Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Benita Ferrero-Waldner on EU-Tajikistan PCA

Plenary Debate, European Parliament

Strasbourg, 16 September 2009

Honorable Members ,

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Peterle for his excellent report and the resolution, which gives a very good analysis of the situation in Tajikistan and makes recommendations which I can support.

Since the EU Strategy for Central Asia was adopted in June 2007, our relationships with all the countries of Central Asia have been deepening, to our mutual benefit. The rhythm of contacts between us has gathered pace, and there is now a shared understanding of the benefits of greater co operation on security matters, border management and controls, education, governance and energy diversification. The Strategy is succeeding in forging a new kind of partnership with the five Central Asia republics.

Clearly though, this overarching strategy is underpinned by individual, and differentiated bilateral relations that reflect the varying aspirations and orientations of the countries concerned. As you all know, our co operation with Tajikistan is currently still governed by the Trade and Co operation Agreement concluded with USSR in 1989, and endorsed by Tajikistan in 1994. This agreement does not fully reflect our ambitions under the Central Asia Strategy, neither does it serve to support the kind of relationship we now seek with Tajikistan.

Your assent to the new EU-Tajikistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which is before you for debate today, would represent a major step forward, allowing us to widen and deepen our co-operation with this country.

Today's Tajikistan is confronted by major economic and social challenges. It is important – and in Europe's own interests – that Tajikistan should succeed in tackling its difficulties. This is a country which shares a nearly 1400 km border with Afghanistan, and which lies close to the Swat Valley in Pakistan. It is a territory vulnerable to spill-over from these conflict areas and to infiltration of Islamic militants. Tajikistan is also key to efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs to Europe from Afghanistan. Greater co- operation with the EU can play a part in helping to prevent the spread of instability.

A key element in Tajikistan's vulnerability is its weak economy. The poorest of the Central Asian republics has been badly hit by a substantial decrease in prices for aluminium and cotton, due to the global downturn. This, taken together with a 34% drop in remittances in the first half of 2009, gives rise to concern that poverty levels may be rising, and that a precarious socio-economic situation could provoke social unrest.

I believe that we are on the right track with Tajikistan, supporting and encouraging indispensable reforms . This has been the focus of EUSR Morel's frequent visits, and of my own visit in Spring 2008. There is progress, but clearly more needs to be done. The government has made clear that in addition to greater trade and co operation, it is willing to implement measures to improve social welfare, health, education, tackle corruption and improve human rights.

It is to be welcomed that President Rahmon has created the post of Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will be an important interlocutor for us in the next round of the EU-Tajikistan Human Rights Dialogue, on 23 rd September. Judiciary reform is still making slow progress, but we hope the recommendations of a recent human rights civil society seminar in Dushanbe will be taken into account by the Government, particularly in reform of the legal profession and the new Criminal Procedure Code in Tajikistan.

I am very well of your concerns on Democracy and Human Rights in Tajikistan and, therefore, I can assure you that the Commission will take these concerns fully into account in our dialogues with the country.

As to economic reforms, we see progress for example on the drafting of a cotton debt resolution mechanism, which hopefully will pave the way for wider agricultural reforms and the implementation of ‘Freedom to Farm’, crucial to tackling poverty in the country.

The EP’s assent to the PCA today will help us to continue to work with Tajikistan on a whole range of political and economic reforms, with a special focus on democracy and human rights, and to ensure their thorough implementation.

(The reform effort is already underpinned by a relatively large amount of bilateral assistance from the Commission (€66 mio. for period 2007-2010 which will rise to €70 over the three years 2011-2013 ). Our aid will focus on sector support for social protection and health, public finance management reform, and technical assistance for private sector development.)

This process will be supported by our Delegation in Dushanbe. It is my intention that before the end of this year, our regionalised office there should become a fully-fledged Delegation to encourage the reform process and facilitate full implementation of the PCA. In particular I hope it will help us to maintain a thorough assessment of progress in the key areas I have mentioned, which we will measure against clear benchmarks.

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