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We just had a very good meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the five Central Asian countries. I thank Tajikistan for hosting this 17th edition of the European Union-Central Asia Ministerial Meeting. This is an important forum. It makes us confirm the relevance of our partnership, to explore opportunities to stepping up our cooperation and discuss how best to tackle together our shared challenges. In the times we are living there are many and everyday more.
The European Union came to the meeting with a strong delegation. Together with my colleague, the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, that will also have some comments at the end of my intervention about our bilateral cooperation and our whole partnership.
I think this is a demonstration of the importance that we attach to our exchanges with Central Asian countries. We are very glad to be here, with a strong message: that the European Union is a reliable partner on whom you can count. Some may say the European Union is too far from Central Asia to be relevant for the region, that we are too busy with other issues in our immediate neighborhood, but with not much of the power of your big neighbors, China or Russia, or that we are too different from you. But we are here to tell you we might be far, but we have the means and the willingness to reduce the distance in a world that is increasingly interdependent. You are literally on the way between Europe and Asia. You are becoming a key part of the equation between these two worlds. I am convinced that together we are stronger and effectively will tackle together common challenges.
With the new initiative that we are going to approve next week, called the Global Gateway, the European Union will bring together its multiple instruments and resources to pull a comprehensive and coherent strategy in building bridges and running out infrastructure policies. We aim at facilitating connections and by doing it in a sustainable way, taking care of the environmental concerns of being compatible with the development needs of the people.
Central Asia is home to beautiful mountains and valleys, but it is also very much exposed to climate change. Today we have been talking about that. The access to water resources is a clear issue for the future development of the Central Asian countries and for future generations. Our working group on the environment, climate and water to be a key platform to address these issues jointly. And the post-Corona recovery should be an opportunity to accelerate the procedures towards climate neutrality, an opportunity to invest in a more sustainable low carbon and circular economy. And we, the European Union, we stand ready to engage with our partners to this act.
And third, we have a common interest to tackle regional challenges together. In the globally interconnected and interdependent world we cannot face problems in isolation anymore. One of the major challenges that this region is facing now and that has been discussed intensively, is the situation in Afghanistan. Allow me to say that …[inaudible]… Also when addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic and to work together towards a sustainable and green recovery for the pandemic.
We all know the negative impact on the health and wellbeing of our societies, and economies, and I have to repeat again our mantra that our nobody safe until everybody is safe. […inaudible…]. It is for this reason that the European Union is one of the world’s leading contributors with over 3bn euros to the COVAX Facility.
Bilaterally, our member states are sharing vaccines with Central Asia. We are also working with the World Health Organisation to prepare a new regional cooperation project on COVID-19. We have assisted Central Asian countries in the pandemic and we will continue doing so.
Secondly, we consistently supported trade and connectivity links between the EU and Central Asia, also to support our partners to help advance and upgrading their economies and their societies.
The position of the European Union is well known and the issue was mentioned before - Afghanistan. We will remain engaged to assist Afghan people but also to protect our strategic interests.
Let me once again recall our commitment to work with our Central Asian partners to ensure stability and security in the region. I would like to particularly highlight the humanitarian assistance that the European Union and Central Asian countries are providing to the people of Afghanistan. We are ready to intensify using our dialogue and cooperation on this and other issues. We are facing there important challenges of radical ideologies, the threat of terrorism, illicit drugs and arms trafficking, and migration. This is an important issue, I mentioned others before. All of them provide an opportunity to discuss how to increase our cooperation on these issues.
I raised the issue with Ministers of the situation of the borders of the European Union with Belarus and I requested their support in preventing this instrumentalisation of human beings and the risk of their lives. Cheating people, convincing them there is a way to Europe through flying to Minsk and this has to be prevented and I thank you a lot for your views presented in the meeting and the understanding and engaging to deal with this kind of threats.
The European Union and Central Asian Civil Society Forum that was held last month in Almaty is also a sign of our mutual efforts to …[inaudible] …
In this context, Commissioner Urpilainen and myself had the pleasure of awarding the EU Innovation Prize to young people from Tajikistan yesterday for their work on digital technologies and science. All in all, this has been a very interesting meeting.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-214280