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CEPS European Neighbourhood Watch. Issue 57: Messages from Central Asia for the High Representative


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CEPS European Neighbourhood Watch. Issue 57

Editorial by Michael Emerson: "Messages from Central Asia for the High Representative"

The EU's new High Representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, is understandably on a steep learning curve in her new job. So many dossiers to get to know so fast. Central Asia is just one of many, and not at the top of the list. However a new monitoring study evaluating the EU's Central Asia ‘Strategy', just published, serves to illustrate a number of points of wider significance for the EU's foreign policy (see: "Into EurAsia - Monitoring the EU's Central Asia Strategy", CEPS and FRIDE, February 2010).

 Ashton's first task is to get the European External Action Service up and running, with the former Delegations (or embassies) of the Commission now to represent the European Union as a whole for all its competences. As regards Central Asia, if the EU is to have a credible ‘strategy' there, it needs fully fledged Delegations in all five states. Its Delegation to Kazakhstan is well established, those to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are currently being upgraded, but there is nothing yet on the horizon for Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. Other more innovative developments could be envisaged. Given that not many EU member states are represented in several of the central Asian states, the EU could organise common diplomatic and consular services on behalf of all.  Common political reporting is one easy possibility, but more interesting for the people of Central Asia would be a common consular service for the issue of visas, at least for the 25 Schengen states. Other parts of the world would be candidates for the same developments also, but why not start with Central Asia experimentally? On the management of the Commission's aid programmes the monitoring study deplores the absence of published analysis of their impact and effectiveness, which the European Parliament might reasonably request together with publication of the Commission's own internal monitoring reports. 

 On the substance of the Central Asia ‘strategy', the monitoring study observes a very wide ranging number of so-called priorities or focal points (political dialogue, human rights, rule of law, education, economic development, energy and transport links, water, common threats such as drug trafficking and terrorism etc.), but none of these seem to achieve yet striking results. There are many policy dialogues, but where's the beef? The monitoring study makes proposals: for the human rights dialogue to be carefully upgraded; for the transport programmes to be updated in the light of new links being developed between the region and China and Afghanistan; for the water initiative to get to grips with the major issues of confrontation between upstream and downstream states; for the education initiative to be better adapted to Central Asian realities; for the energy dialogues to translate into clear proposals for linking gas from Turkmenistan to the Nabucco project, etc. The common theme running through these various elements is one that concerns EU foreign policies across the word: that of sketching a vast agenda for cooperation, but leaving implementation to tools that have insufficient capacity to achieve real results. This endemic problem for the EU's foreign policy is now exposed to brutal comparison, certainly in Central Asia but not only there, with China's massive interventions. For example, while the EU has been talking about the Nabucco gas pipeline for many years, China has built and now opened a trans-Central Asia gas pipeline linking it with Turkmenistan in half the time.

 There are further issues raised by Central Asia for the multiple regional dimensions of the EU's foreign policy in the Eurasian space, i.e. its Eastern Partnership, its Strategic Partnerships with Russia, China and India, and its recently published Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.  It is commendable that the EU seeks to facilitate intra-Central Asian regional cooperation, even while this proves extremely difficult (for example the recent breakup of the regional electricity grid is a step in the contrary direction). But the EU should also work more explicitly on cooperative links between its projects in Central Asia with this region's own neighbours. Up to a point this is attempted through several links between the Eastern Partnership and Central Asia (e.g. transport and energy corridors), and here a further step would be to invite Kazakhstan to join the multilateral working groups of the Eastern Partnership. The EU apparently discusses Central Asia with Russia, China and India in its strategic partnerships with each of these three major powers, but the time comes here again to translate dialogues into actions, with transport, energy, drug trafficking and terrorism evident as matters of common interest. The truly strategic objective here should be to channel the current wave of multipolarity discourses, which in itself look dangerous for the stability of the world, into more structured cooperative actions. Central Asia is unique in the world in being bordered at each point of the compass by the major powers of the Eurasian landmass - by Russia and China to the north and east, and with the EU and India not far away to the west and south. There will be other much more difficult theatres of foreign policy action than Central Asia where these powers will face each other, so better search for a cooperative multipolarity here, especially since the states of the region themselves want ‘multi-vectoral' foreign policies.

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№3(42), 2010

№3(42), 2010