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Why European Union Makes Afghanistan and Central Asia Closer?

Brussels places priority of security and peaceful Afghanistan as part of the new strategy of the European Union on interaction with the region.

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The European Union has allocated 1.4 billion euro to Afghanistan for 2014-2020. It’s 1.4 times more than the programmes funded in all five Central Asian states in the same period.

“However, the effect of these allocations is not always obvious. Therefore, Brussels is concerned with cooperation with other actors towards Afghanistan, including Central Asian states,” Zhanibek Arynov, an expert of the Institute of World Economics and Politics (IWEP) in Kazakhstan, said.

In mid-June, the European Council approved the new strategy of relations between the European Union and Central Asia. One of the main directions of the updated document is the strengthening of security in the region. In particular, it means development of cooperation of regional countries with Afghanistan, as well as joint participation in the European Union’s programmes and projects.

Peter Burian. Photo: CABAR.asia

“Peaceful Afghanistan will benefit all. In particular, this will strengthen the economy in the region. Therefore, we are supporting participation of our Central Asian partners in their efforts to keep peace in Afghanistan and its stabilisation. This interaction creates new opportunities for our cooperation with Central Asia,” Peter Burian, special EU representative for Central Asia, said.

According to him, this cooperation implies the continuation of the border management in the region project (BOMCA), as well as its association with a similar project in Afghanistan. The outcome should be an advanced border management between the states.

Both parties act towards each other. According to Arynov, Central Asian states understand that stability in Afghanistan is a prerequisite for stability in the region. And the latter gets more involved in joint initiatives.

Zhanibek Arynov. Photo from his personal Facebook account

“The countries of Central Asia are well aware that stability in Afghanistan is a prerequisite for stability in the region. Therefore, they are trying to make their contribution to the stabilisation of Afghanistan,” the expert said.

Despite the territorial remoteness of the region from Europe, Brussels is concerned with the resolution of the situation in Afghanistan.

“Cooperation with Central Asian states will help resolve the situation in Afghanistan and stop the flow of refugees to Europe,” Leonig Gusev, an expert of the MGIMO Institute of International Studies, said.

Regionalism at stake

The first strategy of the European Union for Central Asia was adopted back in 2007 and its implementation, according to analysts, was mainly described by political and interagency consultations and funding of the European Union’s projects.

However, the experts don’t think the previous strategy was successful. According to the Uzbekistan-based analyst of CABAR.asia Yuri Sarukhanyan, one of the reasons was the regional approach of the European Union to Central Asia.

“The relations between republics rapidly deteriorated, regional projects were all abolished, and replaced by integration mechanisms imposed by foreign actors. Thus, trying to focus on regionalism, Brussels was unable to find a pillar to enhance efficient cooperation,” Sarukhanyan said.

For more details, please see: European Union’s Policy in Central Asia: Does Brussels Want to Increase its Presence in the Region?

The updated strategy also counts on regionalism, but current situation and thaw in relations between the states are contributing to it, as well. The European Council emphasises its willingness to enter into and implement mutually beneficial agreements on expanded partnership and cooperation with the countries concerned.

“The framework of relations between the EU and the region depends on the willingness of certain Central Asian states to carry out reforms, strengthen democracy, human rights, rule of law, and independence of courts, as well as to modernise and diversify the economy,” reads the statement of the European Council.

Actors involved

In 2007 to 2020, Brussels allocated about 2 billion euro to Central Asia for various programmes, mainly educational, and also the border project (BOMCA) and drug action programme (CADAP).

At the same time, according to official data, the assistance provided to Russia and other Central Asian states has exceeded 6 billion dollars in the last 10 years. Whereas the total amount of investment was nearly 20 billion dollars.

As to the United States, the amount of foreign assistance to the region in 2007 to 2019 was just over 3.6 billion dollars, according to the USAID.

China is among top five biggest creditors of Central Asian states. Kazakhstan owes the largest debt – 11.9 billion dollars. Kyrgyzstan owes 1.7 billion dollars to the Export-Import Bank of China. Tajikistan owes 3.5 million dollars. No official data are available about Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Yuri Sarukhanyan. Photo: CABAR.asia

According to Yuri Sarukhanyan, the controversial image of the EU as a participant of the advanced system of international relations is one of serious obstacles that hinder development of relations between the EU and Central Asia.

“It is peculiar to Central Asia to treat the EU scornfully as a supranational structure that has no so-called hard power. Central Asian political establishments still highly worship the power,” the analyst said.

When it comes to key actors that fight for the influence in Central Asia, the United States, Russia and China are implied. The European Union has never been taken as a serious actor and rival. And this situation seems to satisfy it. Moreover, Brussels is declaring its willingness to cooperate.

Main photo: European Commission

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