The European Union has significant stakes in Central Asia, given the strategic geographical location and the pivotal role of the region in Europe-Asia connectivity, its vast energy resources, significant market potential and its role in broader regional security, in particular in the light of developments in Afghanistan.
The EU and the five Central Asian states celebrate in 2021 the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. EU engagement with the region has significantly expanded since the early 1990s. In 2007, the EU adopted its first Strategy on Central Asia.
In 2019, the EU adopted a new Strategy on Central Asia, which builds upon the positive developments in regional cooperation and highlights the growing strategic relevance of the region for EU interests. The EU Strategy aims to help Central Asia develop as a more resilient, prosperous and interconnected space
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Basis for the EU – Central Asia cooperation
In June 2019, the EU adopted a new Strategy on Central Asia, updating the first Strategy of 2007. It outlines its strategic interests in the region and proposes to forge a stronger and non-exclusive partnership with Central Asian states so that the region develops as a more resilient, prosperous, and closely interconnected economic and political space.
The Strategy outlines three priority strands for EU engagement:
- partnering with Central Asian states and societies for resilience (human rights and democracy, security, environmental challenges);
- partnering for prosperity (supporting economic diversification and private sector development, promoting intra-regional trade and sustainable connectivity);
- supporting regional cooperation in Central Asia.
The new EU Strategy also provides guidance for the preparation of EU aid programming for the period 2021-2027.
The negotiation of new-generation Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (EPCAs) with Central Asian states has also provided a strong vehicle to forge a more modern and diversified partnership beyond a “trade and aid” agenda and promote cooperation and regulatory convergence in areas which are relevant to the reform processes underway in the region.
The EU development priorities in Central Asia
The European Union's development priorities in Central Asia, in line with its joint commitment to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aim at meeting the increasing needs from growing and young populations and at providing economic opportunities in a region.
Assistance provided by the EU combined with assistance provided by EU Member States individually makes the European Union the number one donor in the region. The global envelope for EU assistance to Central Asia reached €1.1 billion for the period 2014-2020. In order to better tailor the development programmes to each country's specificities, the EU employs a differentiated approach to its assistance.
Regional programmes aim at supporting a broad-based process of dialogue and collaboration between the five Central Asian countries. Regional cooperation is important for energy, the environment, climate, water and socio-economic development, including better education and research opportunities as well as competitiveness and business environment reforms.
Given Central Asia's vulnerability to natural disasters and the effects of climate change, regional programmes also support the countries’ capacities to prepare for and respond to these risks.
Promoting the role of civil society
The EU seeks to promote a strong civil society in addressing the challenges of the region.
An annual EU-Central Asia Civil Society Forum has met since 2019. The Forum is envisaged as a platform to allow civil society representatives of the two regions to contribute to the development of the EU-Central Asia partnership.
The Forum gathers civil society representatives, researchers, media experts, private sector and
government experts to discuss ideas, generate new and innovative proposals and recommendations
on how civil society can further contribute and be more involved in the implementation of the EU Central Asia Strategy at the local level through programmes and at policy level.
Response to COVID-19
The EU has mobilised €123 million for the region, which has been severely hit by COVID-19, as part of the “Team Europe” response to the pandemic. The assistance is focused on mitigating the immediate and longer-term challenges caused by the pandemic in the health, socio-economic areas.
In July 2020, the EU launched a comprehensive €3 million regional Central Asia COVID-19 Crisis Response Solidarity Programme, with a primary focus on Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The programme provides support to mitigate the outbreak of the pandemic and contribute towards longer-term resilience of the national health systems.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) has also mobilised a significant package of COVID-related loans for the region.
In 2021, the EU supported Central Asia countries through COVAX facility, delivering vaccines to Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Kazakhstan and the EU
This page provides information about relations between the EU and Kazakhstan in areas such as political cooperation, the economy and trade, development cooperation and civil society. More information is available here.
Tajikistan and the EU
The European Union (EU) and Tajikistan are working together at a political and economic level, guided by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement as well as the European Union and Central Asia Strategy. The EU Delegation to Tajikistan is engaging with civil society and working for improvement of human rights standards in Tajikistan. More information is available here.
Turkmenistan and the EU
Bilateral relations between the European Union and Turkmenistan are governed by an Interim Agreement on trade and trade-related matters, which entered into force in August 2010, pending ratification of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement by the European Parliament. More information is available here.
Uzbekistan and the EU
The European Union supports the reform agenda of Uzbekistan through technical and financial assistance, and regularly engages with the Uzbekistan authorities on all areas of concern, including human rights, media and issues of good governance. Uzbekistan has also assumed an active role in the peace process in Afghanistan. More information is available here.
EU Special Representative for Central Asia
Ms Terhi Hakala is the EU Special Representative for Central Asia since 1 July 2021. According to the mandate, the EU Special Representative focuses on the EU’s continued and comprehensive cooperation with the countries in the region. The cooperation covers a broad range of matters in the following sectors: security, rule of law, environment, water, climate change, education, and human rights with an emphasis on women and girls. In line with the European Strategy for Central Asia, it is also important to promote development of business environment, to stimulate investment and to foster sustainable connectivity.
Terhi Hakala has previously worked as the Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN, WTO and other international organizations in Geneva; Director General of the Department for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland; Ambassador to India; Head of the OSCE Mission to Georgia; and as Finland’s Roving Ambassador to the South Caucasus. She was most recently Ambassador for Countering Hybrid Threats of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. She seeks to build upon her long experience to channel strong cooperation in-between the EU and Central Asia region.
• International Cooperation and Development - Central Asia
• TRACECA Transport Corridor
• BOMCA: EU Border Management Programme
• Ready4Trade – supporting Investment, Competitiveness and Trade in Central Asia
• Rule of Law programme - reinforcing human rights, rule of law and democracy
• OECD policy component of the 'Central Asia Invest' programme
• Factsheet on EU-Central Asia relations
• Factsheet on EU-Kazakhstan relations
• Factsheet on EU-Tajikistan relations
• Factsheet on EU-Uzbekistan relations
• Factsheet on EU-Kyrgyz Republic relations
• Factsheet on EU-Turkmenistan relations
• Factsheet - EU Contribution to Sustainable Connectivity for Central Asia and Afghanistan
• Factsheet - Connecting EU and Central Asia: Illustrative List of Cooperation and Project Examples