Ambassador Pierre Morel, EU Special Representative for Central Asia

nCa: How does the dialogue between the EU and Central Asia progress on environment and water issues? Is the EU happy with the progress of the process so far, what has been achieved, what else needs to be done, are all Central Asian countries equally cooperative?

Morel: Environment and water are part of the Strategy that the EU has developed for cooperation with Central Asia. These areas have a prominent place alongside with issues like common security threats, economic cooperation, energy and state governance. The EU has singled out environment and water, not only because they are of unquestionable importance for the countries of Central Asia, but also because the consequences of environmental processes in the region might stretch as far as Europe. They can be seen as a common challenge for the EU and Central Asia. Besides, the Europeans subscribe to the philosophy that the environment is a global system and we all are responsible for it, regardless of where on the planet the damage occurs. Addressing environmental problems, including in Central Asia, can be seen as part of our concern for the World that we all live in and that we will leave to the future generations. From a more practical perspective, environment nowadays provides a lot of opportunities for small and medium business, for new job openings. These are the ideas that we had in our minds a month ago, when we launched in Ashgabat the work under the Environment and Water pillar of the EU and Central Asia Strategy. Italy, in cooperation with the European Commission coordinates the work under this pillar on behalf of the European Union.

The purpose of the EU-Central Asia Strategy and its Environment and Water Pillar is to provide a better, clearer structure, which will help to attract more funding to the environmental area in the region. It also makes the EU programs more visible, easier to use. The first stage of this process is already behind us. We have identified, together with the five countries from the region, the most problematic environmental areas and we have sketched the general approach to them. The next step is to set in place a full-fledged concept and to implement it.

The EU is also willing to start national environment dialogues with every Central Asian country as integral part of a wider process. Greater regional awareness will rise and mature through these specific national dialogues: it is a bottom up approach. Some progress has already been achieved with Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. In parallel, the EU member states and the EU institutions will continue to implement the programmes they already have in place. Such are the developments we expect in the next year.

Of course, the cooperation between in environment the EU and Central Asian countries did not start last month. It lasts already for several years. The EU member states have been sponsoring many environmental projects in the region, and the European Commission is working in this area for several years now. The EU is following carefully the environmental situation in the region and, of course, the water issues. In March 2008, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the EU, Dr. Javier Solana and the European Commissioner for External Relations Mrs. Benita Ferrero-Waldner published a report on the "security implications of climate change ". It mentioned the meltdown of glaciers in Central Asia as particularly alarming issue. They are currently preparing a second, deeper study on the same topic. They analyse in more depth the environmental challenges in several parts of the World, their impact on the regional and global security. Central Asia is one of the regions in focus. It proves that these two EU institutions, the Council of Ministers and the Commission, appreciate the significance of the environmental and water-related issues in Central Asia and want to reflect together on it.

About the participation of the Central Asian countries, all five of them have responded to our proposal for cooperation and have given us valuable ideas on how to add value to the efforts already made by them and by the other international organisations. A response from all countries is crucial when it comes to environment, because most of the problems in this area are of cross-border nature. If we want to counter these problems adequately, we have no choice but to follow their logic and to formulate a trans-border, regional solutions. On the other hand, the EU is taking account of the specifics of each Central Asian country, and of the particular ways in which an environmental problem obviates itself in each country. In addition, the economic situation of each country defines the manner in which it will approach the problem at national level and the way in which it will contribute to the regional efforts for its solution.

We have to mention explicitly water. The EU has defined it as specific component in its Strategy for environmental cooperation with Central Asia. The Union is following very carefully the negotiations between the five countries in the region regarding the distribution of the waters of the trans-boundary rivers. We see how painful this process is, we appreciate the good will shown by the countries in the region and how much more tolerance and patience is needed to reach a lasting solution. On the EU side, we think that all our knowledge and financial assistance will be meaningless unless the countries in the region reach agreement among themselves. The EU will not define the model for cooperation between the Central Asian states. Such an approach would be unrealistic. Of course, the EU can share its vast experience in solving issues related to trans-boundary rivers. We have developed a number of working mechanisms for rivers, crossing several EU states, like Rhine, Rhone and Danube. But we do have in mind that the economic, social and political conditions in Central Asia are specific and often differ from those in Europe. Therefore, the EU sees itself as a facilitator, long-term partner that enables the search for models, helps build the necessary infrastructure and administrative systems, always with full respect for the situation in each country and in the region as a whole. As you can see, this is a very careful approach, which also requires an involvement from our Central Asian partners.

nCa: What other dialogues/processes are currently developing between the EU and Central Asia?

Morel: 2008 was quite a productive year for the EU-Central Asian relations. In general, we can say that the EU has finished the stages of analysis, strategy drafting and initial planning, which we launched in 2007 and in the first months of 2008. The rest of 2008 was used to make cooperation mechanisms operational and start substantial dialogues, both on multilateral and bilateral level. Currently, the cooperation between the EU and Central Asia enters a stage of full implementation.

In 2008, there was movement in every area of cooperation we have planned. For example, in political and security dialogue, several leaders from the region visited Brussels for talks with the European Union and there were numerous visits of the heads of the EU member states to the region. We had the first of its kind EU-Central Asia Security Forum in Paris. It was a rare opportunity to put together the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all Central Asian countries with their colleagues from the twenty seven EU member states. Very frank and in-depth discussion on the security matters of the day took place, including the Georgian crisis and security threats common to EU and Central Asia, like illegal trafficking in drugs, chemical precursors, arms and human beings, energy security and climate change. The success of the forum led the French Presidency of the EU to organise a more specific event, this time on Afghanistan, between the EU and Afghanistan and its immediate neighbours, including the Central Asian ones.

Another important focus in the EU-Central Asia relations is the dialogue on drugs control and border management. An expert meeting on chemical precursors on 1st October in Brussels and an International ministerial conference on 22-23 October in Dushanbe deepened the cooperation process. The EU also continues with its well-established actions, the Border Management Programme for Central Asia (BOMCA) and Central Asia Drug Action Programme (CADAP), which address both the demand and the supply side of the drugs abuse in Central Asia.

I would not like to get too technical, but I have to mention the "regional initiatives" that were launched in 2008 and will show their first results in the next months. The EU Rule of Law Initiative for Central Asia was launched in November in Brussels. It will focus initially on constitutional reforms and specialized education for judges and independent lawyers, to expand later on wider areas. Then there are the Environment and Water pillar, as already mentioned, and the EU Education Initiative for Central Asia, which is being implemented since 2007.

In a bilateral context, the EU and each country of Central Asia have held dialogues on human rights. This is quite unique opportunity for discussion on issues, considered to be sensitive, issues that a country may not always be ready to address. I hope that the EU has proved to each of its partners in Central Asia that it is a reliable interlocutor which works on the basis of equality, without polemics, between experts. We look forward to continuing these dialogues next year. We hope that it will encourage our partners in the region to take steps that will improve their human rights record and add to their international image.

The most comprehensive bilateral process that the EU will continue to work on is based on so called Partnership and Cooperation Agreements. These agreements shape the legal basis for the overall bilateral relations between the EU and every country in the region. They have been signed between the EU and each country in Central Asia and are already in force in the case of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The process of ratification is underway with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

After a dynamic year as 2008, we look forward to even more intense 2009, with a lot of expectations on both EU and Central Asian side.

nCa: How do you see the cooperation between the EU and Central Asia in five years from now? Where will things stand in each strategic area, i.e. energy cooperation, border control, fight against trans-border drug trafficking and crime, environment and water, security, financial and economic exchange?

Morel: Thanks to the work together in the past two years, the EU and the countries from Central Asia now share quite clear vision for the time to come. We can continue to harmonise our approach to international security and stability challenges, especially in Afghanistan. This is possible to achieve, if we enhance further the EU-Central Asia dialogue on common security threats, which we have started in Paris last September. A lot of opportunities exist within multilateral organisations like UN and OSCE, of which both the Central Asian countries and the EU countries are members. Cooperation with other international organisations, as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, can open new opportunities. As a result, the EU and Central Asia should be able to respond more efficiently to the diverse international security challenges.

In the next five years, the EU and Central Asia will be led to work on the fuller integration of the Central Asian economies in the globalised world markets and to build simultaneously appropriate back up mechanisms to guarantee financial security and to protect the citizens against sudden fluctuations on the world markets. Here again, the EU experience can be helpful, if adjusted carefully to the specifics of Central Asia.

In the mid-term, one can expect that the regional cooperation will grow stronger in Central Asia. All five states are becoming more and more stable and independent. Their national doctrines are clearer now, if compared to five years ago. The process will probably continue and will shape up the place of each country in the regional context too. EU welcomes the agreements signed on the water-energy settlement in Bishkek and Almaty in 2008. We know from our European experience that regional cooperation has been a step by step process. It has lead to peace and economic stability. The model has been exported quite successfully to other regions, like the Balkans. With relevant adjustments to the local specifics, of course, and with a lot of attention to the preferences of each country on how to move ahead with the process. There are issues in Central Asia, regarding which there is common agreement on the need to act in concert, like the drug or arms trafficking or building a regional transport infrastructure. The EU believes that it is quite likely for the countries in the regions to find and, most importantly, to implement coordinated regional strategies in these areas. And this may well happen within the next few years.

Last, but not least, in five years time I would like to see more students and scientists from Central Asia in Europe, more opportunities to invest both ways between our regions as well as to buy more products from Central Asia in Europe and more European goods in the shops across the Eurasian countries. As a frequent traveller to the region, I definitely wish to see more direct flights between the countries of the regions.

nCa: What are the key achievements in Turkmenistan - EU relations during the past two years?

Morel: The answer to this question runs along the lines of what we already discussed regarding the regional dialogues between the EU and Central Asia, their balance with bilateral cooperation and the respect to the specifics of each country in the region. Turkmenistan has been an indispensable part of these dialogues and a venue of several EU-Central Asia forums. Apart from energy resources, which seem to attract all the attention in the EU-Turkmen relations, we have advanced our dialogue in many other areas too. And this has been an open and intense dialogue. Just a few examples: President Berdymukhammedov has visited Europe twice. He was in Brussels in November 2007 and recently – in Berlin and Vienna. The EU presence in Turkmenistan is growingly visible. With the opening of the Europe House in April 2008, the Turkmen citizen have a concrete point for contact with the EU and source of information regarding the funding programmes of the EU. The energy cooperation remains, of course, a priority in EU-Turkmen relations: after several rounds of talks and signature of a Memorandum of Understanding, there is much appreciation of each others' intentions, and we have clearer views on concrete action that EU and Turkmenistan can undertake in this field. The EU also appreciates the expanded dialogue on human rights that we had with Turkmenistan in June, which showed readiness to discuss even the difficult issues. We look forward to deepening this exchange, because it helps to build trust between Turkmenistan and the EU and makes easier our bilateral work in other areas too.

nCa: Any other comments you may wish to make.

Morel: Before wishing you a Happy new year, I would stress once again that the EU is aware of the specifics of each Central Asian country in much larger extent than it may seem. We have a lot of respect for those specifics. After all, the EU consists of twenty seven quite different states and respect for diversity is something we have to practice on everyday basis. It is only natural for the EU to apply this principle to its relations with other countries.

The EU sees the Central Asian states as partners, as actors on the same level as the EU. They are the only reliable and best-informed critics of the EU work in the region. Only they can show us a realistic picture of the situation in Central Asia and in each country and only they have the right to point the direction in which they want to progress.

With this conclusion I wish Happy Holydays and a successful 2009 to the readers of nCa and to the team who runs the website! I look forward to reading you in the next year.

Source: newscentralasia.net