ASTANA -- The European Union (EU) is set to adopt a new strategy for Central Asia aimed at improving co-operation and adapting to changing conditions in the region. Prospects include having Afghan women study in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Peter Burian, the EU special representative for Central Asia, met with Kazakh officials in Astana February 21-22 to discuss the strategy and the ratification of an Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, according to a statement from the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan.
During his two-day visit, Burian held meetings at parliament and the Foreign Ministry, as well as with youth. He discussed a wide range of issues, including "political and economic reforms, the rule of law, trade and economic relations" and international issues, the statement said.
"We shall release a new EU Strategy on Central Asia before the summer, which will stress the new opportunities for EU-Central Asia co-operation, which some of the most positive regional dynamics in Central Asia have created," Burian said in the statement.
"This strategy will propose to build a stronger partnership with Central Asia so that the region develops as a more resilient, prosperous and closely interconnected economic and political space," he said.
A new strategy
The new EU Strategy on Central Asia will replace one implemented in 2007, bringing it in line with developments in the region.
"The new strategy sets out the EU's approach to the promotion of sustainable connectivity in and with the region, in line with the EU's Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia adopted on 18 October 2018," the statement said.
"It will also foster a closer link between the EU's policies on Central Asia and on Afghanistan," it added. "The new EU Strategy will also provide guidance for the preparation of EU aid programming for the period 2021-2027."
The EU's Regional Multi-Annual Indicative Programme for Central Asia has set aside €454.2 million (195 billion KZT) to promote regional co-operation in the areas of sustainable development and regional security for the period from 2014-2020, the statement noted.
During his meeting with Dariga Nazarbayeva, the chairperson of the Senate International Relations, Defence and Security Committee, Burian "expressed his willingness to promote co-operation with Kazakhstan to a qualitatively new level", according to a statement by the Kazakh Senate.
"Nazarbayeva noted that co-operation with the European Union is one of the strategic directions of Kazakhstan's foreign policy," added the statement.
Kazakhstan has carried out a variety of measures to "harmonise national laws with European norms," it said.
Nazarbayeva highlighted areas identified as priorities in Kazakhstan's co-operation with the EU, such as water-security issues and the stabilisation of Afghanistan, among other topics.
"Last December, a discussion of the new EU strategy for Central Asia took place in London, and officials from Kazakhstan took part in the meeting," Abdi Ismailov, a political scientist from Astana, told Caravanserai.
"At the time, the EU representatives noted that Kazakhstan is playing the leading role in Central Asia and that in the coming years many joint projects in various sectors would be implemented," he said.
"Co-operation with the EU is beneficial for Kazakhstan -- it contributes to the stability and security of our country," Ismailov told Caravanserai.
"The situation in the region cannot be called absolutely calm; therefore, the support of European partners is quite important for us," he said.
"European values are very close to us," Yerlan Kulmaganbetov, a 26-year-old resident of Almaty who previously studied in the United Kingdom, told Caravanserai.
"Democracy, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance -- every sensible citizen of our country strives for them," he said. "Nowadays, there is no 'iron curtain' ... the borders are open; the possibilities are open."
"I fully support our country's openness to partnership with European states," he said.
One promising area for co-operation with the EU is expected to be the launch this year of a joint programme to educate female Afghans in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, said the Kazakh Foreign Ministry in a statement last week summarising the talks between Atamkulov and Burian.
If the programme indeed begins operating, the Afghans would study in the two Central Asian countries' universities and specialised secondary schools, with the EU paying for their instruction. The educational project will help improve the situation of women and children in Afghanistan and help stabilise that country, agreed Kazakh and EU officials during the talks last week.