Germany & the EU’s Central Asia Policy

by Nathan Hamm on 11/2/2006 · 1 comment

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been making the rounds in Central Asia this week. In Kazakhstan, he said the entire region needs comprehensive reform.

In Astana, he discussed economic ties and said that German support for Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009 depends on political reforms. There is not much to say about this. It is more or less a run-of-the-mill meeting between Kazakhstan and a Western government. Where it gets more interesting is Steinmeier’s meetings with Uzbek and Turkmen officials.

Headlines for stories about the foreign minister’s stop in Turkmenistan all trumpet his criticism of the Turkmen government for its human rights record. (Additional coverage from AP and RFE/RL) He told Turkmenbashi and other Turkmen officials that EU engagement with Turkmenistan in the future will be linked to the country’s willingness to improve its rights record.

One suspects that the Turkmen feel confident that they can ignore such warnings though. After all, Steinmeier arrived in Ashgabat after a stopover in Uzbekistan. And there, his tone appeared quite different.

Multiple EU embassies in Tashkent have declared that the Union’s sanctions against Uzbekistan have been entirely ineffective. And despite Uzbekistan not having met even partway any of the EU’s demands regarding the Andijon events, the lack of impact from the sanctions along with the realization that they would eventually be dropped in the future without any gain anyway has prompted Germany to lead the way in calling for most of the sanctions against Uzbekistan to be dropped.

“The sanctions would probably be dropped sooner or later with no political gain for the EU, but now there is still an opportunity to sell them for some kind of closer cooperation,” one EU official said. “Everybody wants to be politically correct, but the [German] calculus is quite persuasive.”

No doubt it is, and Germany may be right that dropping the sanctions now can earn Europe a deal for Uzbek natural gas. Still, Reuters reports that the UK wants to keep current policies in place while France wants to keep sanctions while also pursuing the resumption of ties.

While the headline coming out of Steinmeier’s visit to Tashkent was that EU sanctions could be eased, the foreign minister’s message was that the sanctions would be eased if Uzbekistan made clear that it will improve its human rights record. Karimov is not stupid though. The Europeans have as much as admitted that they have zero leverage by declaring their sanctions ineffective, and the Uzbek government need only sit tight. If Europe wants Uzbekistan’s natural gas as bad as everyone suspects, they will eventually come back to try to cut a deal. Furthermore, Karimov need only to have paid attention to Steinmeier’s comments in Turkmenistan. There, he cited as evidence of human rights improvement the Turkmen government’s decision to allow the German parliament’s human rights committee to make a visit. So how many invitations for tea will it take for Karimov to prove he is serious about changing?

And since it seems increasingly likely that sanctions will at least be scaled back on November 13, will Turkmenistan take away the message that it too need not pay too terribly much attention to European declarations that relations are linked to human rights and reform.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

Ben November 3, 2006 at 10:03 am

Great post Nathan. In an interview for Deutschlandradio, Günter Nooke, the German government’s human rights officer, tried to defend the German approach to human rights in Central Asia. I’ll post some highlights of that article this weekend.

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