Think tank presents recommendations for new EU strategy for Central Asia

Frattini: "While the current state of EU-Central Asia relations is good, there are still many goals to achieve"
Think tank presents recommendations for new EU strategy for Central Asia
07 December 12:06 2018 Print This Article

Closer dialogue, focus on concrete results, a realistic, pragmatic and state-by-state approach and “soft power” initiatives were among the key recommendations included in the Eurasian Council on Foreign Affairs’ (ECFA) report outlining proposals for the European Union’s (EU) upcoming Strategy for Central Asia. The report was officially presented Dec. 5 at a press conference at Cliveden House, a stately manor outside of London where ECFA held its fifth annual meeting.

“Our analysis suggests that the European Union should direct its focus in a realistic and practical way that plays to the strengths of the EU. And we think that it has to be streamlined and focused especially on ‘soft power’ areas,” said former EU Commissioner for External Relations and current ECFA Advisory Council Chair Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner to open the press conference attended by other members of the council including the former presidents of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, and Serbia.

The report includes expert contributions from 16 international institutions including the United Nations, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and several universities.

Former Italian Foreign Minister and Chamber President of the Italian Council of State Franco Frattini presented the report, outlining the key recommendations addressed to the European External Action Service aimed at helping make the strategy more effective.

He noted the strategy must first of all use the lessons learned from the past experience of negotiating and implementing the current strategy for Central Asia, first devised in 2007 under the German EU presidency. These include increasing the EU’s visibility in the region, narrowing down the projects and areas of cooperation with the aim of enhancing their efficiency and considering the opinions of the regional states, while avoiding unnecessary competition with major regional actors such as China and Russia and enhancing coordination among European countries.

“We also have to have in mind that our interlocutors sometimes felt the ‘Eurocentric’ approach from European institutions – what some used to define as the ‘teach and preach’ approach, where European institutions tried to dictate to our interlocutors what they should or shouldn’t do. This is another element that in some cases made our interlocutors quite reluctant to fully engage in open cooperation with the European institutions,” he said.

The main goals in the region today should be about working for concrete results and applying a pragmatic approach. This implies a shift from a conference and dialogue-based relationship to a more practical and operational approach with specific projects aimed at achieving tangible results, the Italian politician noted.

The report also recommends the EU adopt a state-by-state approach in relations with Central Asian countries. The previous strategy applied a blanket approach that didn’t consider regional differences, Frattini said.

The report deliberates on the “soft power” initiatives where the new strategy should focus, noting they would include improving health services, justice and law enforcement, as well as fighting corruption.

The new strategy should also aim to continue supporting foreign direct investment in the Central Asian region while accounting for significant shifts in the regional economy, including the move towards digitisation and creating the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC), an important new hub operating under English common law, notes the report.

Instead of competing with the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the EU should enhance cooperation. This should become another goal of the new strategy, Frattini said.

Concluding his presentation, he noted the EU should focus its work in the Central Asian region in certain key areas including security, education, sustainable development, including water management, and investment.

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