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Q&A: EU's New Central Asia Envoy Looks To Challenges Ahead

Patricia Flor was formerly Berlin's special envoy to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Here she is pictured alongside Tajik Ambassador to Germany Imomudin Sattorov.
BRUSSELS -- On July 2, Patricia Flor started her job as the new European Union special representative for Central Asia. Her one-year mandate, which can be renewed several times, makes Flor one of the key players in shaping Brussels' policy in the region. In doing so, she will look to draw on experience from her previous role as Germany’s special envoy to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, Flor discussed a range of topics concerning the region's five republics – from human rights to energy politics.

RFE/RL: Critics of your predecessor, Pierre Morel, said that he didn't meet with local human rights defenders often enough. Will you meet with them more?

Patricia Flor:
I intend to work very closely with all actors in the Central Asian region. Of course, that means that the first counterpart for an institution like the EU is the government -- the president and the ministers [of a country] -- but that is only one part of the equation and certainly the other part of it is the people and the civil society.

RFE/RL: Are you in favor of having concrete benchmarks for the Central Asian countries to meet on issues such as human rights?

Flor: The benchmarking exercise is not one that I can really now imagine for a variety of reasons. One of them is that there are many, many external factors. There is the security factor, which in some sense is external to Central Asia. But also one would need to really look at what kind of a benchmark you are talking about, for what kind of an issue, and what does it depend on? So I am not convinced right off the cuff that this would be the right approach.

RFE/RL: Was it the right move for the EU to drop sanctions on Uzbekistan?

Flor: I think it was right to drop the EU sanctions on Uzbekistan. I think that yes, we have seen certain steps towards improving the overall situation in Uzbekistan. Just to mention a few, the human rights dialogue with Uzbekistan that the EU now regularly has is one element of this new basis for our work with Uzbekistan. Another is the opening of the EU delegation in Tashkent, which is under way. So I think that yes, we have seen progress.

RFE/RL: How do you see the future of the Nabucco Pipeline and the Trans-Caspian Pipeline now that the governments of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan aren't on a good footing with each other?

Flor: Of course it is never a confidence-building measure, let me say, if you then have, as we heard recently, actual clashes and disagreement between those two countries concerned, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. At the same time, both countries recently agreed that the Trans-Caspian pipeline is a project that is worthwhile to work on for both of them, despite the fact everyone is aware that there are some unresolved disputes about the Caspian Sea.

Rights groups have criticized the Kazakh government for its response to December riots in the Western oil town of Zhanaozen, as purportedly shown in this YouTube screen grab.
Rights groups have criticized the Kazakh government for its response to December riots in the Western oil town of Zhanaozen, as purportedly shown in this YouTube screen grab.
RFE/RL: How do you see the situation in Kyrgyzstan today, after the violent events of 2010?

Flor: The key is really the integration of representatives of all ethnicities into the state apparatus -- into the parliament, into the local administration -- so that they really can feel that this is their country, their state, and is therefore also for their future and their safety.

RFE/RL: How do you regard the trials of opposition figures in Kazakhstan following December's riots in Zhanaozen?

Flor: The EU, and that means the EU delegation in Kazakhstan also, of course is following these trials very carefully and is observing [them]. At the moment, the legal course of procedures has not yet been concluded and of course that will need to be looked at when we know, because at the moment there are still judicial procedures running. Basically, of course, what is needed in Kazakhstan is first of all that the unrest in Zhanaozen, which had a variety of reasons, many of them social and corruption issues -- they need to be taken up by the Kazakh government and there are some signs that they are working on this. Secondly, all the trials, from our point of view, should follow the rules for fair and transparent trials.

RFE/RL: How do you view the current situation in Tajikistan?

Flor: Tajikistan urgently needs to focus on economic and social development. It comes along with civil rights -- because if you look at human rights, economic and social rights are part of that. I understand that for many people that if it's about not having heating in the winter or not having enough income to sustain your family, then this is a priority concern. For Tajikistan, which is really the poorest [country] in the region, this should really be one of the main policy goals for the future. I believe that would work better the more you have everyone participating -- so, the more you have local government and the possibility for regions to better decide what is beneficial for them, the better you can then sustain social and economic development.