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European Union’s Foreign Policy Towards Central Asia

European Union’s Foreign Policy Towards Central Asia


This paper is a general overview of the European Union’s foreign policy towards Central Asian (Uzbekistan- Kazakhstan- Tajikistan- Turkmenistan- Kyrgyzstan) countries. This paper contains, after the dissolution of the USSR, how the European Union’s policy dynamics changed in the 1990s and 2000s towards the region. The attitude of the EU toward significant issues such as the 2006 Ukraine natural gas crisis, 9/11 attacks and US intervention in Afghanistan will be analysed. Also, how the EU’s policy implementation channels affected by these events will be included in the analyse.

Key Words: European Union, Central Asia, Energy, Security, Foreign Policy



This paper was written, due to an obligation of the class, Society and Politics in Central Asia and Caucasia. This is a 3rd grade class in the Faculty of Political Science at Istanbul University.



Since the last half of the 20th century, several international organizations established with various goals and different scales. European Union was one of these international organizations. EU is the only international organization whose member states accepted a council which is an essential decision-maker unit for negotiating and adopting EU legislation and also to coordinate policies. This delegated decision making sovereignty is authorized mostly for low politics but the majority of member states also participate within the European Parliament on common issues like security, foreign trade and investment policies towards the other international actors. But every member state has its own foreign policy, too.

The dissolution of the USSR was one of the most pathetical incident in the contemporary history, as well had a huge impact on the European integration process. After the dissolution, the regime of many neighboring states of the European Union have rapidly changed into liberal democracy. After the dissolution of the USSR, the European Union launched a new integration process aiming to introduce several eastern and central European countries into the EU. In 2004, as a success of the integration process, the European Union gained 10 new members.[1] European Union’s encompassing policies towards post-Soviet countries, were not only limited with the central and eastern European countries. After the disintegration of Central Asia from the USSR, the European Union established a bilateral and multilateral partnership with Central Asia region, to encourage the regional developments. Rich natural sources, a new market for European goods made this region attractive for the European Union in terms of cooperation and investment.


1 Political Dialogue Between Central Asia And European Union

Political dialogue between Central Asia and Europe can be dated back when the Silk Road was established in 130 BC. With helping of this trade route, we can very clearly say that Europe transferred several things from the Central Asia region that helped creation of European identity, culture and scientific heritage. Along with this deep common historical, economic and cultural bonds, the current European Union-Central Asian dialogue is more meaningful.


1.1   Political Dialogue in the 1990s

The main result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union was thought as welcoming democracy and independence. But these expectations were quite a cliche because some of the former member states were not willing to separate from the Soviet Union. Five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) were in this unwilling group. Some problem causing issues such as their historical dependencies to Russia, lack of individual statehood practice and weak national identity caused the emergence of nationalist leaders in the region. After dissolution, one of the biggest challenge around was the economy of the region had destabilized. Many states had many corruption incidents after these new nationalist leaders’ administrations. Consequently, social dissatisfaction increased. These leaders who wanted to determine/strenghten nationalist identities  and protect their offices, implemented policies of returning to the religious traditions of Islam and using national tongues instead of the Russian. The first years of independence were extremely difficult in terms of state for those countries. They failed to establish public transportation, electric and water resources infrastructure etc.. When the Central Asian countries in need of economic aid, neighboring countries such as Russia and China failed to deliver any economic aid to Central Asia. During the 1990s, the Russian economy was significantly weak, although the Chinese economy was stronger than the Russian economy, in this time of period, China was mostly interested in the security of the western borders due to rising Islamic discourse in the politics of Central Asia. To look European side, the European Union, too, failed to deliver aid to Central Asia.

In 1992 the European Union declared the TACIS Program (Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of the Independent States and Georgia). This program included Central Asian states, too. Although the TACIS Program, the EU was not successful to deliver enough aid to Central Asia. After the failure of other states in Central Asia, they to protect and develop common interests of the region, established the Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC). The CAREC established in 1992 with the goal of establishment of common economic zone, common infrastructures to achieve higher levels of economic growth and to reduce poverty.[2] On 30 April 1994, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan (only) concluded the Treaty on the Formation of an Integrated Economic Space (IES) which was concluded on geographic proximity, maintain and develop neighboring relations, and to develop the region with the helping of rich natural resources[3]. This treaty paved the way for the CAREC to be a follower of the European Union model. Especially the European countries supported the idea of the Central Asian Union. Because, if these states could come together with a goal of  region’s economic benefits and ignoring their border and ethnic problems, it would bring the welfare and stability to the region. Organized another trade union in the Central Asia means more trade potential with fewer custom protocols and taxes for the EU. The EU’s cooperation plans/aims with the Central Asian countries based on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs) which signed with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and also the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that signed with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.  The European Union initiated the PCA with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in May 1996 and with Uzbekistan in June 1996. European Union-Tajikistan relations have stayed limited to only bilateral trade levels. The pending ratification of the PCA with Tajikistan was signed in 2004. The PCA signed with Turkmenistan in 1998 has been ratified by European Union in 2009. In July 1999 the agreement is ratified by all 15 member states and ratified by the European Parliament as well.

The TACIS is the main tool to support the implementation of PCAs. The TACIS has been the European Union’s main tool in conducting strategy in the Commonwealth of Independence States (CIS). Until 2001, the TACIS program focused on mainly fıve sectors which are training, energy, transportation, industrial and commercial enterprises and food production. Thus, the TACIS program was directed to develop concrete and lasting projects rather than political matters like demanding transparent governing. The Union distributed the financial funds and technical assistances under the TACIS in the following areas: improvement of small and medium-sized companies, banking training, reorganization of private companies, new legal regulations, agriculture, environment, transportation (building and renovating international and intercity roads with the European Union founded), energy, and telecommunication[4]. The European Union’s interest in Central Asia is a part of advancing Europe’s role in international policy area. On the other hand, all members of the EU were not interested that much with Central Asia. Germany was the most active member in the terms of relations with the Central Asia Region  among other EU member states. Germany confronted with some problems regarding Central Asia, especially when the European Union’s expansion policy was reformed by European Common Foreign and Security Policy[5].


1.2   Political Dialogue in the 2000s

1.2.1 European Union’s Security Concerns in the 2000s

When we came to the 2000s Europe began to pay more attention to the Central Asia. EU’s new policy towards Central Asia is mostly related to the EU’s security concerns which are including terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, organized crimes such as drug trafficking, border security (especially border with Afghanistan), illegal immigrants. For drug trafficking, Afghanistan has been the main heroin producer for Europe since the 1990s. Heroin enters Europe primarily by two major land routes: the long-standing ‘Balkan route’[6] which passes through Turkey; and since the mid-1990s, the ‘northern route’ which leaves northern Afghanistan through Central Asia and goes on through Russia (that is sometimes colloquially referred to as the ‘silk route’)[7]. Furthermore, after the 9/11 attacks and intervention of Afghanistan by US, huge instability at the Central Asia Region became evident and the fear of Islamic terrorism cumulatively grew in the Europe and especially towards the Central Asia region. That situation and potential threats in neighboring countries of the Central Asia region pushed the European Union to implement more concrete and gradually more prudent policies. These new policies of the European Union implemented along with the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI).[8] This program aimed to develop human rights, democratization, good governance, reducing poverty, elimination of corruption, gender equality, increasing education quality and food security in the partner countries.

Countries with liberal democratic administration and market economy are generally easy partners for the European Union to cooperate. To encourage liberal democracies and market economy in partner countries, the European Union changed it’s policy to implement a way. To support gradual changes in those societies, the EU  implemented project-based ways, such as Erasmus and Erasmus plus programs in the name of these social policies. For finding local project partners, the European Union established cooperation channels with regional institutions, municipalities, non-state actors and international organizations.


1.2.2 European Union’s Energy Policy in the 2000s

The EU’s high energy import dependency rate has made energy security a must issue (47.5% in 2002, 52.2% in 2005, 54.7% in 2008 and 53.4% in 2012 in all energy products). EU’s growing energy demand and rich hydrocarbon resources of the Central Asia make this region attractive for European countries to invest in. Especially the Russian and Ukrainian Gas crises in 2006[9] was the warning signal for the EU. Dependency only on Russian resources was questioned and policies towards Central Asia became more important due to energy (supplying) problems. Especially the perspective of Germany was to support strong green discourse in the politics and the climate change awareness among the citizens and that pushed the German government to use less carbon emission natural sources such as natural gas. With huge energy demand of the German industry and Germany’s policy for not using coal and lignite, Germany has become the biggest foreign customer of the Gazprom. For  to be freed of the Russian monopoly on the energy sector, European countries became more interested to build closer relations with Central Asia, as it’s mentioned in the European Union’s Regional Strategy Paper which laid below:

The growing dependency of EU member states upon external sources of energy and ensuring security of

energy supply are issues of special concern to the European Union. Central Asia, with its significant

hydrocarbon resources and favourable geographical location for transport routes to European markets, will

play an important role in ensuring the EU’s energy supplies.’[10]

To contribute energy dialogue between Europe and Central Asia, a meeting was held in Baku on minister level in 2004.  This was named as “Baku Initiative” and it was a policy dialogue on energy and transport cooperation between representatives from the European Commission and the twelve countries of the Caspian and the Black Sea regions including Central Asian countries. The Initiative aims the integration of the energy markets of participating countries with the European market. At the end of the conference, participants agreed to create operational working groups in the charge of:

‘A. Preparation of proposals in respect of a set of actions and procedures necessary for the development of multi-annual working programme of agreed measures, the realization of which will facilitate the creation of harmonized hydrocarbon and electricity markets;

  1. addressing safety and security of energy production, transportation and supplies by assessing the work that has already been done up to date and proposing additional measures in this area including on rehabilitation of infrastructures and interconnection of electricity and hydrocarbon networks;
  2. pursuing sustainable development by addressing energy efficiency, energy saving and renewable energy issues, as well as the environmental aspects of energy production, transportation and use, with a view to bringing the energy markets of the Black Sea, Caspian Littoral States and neighboring countries into line with the standards of the European Union.
  3. facilitating investments in energy projects of common interest by firstly identifying specific projects of common interest, which are identified according to pre-defined criteria, and promoting their financing by IFIs and/or the private sector.’[11]

Baku initiative was an important step for the common EU-Black Sea-Caspian Sea-Central Asia energy market.


2.1 European Union’s Challenges in Central Asia Policy

During the relations with Central Asia, the EU encountered many problems both among the member states and with in the region. The biggest challenge for the EU was to develop cooperation with authoritarian administrations. The main handicap is the authoritarian mentality of the regional regimes. In the meantime, the regional leaders have provided some privileges to their clans to be supported by and to keep their power.  In the 1990s as a result, bad governance, corruption, radical movements, and illegal migration have become ordinary issues due to the weak administrative institutions and the existence of the privileged clans in these countries. For that reason, the leaders and the privileged clans viewed any democratic, economic and political reforms as a threat to their political and economic positions. Therefore, they made serious attempts to stop or slow down the reforms. In the end, the regional regimes did not support any EU project that demands the promotion of civil society organizations and more political participation of the common. They began to pursue more suppressive policies to protect their regimes, especially after the colourful revolutions. In this context, they openly violated human rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Other obstacles rose in the European Union were lack of common interest to the region among member states of the EU, for instance in 2009 the Czech Republic did not define Central Asia as a key interest. Some huge sized energy projects such as Nabucco Natural Gas Line Project aborted only because of the disputes among the states. The biggest failure of the European Union was in the 1990s, not providing essential aid to Central Asia and at that time Central Asia region expected more concrete steps from the West.



First recommendation to support strong relations is the EU and the Central Asian states should continue their partnerships with alternative pipelines and transport lines partnerships due to high mutual gainings of that sector. Partnership between the EU and the Central Asia also provides economic development, modernization of infrastructures and also help to the integration of the world market. As it is clear, first attempts from the European Union were not enough to troubleshoot the region’s main problems. After 2000 the EU started to pay more attention to the Central Asia. But the beginning of the 2000’s concerns of  the EU only limited to economic and security issues. First the EU and the Central Asia have to establish concrete long-range partnership strategy. Most of the relations mainly based on the EU’s huge energy demand and  the Baku initiative was an example of that tendency. But to make this partnership more concrete, it has to be supported by social and political developments in the region for Central Asian countries part. For social part of the relations, the European Union’s project-based approach is a convenient tool for direct interaction with students, NGOs, activists, and municipalities. Establishment of student exchange programs, partnership agreements among the universities and institutions are beneficial tools for strong intra-societal relations. Funding scholars who have specialized on Central Asian Region also will be supportive for mutual understanding. These steps will contribute to more concrete political and social partnerships between both regions.

Secondly, the stabilization of Afghanistan is another solution to improve relations and also to stop drug and human trafficking. To achieve this, the EU has to cooperate with border neighbors of Afghanistan. Reducing poverty, the creation of transparent governments, support freedom of the press and awareness of human rights, provide gender equality in Central Asian countries should be the goals of the European Union to be achieved in the region.  Achieving these goals will bring long-lasting welfare and economic stabilization to the region. But for achieving these goals, the EU has to take more critical roles and launch more wide range projects and support regional organizations such as the CAREC.


Abdullaeva, L., & Iigitaliev, S. (2004). Enlargement of the European Union and its influence on the Central Asian countries. Central Asia and the Caucasus, (4 (28)).

Commissie, E. (2007). European Community Regional Strategy Paper for Assistance to Central Asia for the Period 2007-2013.

Dogot, C. M. (2014). THE EUROPEAN UNION STRATEGY FOR CENTRAL ASIA AND THE REGIONAL DEMOCRATISATION PROCESS. Democracy and Security in the 21st Century: Perspectives on a Changing World, 185.

Efegil, E. (2007). Analysis of the EU’s Central Asia Policy: from a Project-oriented Approach to a New Strategic Partnership. Turkish Yearbook24(8), 115-128.

European Union/European Commission. (2002). Strategy Paper 2002–2006 and Indicative Programme 2002–2004 for Central Asia. Date of Access=14.12.2019  EU-Central Asia relations, factsheet Date of Access=17.12.2019 Date of Access=16.12.2019 BBC Türkçe, Fighting with Heroin Smugglers: One day of Van Narcotics Date of Access= 12.12.2019 Date of Access=20.12.2019 Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI). Date of Access=14.12.2019

Matveeva, A. (2006). EU stakes in Central Asia.[Chaillot Paper No. 91]. Paris: EU Institute for Security.

.Rakhimov, M. (2010). The European Union and Central Asia: Challenges and Prospects of Cooperation (No. 47). Diskussionsbeiträge//Zentrum für internationale Entwicklungs-und Umweltforschung.




[1] 2004 enlargement covers these countries: Cyprus, Czech RepublicEstoniaHungaryLatviaLithuaniaMaltaPolandSlovakia, and Slovenia

[2] (Date of Access= 13.12.2019)

[3] Dogot, Cristina-Maria. “THE EUROPEAN UNION STRATEGY FOR CENTRAL ASIA AND THE REGIONAL DEMOCRATISATION PROCESS.” Democracy and Security in the 21st Century: Perspectives on a Changing World (2014): 185. Page 5

[4] Efegil, Ertan. “Analysis of the EU’s Central Asia Policy: from a Project-oriented Approach to a New Strategic Partnership.” Turkish Yearbook 24.8 (2007): 115-128.

[5] During the Yugoslav wars, led to a desire to strengthen foreign policy for European Union. That was consolidated in the Maastricht Treaty, which entered into force in 1993 and established the European Union. The Common Foreign and Security Policy was based on intergovernmentalism, which meant unanimity between members in the Council of Ministers and little influence by the other institutions.

[6] For further information about Turkey branch of ‘Balkan Route’ BBC Tükrçe Van Narkotik Şubesi’nin bir günü:

[7] Monitoring to supply of heroin to Europe, EMCDDA 2008 Technical data sheet — Monitoring the supply of heroin to Europe. (Date of Access=14.12.2019). P,4-5-6

[8] TACIS was launched in 1991 and the programme ended  in 2006, DCI was launched in 2007 to assist

the “neighbours of our neighbours”. (Date of Access=14.12.2019)

[9] Russia claimed Ukraine was not paying for gas, but diverting that which was intended to be exported to the EU from the pipelines. Ukrainian officials at first denied the accusation, but later Naftogaz admitted that natural gas intended for other European countries was retained and used for domestic needs. The dispute reached a high point on 1 January 2006, when Russia cut off all gas supplies passing through Ukrainian territory.

[10] Commissie, Europese. “European Community Regional Strategy Paper for Assistance to Central Asia for the Period 2007-2013.” (2007). Page 5

[11] CONCLUSIONS of the Ministerial Conference on Energy Co-operation between the EU, the Caspian Littoral States and their neighbouring countries (p. 3) (Date of Access=20.19.2019)