During the crisis in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, the European Union published a Joint Progress Report by the Council and the European Commission to the European Council on the implementation of the EU Strategy for Central Asia. This took place three years after the launching of the first strategy, initiated by the German presidency in 2007. Beyond its partly self-congratulatory and sometimes technocratic discourse lauding the progress that has been made in many areas, the balance sheet is mixed.
BACKGROUND: Among the elements valorized by the EU-Central Asia rapprochement, it is important to mention the EU decision of November 2008 to extend the mandate of the European Investment Bank to Central Asia as well as the increase in the number of European delegations to Central Asia. Some member states have opened new embassies (such as, for example, France in Kyrgyzstan), but the closing of the program in Tajikistan run by the Swedish development agency, SIDA, is regrettable – although the loss has been partially offset by the activism of the German Development Service (DED) as well as the announcement that the French Development Agency (AFD) is going to get involved in the region. Nabucco’s advancements are highly praised: the signing of an Intergovernmental Agreement on Nabucco in July 2009 and the project for a Caspian Development Corporation (CDC) render the future of the Southern Energy Corridor more credible after the recent signing of an agreement with Azerbaijan. However, the question of better integrating the more advanced countries, like Kazakhstan, into the EU neighborhood strategy initially designed for Belorussia, Ukraine and Moldova, has been left open, with no response for the moment.
Kazakhstan's OSCE Chairmanship in 2010 is also presented as a unique historic opportunity for cooperation and understanding, despite the critiques of some member states and international NGO’s about the political situation in Kazakhstan. While the EU-Central Asia cooperation has been welcomed over higher education (the yearly budget for the participation of Central Asian countries in the Erasmus Mundus and Tempus programs has been doubled to €10 million each) and environmental policies, other domains of cooperation have seen only moderate success. The report acknowledges for instance that “despite the initiation of regular human rights dialogues with Central Asian countries and a limited number of reforms, there has not been a consistent and sustainable improvement in the human rights situation.” This has revived questions within the EU of whether or not an opportunity exists to focus on this specific issue, while strengthening economic cooperation with the Central Asian states could give the EU more leverage of influence.
Among the next steps that the document mentions is the EU’s recognition of its lack of visibility, of its having priorities that are sometimes too complex and poorly prioritized, and of its need to improve not only internal coordination (member states all pursue overly divergent policies) but also that with other international donors. Better cooperation with the CAREC program in terms of transport will probably be one of the first steps on the issues of transport and opening up the region.
IMPLICATIONS: There are three challenges confronting the EU in Central Asia: the Afghan question, the resolution of the water issue, and the Kyrgyz crisis.
The report’s underscoring of the situation in Afghanistan and the risks it contains for Central Asia can only be welcomed, whereas the Strategy for 2007 was surprisingly silent on the Afghan question. Among EU successes in the security domain, the document highlights the BOMCA (Border Management in Central Asia) and CADAP (Central Asia Drug Action) programs, to which it has committed more than €45 million; the establishment of the Central Asia Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC) for combating the illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and their precursors; and the EU engagement with the newly established UN Preventive Diplomacy Centre based in Ashgabat. However, these institutions have been unable to alter the challenges posed by Afghanistan and their ability to change the givens on the ground is fragile: the borders between Afghanistan and Central Asia, in particular Tajikistan, are still just as porous.
Concerning the water issue, the EU insists on the potentially negative impact of climate change in Central Asia. The document welcomes the holding of the Third EU-Central Asia High Level Conference on the environment in November 2009 and Kyrgyzstan’s being the first Central Asian country to implement a National Water Policy Dialogue under the EU Water Initiative. However, the ability of these initiatives and regional conferences to alter the realities on the ground is questionable: for the time being, the Kambarata hydroelectric plant is being built with advance financing from Russia and difficulties continue in getting Uzbekistan to come to the negotiating table.
Lastly, like the other international actors, the EU was completely outstripped by the Kyrgyz crisis in June. The complexity of interpreting the events and the multiple conspiracy theories to which they gave rise in Kyrgyzstan itself put the official EU representatives in an awkward position. Despite the request of an international investigation commission, disquieting rumors have been filtering concerning Bishkek’s attempts to influence its outcome.
In addition, it is troubling to note that the country of Central Asia that the international community has pampered the most, that is the most invested in the programs proposed by the international community, and in which civil society is supposed to have been supported the most, is also the most unstable. This failure demands an inquiry into the efficacy of the programs set in place, as well as their long-term impact on symbolic stakes such as the decay of the state. Kyrgyzstan, today, is the country in the region where the feeling is most widespread that the sovereignty that came from independence is a mere illusion.
The EU report adopts the hitherto absent concept of human security: “It will be necessary to expand the concept of security to include major international and regional challenges such as human security, combating drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings, precursors, nuclear and radioactive materials, uranium tailings, border management, bio-safety, bio-security, combating terrorism and preventing radicalization and extremism, including via a continued emphasis on poverty alleviation. Combating corruption is an important element in countering many of these security challenges.”
The example of Kyrgyzstan seems to confirm the need for a comprehensive approach to security. The violent riots in Osh and Jalalabad in June 2010 can be explained by overlapping security issues: the weakness of the central government that emerged from the “revolution” of April 7, which was not in control of the police forces and secret services, in particular in the south of the country; the presidential family that had been directly implicated in drug trafficking from Afghanistan; the leaders of the Uzbek community who had themselves been involved in ambiguous mafia relations; nationalist and communitarian feelings in both the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority; criminalized groups that had found it easy to revive latent interethnic tensions; and the pauperization of rural zones that had facilitated the recruiting of an idle youth to head the cleansing of Uzbek districts, by means of violence and pillaging.
CONCLUSIONS: If the EU wants to remain faithful to its political and philosophical principles, positing human well-being at the heart of economic development and the market economy, Central Asia in general and Kyrgyzstan in particular constitute relevant terrains of experimentation. The struggle against non-traditional threats necessitates a globalized conception of development, one that takes into account numerous aspects of human security. We see in practice how difficult this approach is to concretize and the challenges that must therefore be met.AUTHOR’S BIO: Sébastien Peyrouse, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Washington DC, and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. He is one of the authors of Into Eurasia: Monitoring the EU’s Central Asia Strategy. Report of the EUCAM Monitoring, with M. Emerson, J. Boonstra (rapporteurs), N. Hasanova, and M. Laruelle.