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Minister Rupel heads Central Asia-EU Troika plenary session

photo: BOBO

Human rights, education, the rule of law, energy and environment, water resources, climate change, drug trafficking, Afghanistan and Iran were the main topics of today's plenary session of the EU Troika and the countries of Central Asia at the ministerial level. The EU delegation was headed by the President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, and also included French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner as the next president, European Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner, and EU Council Secretariat representative Pierre Morel, while the countries of Central Asia were represented by their foreign ministers: Marat Tazhin of Kazakhstan, Ednan Karabayev of Kyrgyzstan, Hamrokhon Zarifi of Tajikistan, Rashid Meredov of Turkmenistan and Vladimir Norov of Uzbekistan.

The framework document which served as the basis for discussion was the EU Strategy for Central Asia. The idea that this document be created was born two years ago on the initiative of Germany; it was designed during the German Presidency and adopted in May 2007. Now, almost a year later, the EU has decided it is time to take a step forward in implementing this strategy, which was actually the objective of the meeting in Turkmenistan.

At the beginning of the session Minister Rupel pointed out that, based on the strategy document, the EU has already developed a list of priorities for each individual country, which was the subject of ministerial talks on the bilateral level, while the plenary session was intended to address general standpoints concerning the region as a whole. The Slovenian Foreign Minister further pointed out the fact that the strategy is highly complex, and that individual EU Member States manage their own projects; thus, Germany and France are concerned with the implementation of the rule of law, Italy with water resources, etc. In implementing the strategy, the issue of dialogue on human rights is very important. The EU has already established such dialogue with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and Dr Rupel expressed his expectation that the same will also be possible with the remaining three countries of the region.

Apart from that, Dr Rupel said he believes that all the countries in the region would greatly benefit from the implementation of the rule of law, which would facilitate regional integration and indirectly benefit the countries' economies. He also pointed out that France and Germany have long-standing experience in this area, and therefore they would certainly develop programmes that might contribute towards further legal and political stability in the region.

As to education, the Slovenian Foreign Minister noted that the European Commission has already prepared a joint education initiative for Central Asia; the aim of this initiative is to adjust the existing European programmes in this area to the needs of the region, and to enable the educational institutions and students to join the relevant integration processes.

In connection with the economy and trade, the Slovenian Foreign Minister, pointing out the increasing globalisation of the world we live in, mentioned the economic transition experience of Eastern European countries. Countries do not compete solely on the basis of their natural resources, but also in terms of the experience and knowledge of their people, which are very important. The EU Member States may contribute in the form of investments; however, in order to do that, they need guarantees regarding market stability and protection of investments.

Energy is one of the most important sectors of regional cooperation in Central Asia. Further to this, Dr Rupel emphasised that coordination of the policies of individual countries in this area would be most useful, particularly for the development of the energy sector, without influencing the autonomous decisions of each country. The European Union is ready to contribute a significant share in order to increase the efficiency of the energy sector and to facilitate access to technologies. Apart from this, a coordinated approach would enable the European Union to develop a comprehensive strategy for the relevant infrastructure, particularly as regards gas supply. Presently the EU buys large amounts of gas from the region, but via Ukraine and Russia; this supply should be adequately diversified.

Equally useful would be coordination in terms of the rational utilisation of water resources in the region; water supply should be ensured for the whole country, which will only be possible by coordinating infrastructure and plans. Minister Rupel also mentioned the EU's commitment to mitigating the consequences of climate change; further to that, he specified important international documents that have been adopted in recent years.

The Minister paid special attention to the problem of drug trafficking. In this area, the EU's efforts are focused on the protection of the region's external borders, in the first place the border with Afghanistan. Dr Rupel noted that the problem of drugs is a global rather than national issue, and therefore expressed his wish that all the countries in the region would join their efforts to combat drug trafficking. To this end, the EU is ready to contribute infrastructure and staff training; this is after all in its own interest as well, since a large quantity of drugs are intended for EU countries.

Towards the end of his speech, he also touched upon the most pressing international issues. As regards Afghanistan, Dr Rupel called attention to the great involvement of the EU through the European Security and Defence Policy mission; certainly, the EU also supports regional integration in connection with Afghanistan. Regarding Iran, Dr Rupel pointed out that the international community is greatly concerned about Iran's nuclear programme, which is also evident from United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1803. IAEA assessed that the risk of nuclear arms in Iran still exists, and has appealed to all countries to persuade Iran to give up its programme of nuclear arms.


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Date: 11.04.2008