The EU delegation will be headed by the Slovenian Foreign Minister and current President of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, Dimitrij Rupel, and will also include the European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, and French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, representing the next Presidency country.
Talks will focus on the implementation of the EU Strategy Paper for assistance to Central Asia adopted in June 2007, which provides the basis for bilateral and regional cooperation between the EU and Central Asian countries. The main topics covered by the Strategy are the economy and trade, energy, education, the rule of law, human rights, environmental protection, the fight against organised crime, water management, and border management.
The first - and so far only - EU Troika in Central Asia was organised during the German Presidency in the Kazakh capital, Astana. The forthcoming high-level visit to the region, headed by Slovenia, will further boost cooperation between the EU and Central Asian countries, providing new impetus to the implementation of the Strategy in all areas.
Central Asia is becoming an increasingly important partner for the EU, particularly in terms of energy, as this region has one of the largest oil, gas and uranium reserves in the world. The security component is important too, and includes blocking the spread of drugs and religious extremism from Afghanistan and other countries of south and south-east Asia.
Central Asia and Europe are vital for each other. This is a region at the cross-roads between Afghanistan, China and Russia and with close links to Europe’s neighbours in the South Caucasus and thus of crucial relevance for its security and prosperity, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, a member of the European Commission in charge of External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy said.
"Under Europe’s new Central Asia Strategy we are hard at work to deepen our relations with the region as a whole, but I am also looking forward to discussing the opportunities opening up in our bilateral relations with Uzbekistan in talks with Minister Norov," she said.
She believes that a politically stable, economically strong, democratic, prosperous and peaceful Central Asia is in mutual interest and the EU can support progress in the region in a wide variety of ways. In 2007-2013 the EU is doubling its financial assistance to the region to a total of 750 million euros.
The EU member states are building bilateral partnerships with the countries of Central Asia on issues ranging from tackling HIV/AIDS to providing clean water. The EU is offering assistance to improve the capacity of the governments of Central Asian countries to assist small businesses and to create bridges between the governments and the private sector.
"The EU is stepping up its activities in Central Asia because we see clearly that there are many mutual interests," she noted.
Opium smuggling from Afghanistan is not only a problem in this region – but much farther a field where the drugs reach the European market and do terrible harm. "That is one reason why we are firmly committed to joint efforts in border management combating drug trafficking," Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.
It is a known fact that Europe is importing increasing volumes of gas. The EU is currently diversifying its suppliers and routes of supply and believes Central Asia should have an important role to play in its future energy security. Europe’s assistance aims at helping Central Asian countries to explore transport routes of oil and gas for the benefit of both the region and of Europe.
Furthermore, the EU is sharing its expertise in the development and use of renewable energy. It supports the upgrading of the Bukhara-Tashkent-Bishkek-Almaty pipeline and providing training for gas company staff to keep it well maintained and secure.
"I hope that the meetings this week between the EU and Central Asian governments will send a clear message: Europe is committed to working with the countries of Central Asia. We believe there is much more that we can do together, and we are ready to assist the development of the region in very practical way. A good co operation between us will mean a more prosperous and a more secure future for citizens on both our continents," Benita Ferrero-Waldner concluded.