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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to be in Dushanbe and address the conference Tajikistan and Cultural Diplomacy in Central Asia and Eurasia, here at the Tajik National University.
When we met with Professor Korosteleva in Warsaw earlier this year I was pleased to learn about many interesting events she and her University are organizing for expanding knowledge and research in and about Central Asia. I am glad that things have worked out and I am here today to attend one of them.
I was asked to briefly present main priorities of the new EU Central Asia Strategy adopted just a few month ago. I believe these priorities are closely related to the topic of the Conference. In the end our Strategy is about bringing Central Asia and Europe closer together based on shared values. I believe understanding each other better, including the culture and traditions, appreciating diversity which unites us (not divide us). This can help us strengthen our ties and pursue multilateralism and regional cooperation as the best ways for addressing existing challenges of today globally and regionally together as partners.
In this regard I am pleased to note that Central Asia is high on the agenda of the EU these days. It is not because of some conflict or crisis in the region but on the contrary because of positive developments – “new winds blowing” in Central Asia.
During slightly more than a quarter of century Central Asian countries have achieved a significant progress in strengthening their national identity and building their statehood from almost a scratch.
I believe these positive developments can be also credited to EU’s long-term support and investment into the sustainable development of the region.
In particular in the past couple of years Central Asia has gone through significant changes, which have brought the region closer than ever to Europe.
These positive dynamics that we see in Central Asia have opened up new opportunities for taking the EU – Central Asia partnership forward to a new level.
Our new Strategy on Central Asia endorsed in June by the EU Members States aims to convey a strong message of EU continued commitment to the region, its stability and prosperity.
We want to forge a stronger, modern and non-exclusive partnership with the region so that it develops as an area of cooperation and connectivity rather than competition and rivalry.
Based on suggestions of our partners, (needs and aspirations identified in an intensive and interactive consultation process) our new Strategy will aim to focus future EU action in the region on two key priorities:
We want to be partners for resilience. We want to strengthen the capacity of Central Asian states and societies to overcome internal and external shocks and enhance their ability to embrace reform. This should translate into closer cooperation on human rights and the rule of law. With independent media and an open space for civil society, institutions in Central Asia will be more accountable and credible, states will be more resilient in times of crisis and economies will be more solid and attractive. We also want to cooperate with the countries of the region to turn environmental challenges into opportunities, sharing know-how and technologies in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which should help achieve global climate targets.
2. We want to be partners for prosperity. We want to step up our cooperation to support economic modernisation, and there is a lot the EU can do to support the development of a stronger and competitive job-generating private sector in the region. We should also cooperate more closely to improve the climate for investment - including through a stronger business-to-business dialogue - and the EU remains a leading supporter of the integration of Central Asia into global system of trade and economic cooperation, including accession of Central Asian states to the WTO. We also want to intensify our cooperation to promote sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based connectivity, which should bring concrete benefits to countries of Central Asia (not only transit of goods).
In addition, and this should be a cross-cutting theme running across our future partnership, we want to invest in regional cooperation. More regional programmes involving the five countries of Central Asia would enable our partners to develop their own habits of cooperation to address common challenges ( In this respect we very much welcome the first consultative summit of CA leaders last year).
Given the critical interest that Central Asian countries have in the future and security of its neighbourhood, the EU also intends to step up cooperation with Central Asian partners to promote peace in Afghanistan and address other security challenges.
In line with its new strategy, the EU will continue to aim for the conclusion of new-generation Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (EPCAs) with the countries of the region reflecting their specific needs, ambitions and priorities of cooperation with the EU.
We have signed the first EPCA with Kazakhstan in 2015, concluded the negotiations with Kyrgyzstan and started EPCA negotiations with Uzbekistan this year, with Tajikistan to follow suit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We very much believe in national ownership and leadership as key elements of sustainability. In this regard we welcome that all our partners in Central Asia are fully engaged in implementation of main objectives of the Development Agenda 2030 based on SDGs.
The major challenge will be their implementation in practice (and not only for countries of Central Asia). We see serious delays in their implementation globally.
In this regard the access to the most advanced knowledge, technologies and new sources of sustainable financing will belong to key factors of success.
But as we know it from our own experience - the new technologies and equipment are worth nothing if you do not have the human capacity and the regulatory framework, proper enabling environment to use them in the most efficient manner.
That is why the role of education and research in all modernization processes will become more important as will be the case also for digital connectivity.
In a way, digital connectivity as we call it in the EU, I believe, will be even more important for development of regions then road and railways with advancing 4th industrial revolution.
The 3D printing, artificial intelligence, online commerce, mobile banking, digital services, including health and education services are changing rapidly the whole economic landscape.
It is essential that the countries of Central Asia also tap in and embrace these new global trends to ensure competitiveness and ultimately the well-being of their citizens.
Unrestricted access to affordable and high speed internet becomes more and more a factor of sustainable development.
EU is a strong supporter of what we call people-to-people connectivity which is also a very important element for cultural diplomacy. In this context, I would like to highlight the Erasmus+ (2014-2020) programme which has been running in Central Asia and Tajikistan in particular for many years and in fact it is one of the most successful programmes of the EU with Central Asia.
I also want to draw your attention to the CAREN project of which, as you know the Tajik Academy of Science is an important partner. CAREN has been a visionary endeavour in getting ahead of the future when started in 2009 – providing dedicated international connectivity and promoting the use of ICT in research and higher education in the region to foster global regional academic collaboration and access to global academic networks and sparse resources such as super computers and data storage facilities among other benefits.
Finally, the importance of basic freedoms, addressing inequalities for harmonious development of society should not be also underestimated. Our new Strategy clearly recalls that the promotion of human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law will remain key priorities for EU policy in the region.
Having said that, we do not want to impose any models or teach our partners how to build their countries and societies but rather share our experiences and best practices (for our partners in Central Asia to possibly avoid our mistakes and) pursue their objectives with a bigger speed. (using mechanisms like TAIEX and twinning).
We want to provide all necessary assistance for them to be able to cope with their international commitment and commitments to their citizens to secure a better life for all.
In particular, we want to support the empowerment of civil society, youth and women in the region and we want to see civil society playing a greater role in our partnership.
The first EU CA Forum involving civil society, media, researchers and private sector in the discussion on implementation of the new EU Strategy on Central Asia has clearly demonstrated and confirmed this great potential which should be better used also in processes of implementing National Development Strategies.
I usually avoid using quotations of living or past leaders. But today I would like to borrow a quotation from one of the Central Asia leaders (which I found very appropriate in this context). He said when presenting the concept of the modernization of his country that (I quote: Only those nations which manage to get ahead of the future and decisively meet the challenges without standing and waiting are the winners).
We want to see all our partners in Central Asia to become winners. The example of some of our member states, including the Baltic countries (which experienced similar transformations recently) is demonstrating that you can be a winner when you do the right things – invest in education, human capacity and modernization, benefiting from the most advanced technologies and research.
I am pleased to see these elements and priorities reflected in the National Development Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan.
It is worth noting that Tajikistan has been the first country in the region to present the NDS in Brussels.
The National Development Strategy is providing a very solid framework for addressing challenges of national development of Tajikistan in a comprehensive manner based on SDGs in their entirety. Now it is crucial for Tajikistan to implement the key priorities in practice without delay. The EU is ready to help but the main work needs to be done by your government and your citizens.
It should not discourage us however to do more together. On the contrary, we want to intensify our cooperation in all areas.
Here I want to reassure you that the EU wants to continue to be a strong and reliable partner for Tajikistan in its modernization and transformation processes. For the current programming period we have allocated 251 million Euro for implementation of bilateral programs in the area of education, health care and rural development and more than 500 million Euros for regional programs supporting rule of law, education, management of natural resources, security and economic cooperation.
We implement together several important projects underpinning the implementation of NDS, including human capacity building
The regional 'Silk Road Heritage Corridors' programme, for example, was launched in 2018 and is an example how culture can support sustainable development; this includes heritage-based tourism development and capacity-building and creation of opportunities for income-generation and jobs. Some of the Silk Roads targeted are the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor crossing Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and the Penjikent-Samarkand-Poykent Corridor crossing Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
In conclusion I wish to express my hope and belief that the discussion today and tomorrow will generate many important ideas and innovative solutions for moving the region of Central Asia, including Tajikistan to the Center of Asia where people meet and work together for a better life on our planet in line and in the spirit of modern Silk Road.
I wish you a productive discussion.
I thank you for your attention