A German initiative to strengthen European ties to resource-rich Central Asia begins to bear fruit. Representatives from the two regions will meet to discuss possible cooperation on energy security.
European nations are interested in finding energy suppliers other than Russia
A main aim of the Paris meeting on Thursday, Sept. 18, is to establish lasting partnerships on security issues between the EU and the five Central Asian states Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
Against the background of the situation in the Caucasus and Afghanistan the two sides will hold consultations on combating terror, the fight against human and drug trafficking, as well as on energy and environmental security.
Many eyes on Central Asia
The region between China, Russia, Afghanistan and Iran is rich in natural resources. For Europe, the development of Central Asia's gas reserves via Turkey and Georgia, bypassing Russia and Iran, represents increased energy security.
Russia, the supplier of much of Europe's gas and oil, would like to exploit the Central Asian nations' reserves for itself while China is increasingly stilling its thirst for energy in the region. The United States is also keen to secure access to the resources for its own companies.
The BTC pipeline is 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) long
Turkey exerts considerable influence in the region on account of its ethnic and linguistic ties with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia and its involvement in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline.
The pipeline connects oilfields in Azerbaijan with shipping terminals in Turkey via Georgia. But Russia fears that the BTC pipeline and plans for another one like it undermine its status as an energy-superpower.
Energy stability remains a challenge
In a report published in May 2007, the International Crisis Group came to the conclusion that "Central Asia is likely to see energy create instability within the region; the chances are low that it will be a factor in improving European energy security any time soon."
The Paris forum aims to overcome such gloomy predictions and has been convened expressly with the aim of fostering cooperation that will help defuse conflicts within the region.
Germany has been the motor for this meeting
The meeting is being attended by representatives of the 27 member states of the EU as well as from the five Central Asian states. Representatives from the EU Commission, Turkey, China, Japan and Russia are also present. Afghanistan is there as an observer country, given its geographical proximity and the problems it shares with countries from the region.
The European Union Strategy for Central Asia came into being in June 2007 on the instigation of Germany which then held the rotating EU presidency and designated cooperation with Central Asia as an issue of top priority for the EU.