of its assistance through budget support. The EU is also enhancing the capacity of civil society in the country, and does so in partnership with local and international NGOs.
EU bilateral development assistance has increased from around €20 million annually in the early 2000s to a figure of around €33 million today. For 2014-2020, the funds are focused on improving education, health and rural development:
Trade and economic relations between the EU and Tajikistan are governed by Tajikistan's WTO membership and by the bilateral Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The agreement provides for a non-preferential agreement under which the parties grant each other 'most-favoured nation' (MFN) treatment. The agreement also envisages progressive regulatory approximation of the national legislation and practices to the most important EU trade-related standards. This should lead to better practical access to the EU markets for goods originating in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan is also a beneficiary of the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). Preferential imports from Tajikistan are heavily concentrated in one sector only (textiles) but also include industrial products. EU-Tajikistan bilateral trade relations are limited but have been growing in recent years. The EU is Tajikistan's third largest trade partner, after Russia and China and its main imports were aluminium, agricultural products, and textiles. The main EU exports to Tajikistan were machinery, transport equipment, agricultural products and chemical products. Tajikistan is planning to apply to join the EU's GSP+ programme.
The multi-annual indicative regional programme for Central Asia (2014-2020) totals €340 million and foresees the continuation of cooperation at regional level in the fields of energy, environment and socio-economic development, border management (most notably with Afghanistan), fight against drugs and crime, and education. Tajikistan also benefits from thematic support through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, migration and asylum and funding channelled through global initiatives like Global Partnership for Education, and the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation. The Erasmus+ programme for Central Asia totals €115 million and aims to support actions in the fields of education, training, youth and sport for the period 2014-2020. Tajikistan will continue to benefit, under the Instrument for Stability and Peace, from support to address narcotics and the fight against organised crime.
The European Union believes that democracy and human rights are universal values that should be vigorously promoted around the world. In this regard, human rights are a central aspect of the EU's external action, including in its bilateral relations with third countries. The EU and Tajikistan entered into an enhanced dialogue on human rights in October 2008. This dialogue offers a platform for discussion on questions of mutual interest, and serves to enhance cooperation on human rights in multilateral fora such as the OSCE and the United Nations. Officials from the European Union meet their counterparts from Tajikistan's government on a yearly basis to address concerns in the field of human rights, while a yearly "Civil Society Seminar" brings together NGOs, academics and practitioners from the EU and Tajikistan to discuss specific questions and exchange best practices. In this framework, open discussions regarding the treatment of and the approach towards civil society organisations and political opposition parties are had.
Given Central Asia's proneness to natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods and landslides, as well as its vulnerability the effects of climate change, EU humanitarian action in the region is largely focussed on improving the capacity of national institutions and local communities to prepare for and respond to disaster. Through its disaster preparedness programme, the Commission is funding community-based initiatives to increase the resilience of local populations in Tajikistan and across Central Asia. Since 1994, the Commission has provided over €222 million in humanitarian funding to Central Asia. In Tajikistan, EU humanitarian operations were in place in response to the civil war in 1994, whilst more recently, the Disaster Preparedness Programme's action plans have improved disaster risk reduction models, facilitated coordination between development partners and government agencies, and supported the safety of schools, hospital preparedness and mitigation of disaster risks in urban areas.