Q&A with EEAS official Luc Pierre Devigne

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On the eve of negotiations between the EU and the Republic of Tajikistan to develop a new comprehensive framework for strengthening their bilateral relations that opened in Dushanbe on February 23, Mr. Luc Devigne, Director for Russia, Eastern partnership, Central Asia and OSCE at the European External Action Service (EEAS), visited the Tajik capital. Asia-Plus talked to him about the essence of the Agreement, impact of anti-Russia sanctions on Central Asia and prospects of further expansion of EU-Tajikistan collaboration.

The main purpose of my visit was to launch negotiations of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Tajikistan. The agreement that is now in force was drafted back in the 1990s and reflected the imminent needs of the newly created independent countries. Since 30 years, Tajikistan and the EU changed much, as did our partnership into many new areas . This should be reflected in the new, modern, comprehensive, legal framework for cooperation. This was the main issue I discussed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Economy. In addition we covered topical issues related to GSP+, human rights and the rule of law, regional security, economic development and others.

- To what extent and how did the geopolitical situation in the region over the past year affect the bilateral cooperation between the European Union and Tajikistan?

Our cooperation with Tajikistan is based on common interests. We strongly support sustainable economic development of Tajikistan, we invested in green energy and hydropower and access of population to basic services – safe drinking water, primary health care, education, skills. Large part of our cooperation is designed to increase resilience of the country, which means precisely its capacity to withstand the external shocks and challenges – be they linked to regional security, necessity to adapt to climate change, or geopolitical interests.

- Have you discussed with the relevant actors the issue of the prospects for granting preferential access to the EU market for Tajikistan within the framework of the expanded system of trade preferences (GSP+)?

Discussion on granting additional trade preferences to Tajikistan is very high on our agenda. We are working closely with the Government in preparation of Tajikistan’s application. The GSP+ preferences are granted to countries who ratify and effectively implement 27 core UN conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance. The GSP+ preferences have an important economic benefit, with the EU unilaterally cutting the tariffs on imports from Tajikistan, in exchange of positive commitments by the Government when it comes to improving the human rights environment, enabling the work of civil society and other aspects.

- The EU is also negotiating with Tajikistan on a new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. How is the negotiation process proceeding in this direction, to what extent are the conditions met, what prospects do you see in this direction?

Negotiations will cover all areas of EU cooperation with Tajikistan, and it is by default a complex process which involves representatives of all parts of the Government on the Tajik side, and all EU institutions on the European side. There is a clear motivation to proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible, and I have no doubt that we will achieve good results.

- Are the countries of Central Asia considered as potential partners of the European Union within the framework of the project for the development of integration ties - "Eastern Partnership"?

Countries in Central Asia are “neighbours of our neighbours”. Strategic importance of Central Asia for the EU has been increasing – this is confirmed not least by EU high level visits to the region and the launch of new projects which will build better connectivity links through Central Asia. This concerns energy markets, but also transport and digital connectivity. It is our objective to reinforce the transport corridors, business and trade links, and people-to-people connectivity between Central Asia, countries of Eastern Partnership and the EU.

- The European Union, for reasons known to all, adheres to a sanctions policy towards Russia, which has historically been the main trade and economic partner of the Central Asian countries. Moreover, the social and economic situation in some countries of the region, especially in Tajikistan, depends very much on the trends taking place in Russia. Are the interests of the countries of the region taken into account during the adoption of certain packages of sanctions against Russia?

The main objective of the sanctions is to stop the war. The sanctions are targeting those responsible for the war. The are not directed against any other country. The Russian war on Ukraine however has a global impact, it has disrupted trade, puts entire countries at risk of food and energy insecurity etc. Countries who have not initiated the war are suffering from its consequences, in Europe, in Africa, and also in Central Asia. We continue working closely with partners through all development assistance tools, including on mitigating negative impact of external shocks on their economies. The EU has never and does not demand from its partners that they have less or no relations with Russia. Unlike Russia, we do not see international relations as a zero-sum game : a country can have several partnerships, trade agreements, etc. The EU has even concluded EPCAs with members of Eurasian Economic Union.

- How do you see the prospects for cooperation between the EU and Tajikistan in general, which, in your opinion, contributes to the improvement of relations between the parties and vice versa?

The cooperation between the EU and Tajikistan has been on an overall positive trajectory, with many areas of common interest. For instance we share the objective of promoting green economy and environmental protection, increasing trade relations, investment in education and skills, development of digital economy. We have a joint interest in promoting resilience and security in the region. There are of course areas where our approach differs, but we nonetheless maintain dialogue and openness to find areas for progress, on files such as the rule of law and promoting of human rights and fundamental freedoms, which form the core underlying principles of EU engagement with all partners.

Mr. Luc Devigne, Director for Russia, Eastern partnership, Central Asia and OSCE; Deputy Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service (EEAS) since June 2016.

Source: Asia-Plus