Tuesday

16th Oct 2018

EU preparing to upgrade Turkmenistan relations

EU institutions are preparing to normalise relations with Turkmenistan, laying aside human rights benchmarks in a bureaucratic process marked by apathy and mistrust.

The European Parliament's international trade committee has invited the European Commission to brief MEPs about the political situation in the gas-rich dictatorship at its next meeting on 2 December.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • A view from the commission headquarters in Brussels, Turkmenistan feels very far away despite the grand rhetoric (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

The briefing will pave the way for parliament to decide on approving an Interim Trade Agreement (ITA) with Ashgabat, under a consultation procedure that would make refusal politically awkward for the treaty's future.

The ITA would multiply the number of EU-Turkmenistan meetings and improve prospects for opening a future EU embassy. It would also send the political message that Europe wants to do business with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

MEPs in February said the ITA should stay frozen until Turkmenistan releases political prisoners, gives access to UN experts on torture, lets people travel out of the country and reforms its educational system.

None of the benchmarks have been met. "This is a time when Turkmenistan is looking to the EU for partnership, for respectability. The EU needs to be consistent," Human Rights Watch (HRW) analyst Maria Lisitsyna said.

But the European Commission in December is likely to tell MEPs that Ashgabat has done enough to show it is open to change, highlighting minor reforms such as relaxation of forced teaching of the Rukhnama, a theological tract.

"We need to encourage these efforts and engage more with the country," commission external relations spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann said. "Non-approval of the ITA would risk sending the wrong message."

Mistrust of NGOs

Brussels sees NGOs such as HRW as a nuisance in its attempt to steer Central Asian countries out of the Russian sphere of influence in a grand geopolitical strategy.

"It's almost as if now that Uzbekistan has gone, they are turning all their attention to Turkmenistan," one EU official said, after the EU in October dropped Uzbekistan sanctions despite an HRW campaign.

The commission will be preaching to the converted as far as the largest parliamentary political group, the conservative EPP-ED, is concerned.

"If we don't talk to the Turkmen, they won't learn about democracy and human rights from Russia or from the Chinese government," German conservative MEP and ITA rapporteur Daniel Caspary said.

The deputy cast doubts on the reliability of HRW analysis, saying that in the past, Russian proxy groups have fed mis-information to Western NGOs.

"HRW, which I very much like, gets information from different channels and some of those channels - they don't know who is behind them."

Apathy also a force

Few MEPs take a strong interest in Turkmenistan, risking a situation in which a handful of pro-ITA deputies lead parliament decision-making.

The head of the Central Asia delegation, Lithuanian Liberal MEP Ona Jukneviciene, in April cancelled a delegation visit to Ashgabat because she was too busy with other things. Just one MEP turned up to a commission briefing on Turkmenistan to the human rights sub-committee in October.

The commission's geopolitical rhetoric also masks smaller bureaucratic objectives and gives an exaggerated impression of Central Asia's importance on its own agenda.

With Turkmenistan as the only one of the five Central Asia states where EU treaties still date back to Soviet times, some EU officials are keen to conclude the ITA to tick a box in their programme.

Senior EU personnel have in the past allegedly said that EU-Russia relations top the EU's foreign policy priority list, with EU-Central Asia relations way down the line. But the European Commission denies this is the case.

Correction: the story originally attributed remarks about Central Asia to two named European Commission officials. But EUobserver has decided to take out the names after the commission vigorously denied that such statements were made

EU looks at Morocco and Tunisia to offload migrants

EU member states and the European Commission are pressing ahead with plans to possibly use Morocco and Tunisia as countries to offload asylum seekers and migrants - part of larger bid to create a so-called "safe third country" list.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Latest News

  1. Brexit standoff continues before EU summit
  2. ASEM: Global Partners for Global Challenges
  3. How Juncker's 'do less' group concluded EU should not do less
  4. Cyprus and Russia: Association of Cyprus Banks responds
  5. Orthodox church split just tip of Putin's crumbling 'soft power' in Ukraine
  6. Daily reality in Western Sahara - and how EU can protect it
  7. Bavarian election puts Merkel on defensive
  8. It's time for the EU to stand up to transnational corporations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us