Since many years the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) has developed a strong focus on Central Asia and also on Turkmenistan. Not only is Turkmenistan celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence in 2021, in 2020 it also celebrated the 25th anniversary of its status of neutrality, adopted in its early years of independence and unanimously endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1995. The concept of neutrality guides its foreign policy, characterised by the principles of non-interference and non-participation in any military associations and alliances. It also helped consolidating its recently acquired sovereignty by building a strong national identity and post-independence institutional framework, as well as strengthening its administrative structures and establishing a self-sufficient economic and institutional infrastructure.
In recent years, after a period of consolidation, we can observe a policy of constructive engagement in its foreign and regional policy and a positive evolution towards a more open and moderate approach of reform processes.
As Turkmenistan is strategically located in Central Asia between Europe and the rest of Asia, it understood well the potential of developing Trans-Eurasian connectivity and multimodal transport corridors and the importance of the realisation of a cooperative legal framework for the five littoral countries of the Caspian Sea.
There is a huge potential for the European Union and European companies to assist Turkmenistan in diversifying its economy, as it is now primarily based on an overreliance on its large reserves of oil and gas. There is an immense need for processing equipment and machinery for developing its own industry and for processing its own natural and mining resources.
Key sectors for potential European investment are:
- The chemical industry given Turkmenistan’s vast oil and gas reserves
- The textile industry and Turkmenistan’s important cotton and silk production
- Energy connectivity in view of the trans-European network (TEN)
- Green energy and Turkmenistan’s huge potential for solar and wind power
- Logistics and the trans-Caspian transport corridors
- The high purity quartz sand industry for high-tech applications such as semiconductor, solar, fiber optics and lightning
- The glass industry
- Water management and irrigation systems
Another important sector for more intense collaboration between the EU and Turkmenistan could be the education sector and e-learning. The EU has vast experience and expertise in developing educational institutions and it could assist Turkmenistan in innovating and transforming its education system, institutions and infrastructure and in particular its higher education system. One of the best ways by which the European Union could assist Turkmenistan is to strongly emphasise educational exchange programmes such as Erasmus plus, as there is no better investment for developing a country than investing in the education of its youth.
Europe has to look to the future and develop a real long-term vision for its collaboration with Central Asia and Turkmenistan. There are only very few regional organisations in Asia, and the five countries of Central Asia have a great potential to become a strong and local regional partner for the EU. As an European regional organisation, the EU should make it a priority to focus on cooperation initiatives with a parallel regional partner and this would be most beneficial for both the Central Asian region and the EU itself.
The EU has been very late to recognise the Central Asian regional importance but now, since 2017, we can observe a real change in the EU institutions’ approach, and especially the EEAS, in improving their relations with Central Asia.
A real effort should be made to make the EU business community more aware of the economic and investment opportunities in Central Asia and Turkmenistan. The Central Asian region and its potential remain so unexplored that it is a challenge to direct EU investment towards the region, while also attracting Central Asian investment to the EU. Nevertheless, promoting and developing EU investment to the region are still the best tools to boost the economic development of Turkmenistan, the uplifting of its society and the well-being of its people, as well as guaranteeing its independence, in addition to its peaceful and neutral stability.
Author: Axel Goethals, CEO EIAS
Photo Credits: AGviaggi