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European Commission Adopts New Strategy On Central Asia

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini (3rd left) poses with Central Asian ministers during an EU-Central Asia ministerial meeting in Brussels in November 2018.

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has adopted a new Central Asia strategy with the aim of creating what it calls "a stronger, modern, and nonexclusive partnership" with former Soviet republics in Central Asia that are "willing and able" to improve relations.

The 16-page document spells out the general themes of what the European Commission wants to achieve in the coming years with the five former Soviet republics in Central Asia -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The strategy, which lacks details on concrete policies, updates a similar strategy paper from 2007.

It states that "while respecting the aspirations and interests of each of its Central Asian partners, as well as maintaining the need to differentiate between specific country situations, the EU will seek to deepen its engagement with those Central Asian countries willing and able to intensify relations."

The Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (EPCAs) that Brussels signed with Kazakhstan at the end of 2015 will remain "a cornerstone" of Brussels' engagement in the region, the document says.

Brussels is currently negotiating similar agreements with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The strategy document also says the EU "will work to address structural constraints on intraregional trade and investment, support remaining Central Asian states' accession to the World Trade Organization, and promote sustainable connectivity."

Support for human rights and civil society is also covered in the strategy document.

It pledges that "the EU will continue to promote respect for human rights in compliance with international standards, with a focus on freedom of expression (including media pluralism), freedom of association, women's rights, children's rights, the rights of minorities and fight against discrimination, and prevention and eradication of torture."

It says the EU "will promote an enabling legal and political environment for civil society that allows human rights defenders, journalists and independent trade unionists and employers' organizations to operate freely and safely. It will encourage dialogue and cooperation between civil society and administrations at all levels."

One concrete pledge in this area is to set up a dedicated dialogue on labor standards, business, and human rights and to "make expertise available to the countries wishing to make the necessary changes to their legislation and administrative systems and to strengthen their independent oversight institutions."

Other issues covered by the strategy document include the goal of organizing more high-level visits to the region and to assess the possibility of building a Trans-Caspian Pipeline beneath the Caspian Sea that links Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels
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