High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell spoke at the opening of the Global Gateway Investors Forum for EU/Central Asia Transport Connectivity, welcoming the state delegations from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

According to Josep Borrell, Europe and Central Asia are navigating turbulent times. Beyond overcoming the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the countries are facing new crises. These encompass power shifts in Afghanistan, Russia’s war against Ukraine and the war in the Gaza Strip.

“The sovereignty and independence, and territorial integrity of any country should be indisputable. And we must avoid going back to a world where „might makes right“ and where powerful countries can change borders unilaterally. You know that in order to defend these principles, the European Union has imposed substantial sanctions against Russia, which have significantly weakened its war machine. But still, they are there, and the war continues. And if I can say it, the intensity of the fighting increases and we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he noted.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy commented that the full cooperation of the EU and its partners is necessary for the sanctions to be more effective.

“We are following closely the trade between us, between Central Asia countries, with them and Russia. We try to analyze which are the mechanisms that make sanctions being circumvented. We have to increase our cooperation on that. Because we need closer partnerships to address global challenges — and closer partnerships are the key objective of Global Gateway,” shared Josep Borrell.

The vice-president of the European Commission said that it is necessary to build infrastructure to increase the connectivity of our space. But all this, he said, serves a political purpose, which is to expand partnerships and ensure a better future by expanding economic ties as well as protecting the same values.

The vice-president of the European Commission outlined the necessity of developing infrastructure to enhance the connectivity of the region. He underscored that these efforts serve a political objective, aiming to expand partnerships and share a better future by increasing economic ties and upholding shared values.

“In this very much complicated geopolitical environment, Central Asia has become a crucial partner for us. I used to say that four years ago, when I came to Brussels, Central Asia was a little bit in the middle of nowhere — and now, you are in the middle of everything. You are the cornerstone between Europe and Asia. Everything that matters between Europe and Asia goes through you. And that is why, our partnership is so much important for us,” emphasized Josep Borrell.

The European diplomat added that, when it comes to security and connectivity as well as diversification of energy and resources, it is necessary to strengthen our partnership to enhance economic security. “These two words — economic and security — will go close together. More and more, when we talk about economics, we will have to look at the security dimension. And when we talk about security, we will have to look at that through the eyes of economics,” he remarked.

In October 2023, the EU and Central Asian countries endorsed a roadmap aimed at strengthening connections in various areas, including interregional political dialogue, trade, energy, and security.

True partnerships cannot be built on agreements between government officials alone; interpersonal interactions are crucial, according to the head of European diplomacy.

“In the end, you will not build a true partnership if you do not make people-to-people be in touch. It is not enough [to have] governments, officials [meeting]. It is not enough [to have] agreements signed by high-level personalities, we need people-to-people [contacts] to know better each other. And this meeting is one of the 80 concrete actions that we defined in this Roadmap, and now we are implementing.

“The next step will be the first region-to-region Summit later this year, that will be kindly hosted by Uzbekistan (the summit is expected this spring — ed.). The first region-to-region Summit — I think it is going to be another important step in our relationship,” Josep Borrel noted.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shared that much more needs to be invested “in physical connections between Europe and Central Asia to allow us to overcome past dependencies, to diversify and find new alternatives for transport, for energy and for supply chains.”

“We need to overcome borders. We need to go above the borders in order to get in touch with the people on the other side. We need to make borders transparent. They will exist, but we will not see them. That is what is happening here in the European Union. […] Today you can go from Gibraltar to Helsinki, crossing many borders without seeing them. You don’t have to stop. Nobody asks: „Who are you? Where are you going? Open your suitcase. Show your papers“ — and this is extraordinary. Borders continue being there, but you do not see them. Travels, exchanges are much more easy to do and much more beneficial. This is something that the whole world can do — make the borders transparent in order to let people, goods and services go from one country to another as easily as possible,” highlighted Josep Borrell.

That is the purpose of the investor forum, he stated. “That is why we are here: to look for the financial resources that can make it a reality. Changing the skin of a region, linking with the borders of other regions [such as] Turkey, South Caucasus, Europe, on the road to China. This is a challenge [for which] both Europe and Central Asia need to strengthen our resilience and diversify our political and economic relationships,” the EU representative concluded.

As reported previously, European and international financial institutions are set to allocate 10 billion euros for sustainable transport connections between the EU and Central Asia. This funding will primarily support the development of the Trans-Caspian transport corridor with the aim of facilitating the transit of goods within 15 days.

During the forum, Josep Borrel engaged in discussions with Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Jamshid Khodjaev. The meeting involved a “very substantial discussion” covering topics such as preparations for the upcoming EU-Central Asia summit and strategies for expanding cooperation, including the spheres of trade, connectivity and critical raw materials, as mentioned by the head of European diplomacy on the social network X (formerly Twitter).