Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

EU normalises relations with Turkmenistan

  • The MEPs' vote opens the door to normalising relations with Turkmenistan (Photo: d_proffer)

A loosely-worded promise by a non-relevant European Commission official in Strasbourg on Wednesday (22 April) ended an 11-year long stalemate in EU-Turkmenistan relations.

Four hundred and fifty nine mostly conservative, socialist and liberal MEPs voted through a new trade agreement with the Central Asian country. One hundred and sixty two predominantly green and far-left deputies voted against.

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EU states first asked parliament to bless the deal in 1998. But MEPs held out for meaningful human rights reforms before approving the pact.

The human rights reforms never came. But with EU-Turkmenistan relations racing ahead in real terms due to natural gas investments, parliament instead accepted a commission pledge to take its concerns into account.

If MEPs in future call for the treaty to be suspended "the commission will seriously consider duly reflecting parliament's recommendations," internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy, normally responsible for regulating EU insurance companies and postal services, said in plenary.

The rapporteur in charge of the dossier, German conservative MEP Daniel Caspary, believes the gentlemen's agreement will hold.

"The commission said very clearly that if parliament asks for a suspension, they would do it. Sometimes in life you have to trust people," he said. "I definitely will watch this in the next parliament."

A commission spokeswoman spelled out the harsh reality. "It is what it says - 'consider' - that doesn't automatically give you a veto right," Christiane Hohmann said.

The EU is planning in Prague on 8 May to roll out the red carpet for Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov at an energy summit, where he will have photo opportunities with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign relations chief Javier Solana.

The bloc is hoping that Turkmenistan - the world's number four natural gas owner - will help make into reality plans to build a major new pipeline bypassing Russia.

The country's reputation, as a grotesque dictatorship, makes it a controversial partner for Europe, however.

The Berdymukhammedov government is currently spending €33 million to repair the fountains of its capital, Ashgabat, where golden statues of former president Niyazov still rotate to face the sun.

Meanwhile, jails heave with political and religious prisoners, amid reports of horrors such as religious conversion by threat of rape, incarceration in psychiatric hospitals, forced lobotomisation and disappearances.

"Member states and the commission focused all their efforts on dismantling the EP's opposition to engagement with no strings attached," Human Rights Watch analyst Veronika Szente Goldston said.

"Now they have to make up for time lost and urgently redouble efforts to extract concessions from Ashgabat."

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