First Vice-President of the European Parliament Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou speaks to New Europe.
Last year, under the German presidency, the European Union adopted the Central Asian strategy. In September of this year, the French presidency organised the EU and Central Asian Foreign Ministers Forum to examine security issues. Where does this particular interest in the region stems from? Today, Central Asia is undeniably strategically important, primarily because of the presence of immense energy resources and other natural resources. The region is seen as a major alternative supplier for hydrocarbons, the importance of which is continuing to increase. It is also impossible to ignore the prospect of existing and future transport routes connecting the rampant Chinese economy with the European market. It is largely for this reason that the adoption by the European Union of the initial Central Asian strategy is justified. When examining the EUs relations from a regional point of view, it is clear that the EU and Central Asia need each other. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that this region has not been sufficiently examined. As far as I know, the level of development within the five Central Asian countries differs markedly. Is this taken into consideration by the European Union? You are right. In order to obtain an objective view of the situation in the region, it is vital to take account of the fact that the five Central Asian countries differ greatly in terms of the progress of economic and political reforms, commercial priorities, the composition of their populations, etc. This is why corresponding "Priorities" have been established for each country within the framework of the strategy. Kazakhstan is justifiably recognised as the kingpin of stability, economic development and political modernisation in the region. The countrys GDP has risen by 75 percent over the last seven years and is twice as high as the combined figure for its regional neighbours. Per capita GDP is above 7,000 dollars, which is comparable with Bulgaria and Romania. Kazakhstan is a major investor in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and a number of other countries. Within the framework of the EUs "Troyka" summit for foreign ministers from the Central Asian countries, held in Astana last year, Kazakhstan put a proposal to the European Union to jointly invest in promising regional projects. For us, this country is the key partner in the region; with a volume of commercial trade that is higher than the overall bottom line for trade with other Central Asian countries. For its part, the European Union has been Kazakhstans leading commercial partner for four years now. We are therefore delighted that Kazakhstan is concentrating all its efforts on reinforcing its relations with the European Union. It has recently adopted the state "Path to Europe" programme, the document that is known in Astana as the symmetrical response to the EUs Central Asian strategy and Kazakhstans forthcoming presidency of the OSCE. As we know, in 2010 Kazakhstan will succeed my native country “ Greece “ in this highly responsible position. How is cooperation between the European Parliament and Central Asian countries progressing? Above all, there is cooperation on Interparliamentary Co-operation Committees, thanks to the exchange of delegations. It should be noted that, here too, more advanced dialogue has been established with Kazakhstan. My colleague, Alejo Vidal Quadras, for example, has visited the country twice, as part of an official visit and to take part in the Second Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. In 2006, we jointly organised the High Level Energy Seminar at the European Parliament, and recently the "Security challenges in the Central Asian and Caspian Region" conference was held in Brussels, with the involvement of MEPs and a parliamentary delegation from Kazakhstan.