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European Union: Interview with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diego Ruiz Alonso

Every year on 9 May “Europe Day” is celebrated and recently the 71st anniversary of Shuman Declaration which is considered as a benchmark of the European Union has been celebrated.  As well as, this year the 10th anniversary of the European External Action Service (EEAS) is celebrated, which was established to promote Union’s values in other countries and to share lessons learned during the founding of the European Union with International Partners.

This year, “the 2021 – Turkmenistan is Homeland of Peace and Trust”, our Motherland celebrates its 30th anniversary of Independence. Considering these glorious dates we have requested Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the EU to Turkmenistan, Diego Ruiz Alonso, to give interview about current relations between Turkmenistan and the European Union.

Interesting and fruitful interview was conducted by Ogultach Vellayeva, who is currently master student of Brussels School of Governance and at the same time a consultant of an official website of the Atavatan Turkmenistan International magazine www.atavatan-turkmenistan.com which is a second-ranked website searched in Turkmenistan after Google.

  1. What serves as the basis for the cooperation between Turkmenistan and the European Union?

On 6 July 2019, Ms Federica Mogherini travelled to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where she met with Foreign Minister Mr Rashid Meredov and signed the establishment agreement of an EU Delegation to Turkmenistan. Before that the EU was represented by a Liaison Office. The office in Turkmenistan became the 142nd EU Delegation around the world.

The European Union signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Turkmenistan that is pending ratification from the European Parliament. We are working with Turkmen government in order to have this document in place as soon as possible because it will give a huge momentum to our bilateral relation and a fundamental legal framework to increase our cooperation in all sectors.

  1. What is the EU vision of Turkmenistan in relation to its overall development and post-COVID-19 recovery?

Turkmenistan is a young country with many possibilities at its disposal: it is rich in energy resources and has the potential for developing renewable sources of energy. It enjoys a favourable location in the region for the transit of people, services and goods, and could also develop the tourism sector. The EU shares Turkmen interest in pursuing economic development in these fields, and is willing to support Turkmen reforms aiming at improving the business environment, regulatory framework and investment possibilities. We are pleased to note that Turkmenistan recently obtained an observer status in the WTO, and we are ready to provide expertise and advice on its way to full membership.

The EU sees the need to develop the private sector in Turkmenistan and to support small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), especially in rural areas. To this end, under the Investment Facility for Central Asia (IFCA) the EU has financed a project – implemented by the EBRD – which provides the SMEs with counselling and technical advice to improve their business capacities. One component of the project was devoted to empowering women-entrepreneurs. Another project in Turkmenistan in this field focuses on sustainable development in rural areas. Besides providing support to the Ministry of Agriculture, the project helps private farmers to improve their production and harvesting techniques, thus increasing their production capacities and opportunities to produce for a larger (international) market.

Improving business environment is an important component of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery. It would have a positive impact on providing employment opportunities, especially for young people. A transparent legal framework is crucial to attract foreign investors, including from the EU. Increased respect for human rights and democratic principles would also play a role in strengthening trust of potential investors. The EU stands ready to support the Turkmen government in the process of designing necessary reforms.

In the context of the adoption of the EU’s green deal and the effects of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 the EU will cooperate with its international partners including Turkmenistan to build back better and is ready to share all its lessons learned and best practices to successfully complete together this road to energy transition and sustainable economies.

  1. What economy aspects make Turkmenistan different from other Central Asian countries and how can these differences play a role in the cooperation of EU with Turkmenistan?

The EU is a very successful integration model, already in place for more than 70 years. We promote our values and principles in our relations with international partners. We see cooperation where others see competition. For example, the EU Strategy for Central Asia looks at the region as a whole. Economies in the region are complementary. The EU wants to support development and prosperity in Central Asia through regional projects. There are bilateral projects for Turkmenistan and the rest of Central Asia. There are also possibilities to jointly participate in initiatives that the EU considers are better dealt with on the regional level. To name a few – climate change, trade facilitation or security – are examples where it is more efficient to confront challenges at supranational levels. At the end, the EU would like to see an integrated space in Central Asia because we do believe it would be a great step forward for all the people of the region.

  1. How has COVID-19 affected the implementation of planned projects and cooperation overall?

2020 has been quite turbulent; however, given the fact that we all switched to the online working mode, made sure to stay safe and limited our face to face interaction, we ensured that the ongoing projects meet the set tasks.

To bring an example, the EU-funded project has recently launched a master level course at the Academy of the Civil Service of Turkmenistan. Before the global pandemic, we planned to have trainers coming to Turkmenistan for personal interaction, piloting the master level course and giving lectures to the students of the Academy. However, with the COVID-19 spreading around the globe, we had to be careful. So our talented project staff and a very dedicated team of the Academy switched to the distance learning mode, moving all the curricular and the classes online.

The European Union cares about the quality rather than the quantity, so, yes, for some of our work, COVID-19 caused a delay. However, we ensured that the objectives are still met.

  1. What is the Europe Day about? Why does it coincide with the Victory Day?

Europe Day annually held on 9 May celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historic ‘Schuman declaration’. At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, then French foreign minister, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable.

Schuman’s vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union.

Symbolically, this proposal was made on 9 May. The founding members were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Now we are 27 countries, all with different history, traditions, languages and religions, but all working in peace together for the common good of our citizens.

  1. Apart from diplomatic relations, is there a programmatic side of cooperation between Turkmenistan and the European Union? What are the joint actions between the partners now?

Currently, we are in the process of planning cooperation with Turkmenistan for 2021-2027. At the moment, we are conducting the consultations with the partners and various interested groups. Our plans are yet to be finalized, but, generally speaking, we plan to focus on promotion of green aspects of the economy as a precondition for (i) meeting the objectives of the National Development Plan, (ii) achieving relevant SDGs objectives, and (iii) creating job opportunities and fostering inclusive growth. It would also support the economic recovery following the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second aspect of the new cooperation would be development of the private sector and rural development. Private sector and rural development are key drivers of trade facilitation. We see this cooperation as a way of strengthening civil society and to give opportunities to most vulnerable groups. It could further empower people from rural areas, youth and women-entrepreneurs, improve their access to labour market, finances, information and training. That would complement the EU overall human rights policy in the country, with one of its important components being gender equality.

  1. The year 2021 has been proclaimed as the “Year of peace and trust”, can you relate to this?

Symbolically, the Schumann Declaration was made on 9 May to coincide with the anniversary of the end of the war. We can say now that the EU was born out of peace and trust from countries that were enemies for centuries. The foreign policy of the EU promotes those same values that helped us to build the union. Confronting today’s global challenges, as for example climate change requires solidarity and cooperation among nations and we cannot achieve that without peace and trust. That is the reason why the EU will always support initiatives, like this one from Turkmenistan, that defend dialogue and oppose conflict. However, the world will need to continue working on peace and trust after 2021 and for many years after that. We in the EU have been working on it for more than 70 years and there is still a long way to go.

Now we are 27 member states and when talking about agriculture or fisheries, human or social rights, also when discussing trade, industry, environment, energy, health or education, borders, currency or law and justice inside the EU, decisions are taken in Brussels, for the EU has the upper hand, the final say. This a huge step forward.

  1. What are the plans for this year?

We will continue to expand our cooperation with Turkmenistan and our engagement with Turkmen society. We are newcomers and we have a lot of work ahead of us. We will do our best to try to increase EU presence during this important year, which marks the 30th anniversary of the independence of Turkmenistan and the 140th anniversary of Ashgabat.

Congratulations to the people of Turkmenistan on behalf of the EU!

If you would like to read this interview in turkmen please click here

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