Opening remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EU-Central Asia Connectivity Conference: Global Gateway

EEAS Press Team

In his speech, HRVP Josep Borrell underlines the strategic nature of enhancing cooperation on Connectivity beween Europe and Central Asia. Borders are scares of history. We need to overcome them through infrastructure and connections – the veins that connect people. With the EU’s Global Gateway and Team Europe, we can do so in a concrete and sustainable way.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to speak at the opening of this landmark Conference on building sustainable connections between our two regions.

For centuries, connections between Europe and Central Asia, or the lack thereof, have played a profoundly important role in shaping our societies.

This was true when trade flourished in the ancient world along the Silk Road, linking the civilisations of Europe and Asia, spreading wealth, culture, and mutual learning.

And nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than here in this beautiful city of Samarkand.

Samarkand used to be a “Gateway” between East and West. Today, we are building connections – yet again – under the motto of Global Gateway.

The larger goal is clear: when we build the connections between our regions, we are connecting people and investing in their future.

And in the end, connecting people is what it is all about.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our world is getting more dangerous. We see a rise in power politics. International law being violated. And a multilateral system under pressure like never before.

The point of what we call “the rules-based international  order” is that it makes states secure, people free and companies willing to invest.

Lose the international rule of law - and you risk instability and losing all you have achieved.

That’s is why we all have a direct stake in the multilateral system. Defending it when it is under threat and reforming to meet new challenges.

Europeans and Central Asians are united in the challenges we face:

  • Building back our economies after the pandemic.
  • Building stronger Connectivity links among our societies; and
  • Addressing the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in terms of the triple crisis of energy, food and debt.

And looming large above it all is the climate emergency. We have to call it like that: it is no longer a crisis but an existential threat. It can seem overwhelming. But we cannot look away.

Faced with these challenges, some may try to erect new walls and withdraw behind them. Like the walls of medieval cities.

But we know that we must do the opposite. The walls will never be high enough. And seeking security in isolation is a fallacy.

Instead, we must work more together. And defend the international rule of law, because this is the guarantee of our common security.

Without the international rule of law, we cannot grow the trade and investment that we need.

Without the international rule of law we are all unsafe.

A strong multilateral system also means we can safeguard our freedom of choice.

Like our partners in Central Asia, we too in Europe see the need to advance our strategic autonomy.

So that we can freely choose how and with whom we connect.

Having connections and options is good. But excessive dependencies and the absence of choice can come at a cost.

We have seen this most clearly when it comes to Europe’s energy security.

But it is equally true when it comes to other essential connections: digital infrastructure, security architecture, food supplies, and access to critical raw materials.

Just as we in Europe are focused on developing our strategic autonomy, so we recognise our partners’ desire to do the same.

We respect and endorse the natural desire of our Central Asian partners to reject dependency on any single international partner, regardless of history or geography.

We support the right of our Central Asian friends to be free to choose. And we maintain that options are not, and should not be, exclusive.

When we talk about EU-Central Asian connectivity, this is not at the expense of other connections. Rather it reinforces and complements those connections as part of a wider network.

And this brings me to the other key aspect of our discussion today: “sustainability”.

Enhanced connectivity is a necessary tool to tackle the challenges we face and sustainability is the key to the way we use that tool.

A tool that is handled in the wrong way can damage more than it fixes. But if handled correctly, it can deliver impressive results.

New and better connections will boost our growth and accelerate our recovery from the pandemic.

But if we do not make sure from the start that our connections are sustainable, then we will fail to deliver and it will cost more.

We should avoid that are choices today, for instance on energy and climate, defer payment to future generations.

And the good news is that we don’t need to pursue unsustainable growth to prosper.

The threat of climate change also presents an enormous opportunity.

To retool our economies and build new connections that are sustainable, offering both higher living standards and a transition to a decarbonised economy.

It is both possible and necessary to pursue green growth through sustainable connectivity. But it depends on the choices we make – today and together.

We in Europe want to offer you a true partnership on this.

What we call the Global Gateway is about promoting the green and digital transition at a global level.

At heart, this is about working with partners to deliver sustainable connectivity. And one is that always tailored to the needs of local communities.

To do this in practice, we use all the levers we have and combine the efforts of the European Union’s institutions, EU member states, financial institutions, and the potential of Europe’s business community.

This is what we call the “Team Europe” approach.

And the goal is to deliver the highest quality investments based on sound principles, transparent rules, and legal certainty.

This approach is one of the reasons that Europe is the number one source of Foreign Direct Investment across the world, and by far the largest investor in Central Asia.

Over the past 10 years, EU member states have invested more than €105 billion or $121.3 billion in Central Asian countries, which exceeds 40% of the total amount of foreign direct investment in the region.

Yes, the EU invests more in the region than Russia, more than China. This is a good basis to build upon.

And we are ready to do more: for the coming four years we have allocated €300 million in grant funding, for both bilateral and regional projects. 

Our task today is to identify ways in which we can unleash the existing potential and build lasting connections. Both within Central Asia and between Central Asia and Europe.

Today, we will focus on three specific areas: digital, transport, and the water/energy nexus.

We will talk about the challenges, but also the investment needs and the potential solutions. We have to be practical and concrete.

In this respect, I want to mention two so-called Team Europe initiatives that we launch today:

  • The Team Europe Initiative on Water, Energy and Climate Change. This will contribute to managing water and energy resources sustainably, addressing environmental challenges, and tackling climate change in Central Asia.
  • The Team Europe Initiative on digital connectivity which will enhance Central Asia’s access to the global internet through satellite connectivity.

We are coordinating our efforts among EU institutions, member states and financial institutions - to have a bigger impact.

We are bringing together politicians, government officials, international financial institutions and private businesses: everyone that can help build new, stronger connections.

On behalf of the European Union, I thank Minister Norov and our Uzbek friends for their hospitality and their warm welcome.

I look forward to a day of intense discussions and concrete results. Connecting the past, the present and the future.


Link to EbS (starting from 02:50)