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ODF’s policy paper on Central Asia published by the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies

The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the think tank of the EPP, has just published a new research paper entitled “EU Human Rights Promotion in Central Asia – Between the Dragon and the Bear”, written by ODF’s analysts Igor Savchenko, Kateryna Savchenko and Andriy Osavoliuk. The research paper consists of six sections, tackling a wide range of topics, from the promotion of human rights in Central Asia from the EU’s security perspective, to China and Russia’s influence in the region, including an analysis of how Central Asian regimes have progressively adopted human rights violations from Russia and China.

In the first section, the paper emphasises the geographical and geopolitical position of the region at a crossroads, explaining Russia and China’s changing roles in the Central Asian countries. Next, the study sets out how Russia is seeking to maintain its influence in Central Asia through military, political and economic cooperation. As the Russian Federation portrays itself as a guarantor of regional security, it is argued that the presence of Russian military bases in the region stresses the risk of Russia making territorial claims. Likewise, China’s approach is analysed, which is based on furthering the dependence of its partner countries by being an investment leader and granting loans. Central Asian countries are indeed becoming the production sites for Chinese companies; consequently, some Central Asian countries face the risk of losing influence in strategic sectors of the economy and have to cope with an increasing anti-Chinese sentiment among the population. Furthermore, the paper explains the significant socio-economic benefits that the enhanced cooperation with the EU can offer to the region, compared with China and Russia.

At the very core of our analysis is also the new EU strategy for cooperation with Central Asia, which was presented in a Joint Communication by the European Commission and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in May 2019. While the EU’s approach is based on its interest in the equal and mutually beneficial cooperation of all parties, the cooperation should be consistent with the EU foreign policy principles, specifically the promotion of human rights and democratic values. The EU needs to emphasize the significant socio-economic benefits for Central Asian states that can be gained from the strengthening cooperation with the Union, hence enhancing its presence in the region. Most crucially, the fulfilment by the Central Asian states of their obligations in the fields of human rights and the rule of law should be a precondition for their subsequent economic cooperation with the EU.

Additionally, we provide policy recommendations for how the EU should strive to expand its presence and role in Central Asia while balancing its economic, security and trade interests with its human rights and rule of law values. Finally, the paper concludes that the EU should ensure that its presence in the region is not merely limited to trade or geopolitical interests, but also delivers on its human rights commitments.

Read the research paper: