Aldo Ferrari, Head of the EU’s Central Asia Programme: “Central Asia is quite important for European countries.”

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In the 21st century, international interaction is getting stronger, so this situation brings the growth of competition with itself. Under these circumstances, Central Asia comes into prominence geopolitically as a unique region of the world, located in the crossroads of different civilizations like Russia, China, and India which represent different ideological doctrines, political systems and everyday practices. Today, the European Union (EU) has started to be interested in this region from now on and put forward to “Central Asia Programme”.

In this sense, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) brings the views of Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI) Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia Program Manager and Italian Central Asian and Caucasus Studies Association (ASIAC) President Prof. Aldo Ferrari to your attention.

Mr. Ferrari, how do you evaluate the Central Asia Programmes and the role of Central Asia in global politics?

The studies examining Central Asian countries in Europe have gained momentum recently. Central Asia is a new field for us. This is because this region is little known in Italy. Everyone has heard something about Marco Polo and the Silk Road. However, after the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), we have stated to know Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. In comparison to other countries in the region, Kazakhstan is the privileged country for the EU in regard of the natural sources and accessibility to information. For many years, Italian investors and business people have been working in this region, consisting of the natural sources and a fast-growing market.

In 2019, you made a research about “Central Asia: The Europe’s Perspective. What was the conclusion you reached as a result of the research?  Where does Central Asia take place in the EU’s foreign policy?

First of all, the energy resources have the great deal of importance for EU. The main reason of the European countries’ activities in Kazakhstan is hydrocarbon reserves. However, the Union has no interest against Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan where there are few or almost no energy resources. On the other hand, Turkmenistan and especially Uzbekistan have deep-rooted tourism relations with Italy. The Belt and Road Project of China reveals the importance of the region located between Europe and China. Now, everyone who deals with the issue needs to find Central Asia on the map.

Don’t you think that The EU’s Central Asia policy is much more passive compared to the its policies of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the Southeast Asia?

It might be said that it is. There are several reasons for this. Actually, we cannot mention EU as a monolithic whole. As an Italian living in a Union country, I doubt the existence of this organization in a political way. The EU only works as an economic community. The European countries like Germany, England, France and Italy have their own national profits. For this reason, it is possible to understand the passivity of the EU. Hence, the activities of the union are directed only to the economic and public spheres. Because the EU is not a military organization such as NATO, this situation is also reflected in its foreign policy. Since the EU does not react to the occasions happening in the places near to its border, there is nothing strange about its passive stance in Central Asia. Firstly, the Union is an economic organization and as it is not a political union as it has been told. EU countries Germany, France and Italy conduct their foreign policies in regions and countries where they have serious economic interests. This approach is a great weakness for the EU.

Many analysts and political scientists support that Beijing has separated Central Asia into its domains of influence and it will not allow other actors to exist there. In this regard, how do you evaluate the role of China in Central Asia?

China is an active and important actor in the region. The importance of China stems from its large trade volume with all Central Asian countries, generous loans and financing large-scale projects. After all, China is a strong country which understands the fragilities of the region unlike the United States of America (USA). The western countries, on the other hand, does not understands the region sufficiently. That’s why Europe remains ineffective in its Central Asia’s policy.

So, what lies behind the EU’s new strategy for Central Asia? How do you evaluate possible success?

The new strategy is related to the understanding the main role of Central Asia in China’s Belt and Road Project.  The EU is seriously interested in Central Asia for the first time. In fact, the aforementioned region is quite far from Continental Europe geographically. In this sense, only Germany among the European countries has the essential sources and political willing order to develop the relations of the regional countries. In short, I believe that Germany is the only actor that can seriously affect Central Asia and especially the economies of these countries.

An interview on our website is the personal opinion of expert and may not reflect the institutional view of Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM).

The original version of this interview was published on The Asia Today on 07.12.2021.

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Azerbaycan Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı'na bağlı ADA Üniversitesi'nin Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde (2013-2018) lisansını yapan Kenan AĞAZADE, değişim programıyla Büyük Britanya'daki Glasgow Üniversitesi'nde okumuştur (2016-2017). Yüksek lisansını Küresel Politika ve Toplumsal Değişim alanında (2018-2020) İsveç'teki Malmö Üniversitesi'nden tamamlayan Kenan AĞAZADE, İsveç'te Rusya ve Kafkasya Bölgesel Araştırma Merkezi'nde (2019-2020) araştırma görevlisi olarak çalışmıştır. İyi derecede Rusça, İngilizce ve İsveççe bilmektedir.