Workshop: Energy Security and Democratic Development: the case of Central Asia

19 October 2010, Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (BMZ), Bonn, Germany.

An international seminar organised by FRIDE and EADI in co-operation with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in the framework of the European Development Co-operation to 2020 (EDC 2020) project. Read the final agenda.

Marion Urban, BMZ
Marion Urban, BMZ

This seminar aimed at bringing experts and policy makers together to discuss the relationship between energy security and democratic development in Central Asia. The event was attended by about 30 participants from Europe and Central Asia and debates were lively.

In her welcoming words, Marion Urban, Head of Division Southern Caucasus and Central Asia at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) stressed that Europe’s Central Asia policy was of great importance to Germany but not only in the spheres of energy and democratic development. Recent events showed that there are serious security challenges in the region that are interconnected.

The organisers had chosen to divide the discussions in three parts. First an overview of the implementation of the EU Strategy for Central Asia that was established in 2007 and reviewed this year by the EU Council and Commission. Secondly a session about Turkmenistan where the link between energy security and democratic development is strong due to the countries’ enormous gas reserves and complete lack of any democratic development making the country into a classical rentier state example. And lastly Kyrgyzstan where the theme of this seminar is more difficult to assess. Kyrgyzstan lacks fossil energy resources, suffers from energy shortages and goes through a period of violent change bringing in a security and stability factor.

Jenniver Sehring, Political Advisor to EUSR

In the first session, chaired by Jos Boonstra, Senior Researcher, FRIDE, the first speaker, Jennifer Sehring, political advisor to the EU Special Representative for Central Asia gave an overview of EU policy towards Central Asia and highlighted the achievements of the past three years as well as the shortcomings and areas that need improvement. Whereas the EU has established itself more firmly as a partner of the five Central Asian states she acknowledged that this has barely led to human rights improvements or development of democratic practice. The regular human rights dialogues with all five countries are an important development though. Jörn Grävingholt, Senior Researcher at the German Development Institute (DIE) in Bonn centred his contribution on the concept of ownership. With regard to ‘European ownership’ he argued that Germany was the main driver in 2007 behind the strategy and that many EU members did not take a keen interest. Moreover events in the last year have downplayed the importance of the Strategy: the war between Georgia and Russia showed that the EU is unlikely to be a factor in hard security or power projection in the Caucasus and certainly beyond that region; most attention and resources have been taken up in Afghanistan ignoring Central Asia that is neighbouring; the financial crisis has taken away attention from the region. From a Central Asian point of view ownership is also weak because leaders considered ties with the EU as a positive counterbalance to Russian and Chinese influence but not as a vehicle for reform and change.

Neil Melvin, SIPRI

The session on Turkmenistan was chaired by Neil Melvin, Director of the Armed Conflict Programme at SIPRI in Stockholm. In this session, Michael Denison, Research Director of Control Risks, London, outlined several policy options for the EU in working with Ashgabat. These ranged from ignoring human rights and developing energy relations to the full extend to downplaying the risky energy business and pushing for human rights with Turkmenistan. All presented options had weaknesses but a policy of engagement in trying to foster gradual change through technical assistance, rule of law aspects and strengthening a positive and safe business environment might be the best option for combining energy exports to Europe with promotion of European values to Turkmenistan. Jacqueline Hale of the Open Society Foundation in Brussels took a more critical stance arguing that in any event Turkmenistan will be a poor partner for the EU: in values but also in business. The EU needs to move in Central Asia from measuring success on the number of meetings held to indicators on programmes and projects, also with Turkmenistan. Michael Laubsch who heads the Eurasian Transition Group in Bonn stressed that there are many open questions with regard to importing Turkmen gas: How large are the gas reserves; reliability of the Turkmen government; and the moral question for the EU. Most disappointingly Laubsch did not see any positive change under the new President Berdimuhamedov who now creates his own personal cult. All three speakers voiced their concern over the indirect threat made by the President against Vienna-based human rights activist Farid Tukhbatullin.

Tolkun Umaraliev, Radio Free Europe

In the last session on Kyrgyzstan, chaired by Klaas van der Tempel, senior researcher fellow, Clingendael, Tolkun Umaraliev of Radio Free Europe and the blogging project in Bishkek gave an overview of the recent elections in Kyrgyzstan as well as about the ethnic riots of June. He argued that the EU should play a role in security and especially in the Fergana valley that is shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Andrea Schmitz, Researcher at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, focussed on hydroelectric energy in Kyrgyzstan as the main source of energy for the country but also in creating tensions with neighbouring countries that have less water resources. She argued that the EU should not be involved through large investments but through coordination of donors and bringing the countries of the region around the table in building local joint institutions. Neil Melvin explained the region is suffering from a security vacuum in which regional security organisations and external actors are unwilling or hesitant to be involved. Meanwhile 2010 has been a year of violence in Kyrgyzstan and there is no guarantee this will be different in 2011 and might even spread to other countries. The EU could play a positive role in the region on conflict prevention because it has experience in this field. It would be low-cost but might avoid serious conflicts.

Session report by Jos Boonstra

Related EDC 2020 publication:

The EU-Turkmenistan energy relationship: difficulty or opportunity?

By Jos Boonstra, senior researcher at FRIDE

Policy Brief No 5 - October 2010

Download the full publication