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