Mr. Jaap Ora, Chargé d'affaires a.i. of the European Union to the Kyrgyz Republic told Kabar Agency about bilateral relations between the Kyrgyz Republic and the European Union, relations of the EU with the countries of Central Asia, about the relations in cultural and humanitarian areas, prospects of GSP+ status and about HRVP Federica Mogherini’s visit to Kyrgyzstan.
-How do you assess the bilateral relations between the Kyrgyz Republic and the European Union? What are the near and mid term prospects of the bilateral cooperation?
European Union and the Kyrgyz Republic have strong relationship, which covers different aspects: political, social, economic, trade, cultural and so on. This relationship started very soon after Kyrgyzstan became independent. It has developed over years. I am glad to say that this year has become very successful and very important in our relationship. Several events took place, which could be considered as milestones in our relationship. Also important decisions were made.
This year in February former President Almazbek Atambayev visited the European Union's institutions in Brussels. It was his third visit to Brussels during his presidency. In November the High Representative of the EU for Foreign and Security Policy, Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini visited the Kyrgyz Republic, where she met with Almazbek Atambayev, Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Prime Minister Sapar Isakov. This was the highest level visit from the EU for a long time. This visit indicates how strong and constructive our relationship is.
The EU works in different spheres.We have political relationship with, for example, meetings of foreign ministers every year.Then we have a cooperation committee of officials to discuss working issues and also subcommittees for trade and investment. And also there will be a new subcommittee for the development. We also have annual regular human rights dialogue, where we can discuss all the aspects of human rights cooperation.
One important aspect of our work in Kyrgyzstan is the development cooperation. I want to emphasize that the EU is the largest donor in the world. It provides substantial assistance to its partner countries and in Kyrgyzstan we also run very strong development cooperation program.For the years 2014 – 2020 we have assigned €180 million as bilateral assistance to the Kyrgyz Republic. And on top of that, there are also regional programs covering Central Asia, from which Kyrgyzstan also benefits.
In our development cooperation we focus on three key focal sectors: education, integrated rural development and rule of law.
In education we provide budget support to the Ministry of Education of the Kyrgyz Republic. And we have agreed on several targets that the Kyrgyz Government is committed to achieve in the sphere of reforming the education system. For example, the modernization of the management of education, the finances of schools, also providing modern teaching equipment to schools, providing access for disabled children.
In the sphere of rural development we focus very much on providing the opportunities of income generating to the population of rural areas, which means we worked to introduce the rural population with new forms of economic activity or to organize the economic activities efficiently for the rural population to be able to market production and so on. We also provide assistance in developing the infrastructure necessary for the economic activities in the rural areas.
And the third focal sector is the rule of law, where we work in different areas. For example, judicial reform, electoral reform, but also some other priorities, for example, prevention of torture in the detention facilities.
In the sphere of judicial reform we have provided assistance in adopting new legislation, enhancing the professionalism of the workers of courts. It’s a very comprehensive and long term activity, where the goal is to have a professional, reliable and independent court systemand which actually is also important foundation for the development of the whole country.
We also provide assistance for electoral reform and again we have agreed with the Kyrgyz Government on the certain targets that have to be achieved to make the electoral system more efficient, accountable.And obviously we welcome positive developments we have seen in recent years in developing the electoral system.
We assist the Kyrgyz Government in the activities on fighting corruption. These are some examples. Also in the sphere of rule of law, we have trained the media to work with society on the issues related to transparency of governance. We also have worked with local governments to improve the communication between the local government and the citizens.
These three focal sectors are the main priorities for us. There are also some other areas where we are working, including social protection, rights of children and so on.
At the moment the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic has moved forward with several new important initiatives. First of all, the project of Taza Koom to provide the development of electronic governance in the country, also Taza Suu as the priority of providing drinking water for the population, and the priority of developing irrigation infrastructure in the country to provide more economic opportunities for the rural population.
The EU Delegation is in dialogue with the Government about how to integrate also these priorities in our activities. For example, we would like to mainstream TazaKoom priorities in all the three focal sectors of our activities, so that the development of electronic governance becomes the integral part of our development cooperation activities in the country.
One important milestone in the relations between the EU and Kyrgyzstan was the decision by the European Union to start negotiations on a new and comprehensive cooperation and partnership agreement with the Kyrgyz Republic. This agreement should cover all aspects of our cooperation and should replace the current partnership and cooperation agreement which is in force from 1999.The reason for starting the negotiations was the fact that much time has already passed since the adoption of the previous agreement and that its time to have a new look at our relationship and adapt to the current situation, to current priorities. These negotiations, which will start in December this year, will provide an opportunity to bring new quality into the relationship between the EU and Kyrgyzstan.
-This year the European Union marked its 60th anniversary. What are the relations of the EU with countries of Central Asia?
This year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, which is one of the milestones of the development of the EU. It was signed then by 6 member states. And now there are 28 member states in the EU.
As I mentioned earlier, the EU started to develop its relationship with Central Asia already in the early 90s. One important milestone was in 2007, when the EU adopted its strategy for Central Asia. This strategy established new foundation for working for the whole region. it also indicates the importance of the region for the EU. Now we are celebrating already ten years of the EU-Central Asia strategy and the EU member states decided that the EU would adopt a new strategy for Central Asia by the end of 2019. The EU-Central Asia strategy is a comprehensive document, which outlines the priorities and interests of the EU and priorities of cooperation, starting from developing stable, just and open societies, strengthening good governance rule of law, human rights and democratization. And also working in the economic sphere and in the security sphere, which are very important. Also it is Central Asian countries to work among themselves to cooperate and of course, the EU as very successful integrated body is prepared to offer its experience of cooperation among member states.
There are many priorities for regional cooperation. The EU-Central Asia strategy also established regular mechanism of cooperation and there are, for example, annual meetings of foreign ministers. The last meeting took place in Samarkand in November and was attended by foreign ministers of all Central Asian countries. It was a very constructive meeting and it was highlighted by the participants that they can see how the EU-Central Asian cooperation is elevated to a new level.
The EU High Representative Mrs. Mogherini highlighted that Central Asia has become important partner for the European Union.
-What could you tell about the relations in cultural and humanitarian areas between the EU and Kyrgyzstan?
In recent years the Delegation of the EU has considered introducing European culture to the audience in the Kyrgyz Republic as one of its priorities. For example, we have organized European Union film festivals in Bishkek with the participation of many member states. Almost 20 member states introduced their films to the Kyrgyz audience and this has been very popular event with high demand and every time we organize it, the audience requests us to come back with this event next year. We hope to do it again next year. And also we have organized the events about the European music.
One interesting project we had last year was a drawing competition for schoolchildren in Kyrgyzstan about how they imagine the European Union. They produced a lot of works, which were displayed at the exhibition in Bishkek and also we produced the album containing some of the best works. These are some example of cultural activities.
Obviously, a lot of cultural cooperation goes on the initiative of particular member states and I believe that they also feel the strong interest in Kyrgyzstan to know more about European culture.On the other hand, I would say that I think there are also a lot of interesting things that Kyrgyzstan could provide to the European audience.
People in Europe should also know more about the Kyrgyz culture. I would like to highlight the World Nomad Games as one of the really good events, which I think provides a lot of knowledge, good visual image about Kyrgyzstan and its culture in Europe and we are looking forward to the next Nomad Games. It will be another opportunity for the European audience and global audience to learn more about Kyrgyzstan.
One way for the Kyrgyz young people to go to Europe is to study, especially in the framework of the Erasmus+ program, which provides exchange of students and the opportunity for students from partner countries to study in Europe. I think there is more potential to develop people to people contact and it will remain one of the priorities of our cooperation.
-How do you assess the utilization and prospects of GSP+ status given to Kyrgyzstan?
It is an opportunity for Kyrgyzstan to export most of its products to Europe without paying the customs tariffs. It makes Kyrgyz export to Europe competitive and it opens an opportunity for Kyrgyz producers to send their products to Europe and to diversify the external trade relations of Kyrgyzstan. Another part of the scheme is that Kyrgyz Government has committed to implement the most important international conventions of human rights, labour rights and good governance.
GSP+ means tariff free opportunity from one hand.On the other hand, it stimulates development of human rights and labour rights and this is done with the understanding that if labour rights and human rights legislation is improved, it also means better economic development as it means more opportunities for economic development. Now the Kyrgyz Republic has been within the GSP+ scheme for one year and so far I think that not the whole potential of the scheme is utilized.
I can give your some figures. In 2016, the overall trade between the European Union and the Kyrgyz Republic was €310 million. Out of that, export from Kyrgyzstan to the European Union was 70.5 million, of these export only 3.2 million went under GSP+. It is only 4%. So at the moment only 4% of Kyrgyz exports go to Europe under GSP+ scheme, which means that there is a potential for Kyrgyz producers to develop more products, which are interesting to European market. And also I think there is a need to improve the understanding and awareness in Kyrgyzstan about requirements of import to the European Union like veterinary, phytosanitary standards, environmental requirements, rules of origin and so on. We know that there is a strong interest among producers in Kyrgyzstan to have more export to Europe, I believe it will be the main and important opportunity to diversify trade relations with Kyrgyzstan, because one of the goals of the GSP+ scheme is to have Kyrgyzstan integrated better in the world economy and it ultimately could also provide better working conditions, better income for the workers in Kyrgyzstan. This will be a long term process and we will cooperate with local organizations of economic actors and with the Government to enhance the opportunities related to GSP+.
-Could you tell us about the recent visit of the HRVP Federica Mogherini to Kyrgyzstan?
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy and the Vice President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini visited the Kyrgyz Republic on November 9 this year. She met with Almazbek Atambayev, who was then the President, met with Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was elected next President, and also with Prime Minister Sapar Isakov. This was the sign of the importance of the relationship with the Kyrgyz Republic for the European Union and a chance to discuss the plans for the future. Mrs. Mogherini congratulated her counterpart and the Kyrgyz people on the conduct of elections, which were competitive, fair and well organized and she also highlighted the importance of continuing of cooperation with the Kyrgyz Republic in the sphere of development cooperation, in political sphere and in the sphere of human rights.
She also highlighted the fact that we will start negotiations on the new agreement with the Kyrgyz Republic. She also said that these positive developments in the relationship also mean that we have high expectations for Kyrgyzstan, also for the future, for example in strengthening, rule of law, democratic freedoms, media freedoms and support to the civil society. Because these are very important priorities in order to build strong society.
Regarding the elections, it was also mentioned that the international observation mission of OSCE/ODIHR would come forward with its conclusions and recommendations and we strongly encourage Kyrgyz authorities to take this recommendations into account while preparing for the next elections in the country. I must say that overall these meetings took place in very constructive and friendly atmosphere and we closely listen to the priorities of the leadership of the country and also for the priorities for the economic development of the country.
Interviewed by Nurzhan Kasmalieva