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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 28th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

EU moving to operational phase of Central Asia policy – says Andrew Rettman from Brussels, February 27, 2007, on EUobserver.

The EU is quietly moving from the theoretical to the operational phase of its Central Asia strategy, with spending set to soar in the next seven years. But major NGOs are worried Europe’s new “special relationship” with Central Asia will do little to improve living conditions in one of the most downtrodden parts of the world.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will in Kazakhstan on 27 March meet the foreign ministers of the five Central Asia states for final consultations before presenting a draft Action Plan to EU experts in Brussels in April. The plan – consisting of a 15 page theory section and a 70 page analytical annex – is to get formal endorsement by EU leaders on 20 June.


The evolving document – a January version of which was seen by EUobserver – proposes to boost European Commission spending by 61 percent to €719 million between 2007 to 2013 on projects including: basic poverty eradication; new gas and oil pipelines; training security officials; introducing accounting standards; building roads and staving off water shortages.

To put things into perspective, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) budget for the 16 states adjacent to the EU bloc went up 32 percent to €12 billion for 2007 to 2013. But with Central Asia’s total population standing at 59 million, Central Asia spending will be €12 per head compared to neighbourhood spending of €3.5 per head. International banks and individual EU states are also facing pressure to top up the Central Asia kitty.

The EU will back up the cash injection by sending some 200 new diplomats from Europe to create four embassies in the region by 2008. “High level visits are indispensible to demonstrate the interest of EU member states,” the Central Asia blueprint states, adding that “local visibility” will be enhanced by “EU buildings” acting as “landmarks.”

The document paints a disturbing picture of a region of vital interest for EU energy security – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are rich in gas, oil and uranium – but which has languished in a “strategic void” in EU policy-making for 50 years. Reports that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan practice systematic torture are well-known, but new problems are also coming to light.

Disturbing picture : At the political level, the EU is worried “how to ensure a peaceful transfer of power” in Kazakhstan in the coming years, as its 67-year old president becomes more frail. Uzbekistan has swung toward Russia due to “extreme irritation” at EU sanctions and faces a potentially turbulent presidential selection process in December. Turkmenistan has a shaky new government in a limbo left by the sudden death of totalitarian leader Niyazov last year. Kyrgyzstan is also considered unstable.

The 59 million people who live on the steppe face staggering social problems: the rich live on $230 a month, the poor on $2 a day. Clean drinking water is a luxury for 90 percent of rural people, with gastro-enterological disease a major cause of high infant mortality and with HIV said to be “rife.” In Tajikistan – the poorest – one third of GDP comes from heroin smuggling.

On top of this, bad water management is pushing Central Asia to the brink of another environmental disaster after the collapse of the Aral Sea in the mid-1990s. “Shallowing and salinization of Balkash [a lake half the size of Belgium] may have repercussions comparable to the Aral Sea tragedy,” the EU document states, noting that pesticidal pollution has already helped reduce the fish catch in Central Asia by 60 percent since 1990.

Focusing on human rights, it may be wrong to portray the EU’s new “special relationship” as a simple energy grab: individual EU diplomats see themselves as principled people trying to bring stability and prosperity to countries considered closed even by old Soviet standards. Any friendly gesture – such as a superficial discussion on the 2005 killing of 180 civilians in Andijan, Uzbekistan – is seen as important progress.

Human rights as strategic interests:   The document avoids the usual platitudes on “EU values” and addresses the strategic importance of political reform for EU interests. “Mounting popular discontent, if handled in an authoritarian manner, might pave the way for a period of turbulence and destabilisation at a time of political secession, which is due to occur in the coming years in most of the Central Asian states,” threatening EU energy and counter-terrorism projects, it states.

But despite this, analysts are worried by the EU approach. For one thing, EU funding is to be modeled on the old TACIS programme, which is based on co-management of funds with local authorities. The TACIS instrument was discredited as slow-moving, bureaucratic and all-but-useless with respect to democracy-building by the EU’s own auditors last year. It is being scrapped in the EU’s “neighbourhood” foreign policy wing.

NGOs are also concerned that in the test-case of Uzbekistan, EU sanctions are being sold too cheaply: the German EU presidency is using the prospect of further dialogue on the Andijan massacre to persuade the UK and Sweden the EU should relax its Uzbek visa ban list in May and scrap its arms trade embargo a further six months down the line. The first Andijan meeting last December is a key argument for Berlin to develop high-level talks.

But some of the 14 EU police and legal experts who attended the December talks told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that “at most it provided an opportunity for the Uzbek government to recount its version of the events, leading up to the massacre.” Since the December meeting, HRW translator, Umida Niazova, and another activist, Gulbahor Turaeva, have been put in jail as part of a process described as “decimation of civil society” by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

Cynicism or pragmatism?
HRW is pushing for EU “principled engagement” that sees relaxation of sanctions and “staggered funding” tied to “measurable improvements” such as Red Cross access to jails. “It will help to counter cynicism that EU interests in the region are solely about energy and counterterrorism. It will make clear that the EU has an interest in people’s lives,” the NGO said in an unpublished paper last week.

Meanwhile, the genteel culture of EU diplomacy is hard to swallow for some action-oriented activists on the ground. EU diplomats talk about Central Asia in antique French and Latin terms such as “demarches” or “primus inter pares.” Some even have grudging respect for harsh nation-builders such as the late Turkmen leader Niyazov, and find themselves mildly fascinated by Satrapic tea-drinking rituals when meeting men such as Uzbek leader Karimov.

“Our recent meeting with [one EU diplomat on Central Asia] was not very encouraging, to say the least,” a senior HRW analyst said.

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Further notes:   – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are rich in gas, oil and uranium.

This is just one reason for EU interest, in addition – Kazakhstan, like Turkey,   claim as being in part in the Geography of the European continent.

Regarding Energy – the example of Kazakhstan:

Energy Supply
Kazakhstan has abundant energy reserves. Estimated at about 1.2 Gt for oil, 900 Gm3 for gas and 31 Gt for coal. The hydroelectric potential is estimated at 30 TWh…

Consumption
The total energy consumption fell between 1992 and 1999 (-47%). It has been recovering since and reached 51 Mtoe in 2004. The consumption per capita is about 3.4 toe, of which 3400 kWh…

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