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The relations between the EU and Central Asia have developed further since the European Council adopted The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership in June 2007. This strategy has strengthened ties in all areas through political dialogue, dialogues on human rights and cooperation programmes. The EU last assessed the advances made in its 2017 Council Conclusions, which confirmed the EU’s commitment to its strategic objectives and to supporting political and economic reform in Central Asia, expressing at the same time need to review and renew its relationship with Central Asia, taking into account new geopolitical realities and the evolving needs and capacities of this region’s partners. The Council invited the High Representative and the Commission to come forward with a proposal for a new Strategy by the end of 2019 in accordance with the EU Global Strategy, taking stock of the achievements of EU action in support of Central Asia since the adoption of the current strategy.
Bilateral relations between Turkmenistan and the European Union are governed by an Interim Trade Agreement (1998), pending ratification of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) by some EU Member States and the European Parliament.
Within the framework of this Agreement, the EU and Turkmenistan hold annual meetings of a bilateral Joint Committee to discuss key aspects of bilateral relations, notably in: (i) trade and economy; (ii) the EU-Central Asia Strategy implementation; (iii) political and economic developments; (iv) and key aspects of EU development cooperation programs. Seventeen meetings of a Joint Committee have been organized so far, most recently in Ashgabat on 5th December 2017.
First preparatory meeting of an ad-hoc Working Group on Education and Culture was held in Ashgabat on 26 April 2017.
Relations between the European Parliament and Majlis of Turkmenistan are conducted through the mechanism of Inter-Parliamentary Meetings; the most recent 4th EU-Turkmenistan Inter-Parliamentary Meeting was held in Ashgabat on 19-20 April 2017.
The EU and Turkmenistan Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy (2008) facilitates the information exchange on energy policies, the diversification of transit routes and the promotion of renewables and energy efficiency. The latest bilateral meeting within the framework of this Memorandum took place in Ashgabat on 26th April 2016, while the next meeting is scheduled in 2018.
The EU’s Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) provides funding for development in the country. In this context, bilateral cooperation projects focus on economic reforms and privatization, education and capacity building, good governance and the rule of law, and sustainable energy. EU assistance for 2011-2013 was approximately EUR 39 million, the main focus being on education and legal reforms, the promotion of human rights, and economic and social sector reforms for sustainable development. 2014 - 2020 EU bilateral assistance is focused on education and vocational training (EUR 37 million for the period 2014-17). The EU and Turkmenistan also cooperate in the framework of the regional approach, which includes all five Central Asian republics. Regional cooperation projects focus on education, rule of law, water and environment, border management and the fight against drug trafficking.
EU Human Rights and Democracy Country Strategy for Turkmenistan focuses on the following priority areas:
Human rights implementation: continuation of capacity building of public services to implement human rights laws and conventions. Implementation of a number of EU and its MS funded projects will facilitate achieving this objective, notably in the area of: (a) enhancement of the institutional and training capacities of Turkmenistan's Academy of Civil Servants and of relevant state bodies, including the Institute of Human Rights; (b) training on human rights conventions to Turkmenistan judges and lawyers; (c) rule of law.
Judicial reform and prison reform: supporting reforms of the judicial and prison systems as well as access to prisons. Implementation of concrete EU and its MS funded projects will facilitate achieving this objective, notably in the area of the Ombudsperson's role in looking at the status of prisoners.
Freedom of association and expression: supporting the civil society and human rights defenders. Creation of a more favorable environment for the functioning of the civil society organizations is in line with the priorities of Turkmenistan's National Human Rights Action Plan for 2016-2020.
EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue
Human rights are an important aspect of the bilateral relations between the EU and Turkmenistan. Since the launch of a bilateral annual Human Rights dialogue in 2008, the EU has already held nine meetings of this Human Rights Dialogue with Turkmenistan authorities, most recently in Ashgabat on 25th April 2017, allowing for constructive and open discussions on a number of issues related to human rights and democratization, including: prison conditions; torture and enforced disappearances; judicial reforms and the rule of law; freedom of association, of expression and of belief; role of independent Ombudsman.
EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World
Every year, the Council of the EU adopts the EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World. The 2016 report was adopted on 16 October 2017.
This document includes a chapter devoted to Turkmenistan. The EU continued to engage in human rights and democracy discussions with Turkmenistan in various settings, including the Human Rights Dialogue and Joint Committee; the parties constructively discussed human rights issues also during the visits of the EUSR for Central Asia to Ashgabat, accompanied by the EEAS Central Asia Division. The EU’s priority is the continuation of capacity building of public services to implement provisions embedded in international conventions with full respect for human rights, supporting reforms of the judicial and prison systems as well as access to prisons, and supporting civil society and human rights defenders.
The EU, together with UNDP and OHCHR, supported Turkmenistan to draft its first National Human Rights Action Plan. The EU continued its support to the country with training of Turkmen judges and lawyers on human rights Conventions, and within its regional Rule of Law Platform, with seminars on the Ombudsman institution and the civil society.
The EU continued the implementation of its human rights related projects, bilateral and regional. Under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), it supported the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) with a EUR 0.7 million project providing training seminars for Turkmen judges and lawyers on human rights Conventions. Under the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), the EU Rule of Law Platform for Central Asia, a EUR 1,8 million regional project, organized seminars in Turkmenistan notably on the Ombudsman and on the role of civil society. A EUR 4.5 million new bilateral project 'Support to Capacity Building in Public Administration' aims at increasing the qualifications of civil servants and institutional strengthening.
Turkmenistan participated in the Annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in 2016; the country also reached out to the UNDP and OSCE for their comments and recommendations on the draft of the revised constitution. Turkmenistan hosts an OSCE Centre in Ashgabat, which works with the authorities on a number of human rights issues (rule of law, gender equality, media freedom, trafficking in human beings). Turkmenistan has not extended an open invitation to Special Procedures.