The 2007 EU Strategy for Central Asia is currently being reviewed. The EU has been successful in bolstering relations with Central Asian governments, but the overall picture of the EU’s engagement is one of limited to no impact. The region has become more unstable; democracy is seen by the regimes as a threat to their survival; and human rights have been backsliding.
The South Caucasus is a broken region characterised by local tensions and conflicting influences of large regional actors – the European Union, Russia and Turkey. The EU remains highly attractive to South Caucasus societies but its technocratic and government-focused policies have failed with Armenia and Azerbaijan, while reform in Georgia remains fragile. Furthermore, the region remains volatile due to the high potential for domestic instability; inflammable protracted conflicts; and Russia’s heavy influence.
On 29-30 October, the 5th EU-Kyrgyzstan Civil Society Seminar (CSS) was held in Osh in south Kyrgyzstan. This year’s topic was the ‘Prevention of Torture’, which is one of the priorities of the EU’s human rights policy in Central Asia, and is particularly relevant in the case of Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 ethnic violence.
EU neighbourhood policies have produced few results in the tumultuous South and have been derailed both by Russia’s assertiveness and by very uneven local commitment in the East. A thorough review of the EU’s approach should be a top priority of the new EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn.
The eighth Ukrainian parliament will be pro-Ukrainian, pro-European and hopefully pro-reform. The composition of the new parliament should enable a strong pro-European majority to carry out promised reforms. These include the fight against corruption, reform of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, public administration reform and decentralisation, tax reform and business deregulation. Public pressure, also reinforced by civil society activists and journalists within the parliament, will be strong, but trust in the new government will not last for long. Ukraine does not have much time to start changing itself, and the costs of not reforming could become toxic for its statehood.
The challenges – internally and externally – for the new European legislature are numerous. Despite being only a small part of the puzzle, Central Asia should also be on the agenda. Authoritarianism remains on the rise and human rights and democracy are in decline throughout the region.