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Interests vs Values: the EU's policy towards Central Asia

26/03/2012, Rome

Balancing interests and values – acquiring energy resources and promoting human rights – is the crux of relations between the EU and Central Asia, whose huge natural resources reserves, especially gas and oil, are drawing increasing attention by international actors, such as the European Union, as well as Russia, China and the US. Vanessa Boas, Exact researcher at IAI, presented a paper at a seminar on these issues on March 26th at the IAI library.

The European Union has always been divided on how to frame its relations with the Central Asian dictatorship. Although energy security and the promotion of democracy are both EU foreign policy priorities, Brussels has frequently been criticized, especially by non- governmental organizations, for having given up on human rights in pursuit of commercial interests. There are also some dissenting voices in the EU, who advocate human rights conditionality prior to the deepening of energy relations with these countries.

Boas’ paper focuses on the recent agreement on the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, a key project in EU-Turkmenistan relations, which, if realized, would raise eyebrows in Russia, but would also enhance the EU’s role in Central Asia. The pipeline has been criticized as another case in which interests have trumped the pursuit of values. Yet Boas also problematizes the use of human rights based conditionally in energy relations with Turkmenistan, which would probably be neither feasible nor sustainable, leading to a situation in which neither interests nor values would be fulfilled. Countries like Russia and China would step into the vacuum, as they place no conditions on their investments and overlook the respect of human rights.

A possible solution would be the inclusion, in the EU’s energy deals, of a series of initiatives, such as the promotion of social standards, environmental protection and capacity building. This would both increase interdependence between the EU and Turkmenistan and enhance the influence of Brussels on Ashkabad, contributing to the awakening of Turkmen consciousness towards the promotion of democratic governance in the long-term.

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