SEnECA Blog Post: EU’s growing role in Kyrgyzstan: the impact of EU’s Central Asia Strategy

The coope­ration with the European Union is a top priority for Kyrgyzstan. This has been highlighted in both policy documents and public state­ments of the country’s leadership during their foreign visits for already three decades. These state­ments reflect the reality as the EU’s activities in Kyrgyzstan have covered virtually all possible spheres – the EU runs many projects in healthcare, education, hydro­power, peniten­tiary reform, youth engagement, unemployment, counter-terrorism measures, and fight against drug trafficking.

The develo­pment of the rule of law, democratic insti­tu­tions and freedom of word receive special attention in the bilateral EU-Kyrgyzstan coope­ration. However, the challenge is that the signed agree­ments have not always worked. There are many reasons for this such as different approaches and opinions, uncoor­di­nated actions, Kyrgyzstan’s economic diffi­culties, corruption, red tape, and the lack of operation and oversight mecha­nisms in place.

The EU’s Strategy towards Central Asia 2007–2013 has become a breakthrough in a sense that it has laid a fundament for an actual partnership. Under the framework of the Strategy and with  EU support, Kyrgyzstan launched national programmes targeted at the top priorities areas of develo­pment, such as the social protection system reform, judicial reform, education system reform, as well as rural develo­pment and agricul­tural develo­pment. For example, one of the areas of educa­tional reforms are the intro­duction of innova­tions in schools, the moder­niz­ation of the curri­culum, the impro­vement of the quality of teacher training, the develo­pment of inclusive education and a safety school environment.

Under the framework of the same Strategy, Kyrgyzstan has parti­ci­pated in a number of EU-funded regional projects aimed at incre­asing the integration potential in Central Asia and at finding solutions for cross-border issues. During the lifespan of the Strategy, the political dialogue between the EU and Kyrgyzstan has been signi­fi­cantly upgraded. For example, in 2010, the EU’s Permanent Mission to Kyrgyzstan was opened. This was an important develo­pment for the Kyrgyz part as the presence of the EU Delegation in Bishkek allows to connect with the EU on a more consistent basis and get the country engaged more in the European coope­ration area.

Such consistent fruitful work led to the signing of the Enhanced Partnership and Coope­ration Agreement between the EU and Kyrgyzstan in July 2019. Kyrgyzstan has become the second country in the region after Kazakhstan to sign such a document. The EPCA focuses on the coope­ration in the areas of political develo­pment, economy and investment; it aims to promote economic coope­ration to support sustainable develo­pment of Kyrgyzstan. The impor­tance of sustainable develo­pment has already been under­lined by other SEnECA resear­chers in the previous blog posts. Kyrgyzstan faces signi­ficant issues in the areas of environ­mental safety and food security, recycling, environ­mental pollution, and an enormous threat posed by the existence of uranium tailing dumps. The European Union has already achieved a lot in intro­ducing and promoting green techno­logies and is a leading example for many other countries. The European experience is invaluable not just for Kyrgyzstan, but also for the other countries in the region.

The EU and Kyrgyzstan need to discuss new documents for 2021–2027 soon. This represents an oppor­tunity to further develop bilateral relations and simul­ta­ne­ously promote regional relations as most EU projects aim to tackle regional issues, which requires joint efforts of all Central Asian republics.

SEnECA blog contri­bution by Prof. Dr. Nazira Momosheva, Kyrgyz National University, Kyrgyzstan