The current momentum for EU-Uzbekistanis relations should be seen as very positive because of Uzbekistan reforms since 2016 and the opening of negotiations for the new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) which is underway.
The EPCA trade agreement will be very important for Uzbekistan and the European Union (EU) since Uzbekistan remains the largest potential consumer market in Central Asia with a population of 33 million people and an important country for new supply chains routes and energy. That puts it in a key positon with regards to trade and of course as a growing partner for the EU. The new agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan will replace the partnership and cooperation agreement that has been in force since 1999. The previous PCA has allowed for trade to flourish, but is of course over 2 decades old, and needs to be updated to properly take into consideration each sides’ economic needs of the 21st century, as well as governance, climate and ecology and human rights.
Since 2016, and the election of President Mirziyoyev, the country has gone through economic reforms, like the liberalisation of visas and currency, as well as legal changes in relation to the elimination of forced child labour in the cotton industry, which used to be a major problem. However, despite the fact that the BBC could return to Uzbekistan to report in 2017 – after being banned for many years – and despite the fact that International Labour Organization and World Bank reports show economic and labour improvements, there are still challenges for Uzbekistan like freedom of speech and fully independent elections.
There is also a lot of room for the EU and Uzbekistan to improve people-to-people contact, trainings, and civil society dialogue through exchange and fellowships. The EU’s Connectivity Strategy and Central Asia Strategy play an innovative and important role in fostering relations with key Central Asian countries, like Uzbekistan. The strategies set the tone for strategic priority areas which are of particular important to the EU, including civil society engagement, education, sustainability, water management, labour migration, connectivity and the fight against radicalisation.
As the new standing rapporteur of the European Parliament on Uzbekistan it is my belief that all relations with the EU – and especially with the European Parliament – must be based on sustainability and stability with the proper implementation of democratic standards, which in large part are supported through people-focused policies. In a 2020 publication entitled ‘Uzbekistan: examining the parliamentary elections and Mirziyoyev’s move towards controlled transition’ the Central Asia focused think tank European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) notes that there was genuine support for the new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Uzbekistan, despite the fact that new reforms on media freedom and civil society should be seen with “cautious optimism”.
In my capacity, I therefore intend to support better relations, including friendship groups, cultural activities, but equally more exchange and the potential for civil society from Europe and Central Asia to meet and strengthen their best practice and relations. Similarly, I welcome all attempts from our counterparts in the Uzbekistan Oliy Majlis to organise inter-parliamentary exchanges, visits and other forms of engagement, which can help foster more genuine dialogue and understanding. This coincides with the developments of better oversight by the Uzbekistan Oliy Majlis, which will need to stand the test of time and show its capability to act independently. Those efforts will be supported by the European Parliament, and I look forward to developing a stronger relationship with my counterparts on issues like budgetary independence, oversight, citizens deliberation and the establishment of genuinely autonomous political parties.
Through these efforts and challenges I am convinced that EU-Uzbekistan relations will flourish and that we in the European Parliament will be able to start cooperating with Uzbekistan on the many relevant issue, ranging from migration and preventing radicalisation to trade and energy, which will be essential for an improved and more institutionalised relationship.
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Тази публикация е достъпна и на следните езици: Bulgarian