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15 February 2016

H.E. AMBASSADOR PETER BURIAN, EU SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CENTRAL ASIA, EMPHASISES EU’S ENGAGEMENT ON RULE OF LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN CENTRAL ASIA

BurianAmbassador Peter Burian was appointed as the EU Special Representative for Central Asia on 15 April 2015. His responsibilities include promoting good and close relations between the Union and the countries of Central Asia. Prior to this appointment Ambassador Burian served from 2012 as State Secretary and First Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic and was responsible for areas of security policy, economic diplomacy, development assistance, international organizations and the territories of the EU Eastern Partnership, Africa, Asia and Pacific, and Americas. From 2008 to 2012 he served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Slovakia to the United States, in Washington D.C. He was the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 2004 to 2008 when Slovakia held one of the non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. Ambassador Burian held the post of Head of Slovakia´s Mission to NATO in Brussels from 1999 to 2003. He earned his degree in Oriental Studies at St. Petersburg State University. He continued his diplomatic and international studies at the University of Cairo, Comenius University in Bratislava and the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.

Platform: Ambassador, the role of the EU Special Representative consists in promoting EU political coordination in Central Asia, monitoring the implementation of the EU Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia and supporting regional security in the region. In monitoring the implementation process, a role he shares with the European Commission, the Presidency and the Member States, the EUSR makes recommendations and reports to relevant Council bodies on a regular basis. In the thenth month following your appointment, what are the key issues which have drawn your attention?

Peter Burian: Many important things happened in recent period shaping and strengthening the relations between the European Union and countries of Central Asia – including the appointment of a new EU Special Representative for Central Asia, the Council Conclusions updating the EU Central Asia Strategy. In this regard it is important to mention that the updated Strategy was elaborated in close communication and consultations with Central Asian countries which have contributed their ideas and suggestions. These decisions have contributed to creating an important momentum for strengthening cooperation between the EU and countries of Central Asia.

Based on my frequent visits and high level meetings with leaders of the five Central Asian countries as EUSR, I can confirm that these actions have been highly welcomed by the countries of the region. The region is facing formidable security and economic challenges and all countries of Central Asia consider the European Union as an important and credible partner for addressing these challenges.

Here I wish to underline that the countries of Central Asia have achieved an important progress since their independence in formation of new socio-economic systems, creating legislative basis and development programs and strategies for sustainable development. However, challenges remain and they are exacerbated by new factors, including security threats, returning migrant workers, economic downturn and last but not least by the impact of climate change and unsustainable management of natural resources in the region.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that only intensified processes of reforms and modernization contributing to the formation of market capacity, appropriate diversification of economy, integrating economies with global economic system, building functioning national and regional mechanisms and institutions for advancing rule of law, can produce sustainable solutions and productivity growth, stability and prosperity in the countries of the region. Inclusive development that promotes the wellbeing of all layers of society, including women, minorities and youth, is an essential component of longer term stability and resilience.

In my capacity as EUSR for Central Asia, I want to contribute to mobilizing all EU institutions and mechanisms for a more result oriented cooperation with our Central Asian partners using efficiently significant resources allocated for bilateral and regional cooperation for the period of 2014-2020.

Platform: The EU Strategy for Central Asia was adopted in 2007 focusing on stability, cooperation, democracy and respect for human rights in the region, and other cooperation areas of common interest. The Strategy is supported by impressive multiannual indicative programmes for the region and each country, with € 1.068 Bn committed to the region over the current seven-year planning period (2014-2020). What are the main achievements expected from this intensified cooperation, especially in the area of rule of law?

Peter Burian: The remarkable increase of budget for Central Asia reflects the importance the EU assigns to the region. The Council Conclusion of 22 June 2015 highlights a wide range of areas where cooperation is foreseen but provides sufficient flexibility for tailor-made approaches for each individual country. Topics for regional cooperation are Rule of Law, Education and Water.  Here, Member States initiated platforms to organize seminars, training and other events to bring together the respective experts and responsible officials to discuss common challenges and identify joint solutions.

Here I would like to mention EU Rule of Law Initiative, with France and Germany as lead coordinators, which contributed to significantly increased engagement by the EU with Central Asian partners in rule of law reform in the region. The initiative is providing for expert level peer-to-peer exchanges, with the involvement of Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. I am pleased to note that in the forthcoming period the work of the Platform will also be focused on economic aspects of rule of law, including legal protection of economic operators.

Finally I believe that education is key to economic development. EU education programs, in particular the ERASMUS+ should play a key role in helping Central Asian institutions to build capacity, modernize and broaden their cooperation networks and individuals to gain international experience. The Education Platform within EU – Central Asia education initiative under leadership of Latvia and Poland addresses issues of employability, quality and mobility in Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training.

Platform: The Rule of Law Initiative is a key element of this Strategy. What should be the current priorities for implementing this Initiative?

Peter Burian: The Rule of Law Platform, initiated by Germany and France, and actively supported by Finland and Latvia, is of essential relevance in creating a legal and institutional framework for other areas like good governance and business development. A solid business climate is in particular relevant for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan who are eager to attract foreign direct investments to overcome challenges in their economies. In this line, I welcome the decision of the RoL platform to focus the upcoming activities of the RoL platform on business and administrative law and procedures.

Platform: You recently underlined in Dushanbe “the significance of continued dialogue in the fields of human rights and rule of law” and stressed “the importance of the media freedom, and Internet freedom in particular” (22 June 2015). During its first phase (2011-2014), the Rule of Law Platform has stimulated the dialogue between state institutions and civil society of the Central Asian countries. The Platform set up law-drafting working groups, targeting specifically the human rights NGOs and bar associations, and produced and distributed publications aimed at clarifying elements of rule of law and informing citizens about their rights. What recommendations would you have for our team to further this dialogue and reach out to the population in the second Phase (2015-2018)?

Peter Burian: I note with concern the shrinking space of civil society in Central Asia. An active and effective civil society is essential for a pluralistic democracy and I make some efforts trying to convince my interlocutors about the beneficial role civil society can play as intermediary between the state and the public. From my experience in Slovakia in its transition phase in the 1990s, I am aware that it took some time for the government to realize that civil society can be a useful partner in supporting government’s policies and feeding back challenges on the ground. Similarly, I would encourage the RoL Platform to work on challenging the widespread belief that civil society attempts to destabilize the governmental institutions and at the same time to further strengthening capacities of NGOs and Media.

Platform: At the Fourth Conference on rule of law in Astana (14-15 October 2014), the Ministers of Justice of the EU and Central Asia stressed the paramount importance of the economic regulatory environment for business, as an integral part of the rule of law, and for the development of international investment. On 20 June this year in Tashkent, you noted the EU’s continued commitment to strengthening the rule of law and for scaling up bilateral trade and investment cooperation. Is there a role for the Platform in furthering this dual objective ?

Peter Burian: Yes, of course. Transparent and fair regulations as well as functioning and reliable state institutions to safeguard the application of these regulations are essential to establish an attractive business climate. The RoL Platform can significantly contribute to advocate for regulatory and institutional reforms and to provide the required expert input nurture such reforms.

Platform: The Platform acts as implementation instrument of the dialogue between the EU and Central Asia. However, the dialogue necessitates “political engineering” which until now has been driven by France and Germany, the Coordinators of the Rule of Law Initiative, as well as by Finland. Following a successful regional seminar on administrative law in Riga last May, Latvia has recently joined the Initiative as partner. This can be accounted among the positive results of the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council. Slovakia, your native country, might also consider being associated to the Initiative. Why are countries formerly members of the Soviet bloc particularly qualified to provide a valuable contribution to the efforts of the Central Asian states to conduct their legal and judicial reform?

Peter Burian: I am very delighted to see the increasing support the RoL Platform receives from the Member States and I completely agree that in particular countries of the former Soviet bloc can contribute valuable experience from their transition phase. In this light, Slovakia under its upcoming EU Presidency in the second half of 2016, plans to gather Ministers of Justice from Central Asia in Bratislava to present individual achievements and lessons learnt from their respective country but also to discuss challenges to be addressed. Here, expert input from countries like Slovakia but also from countries of the former Soviet Union, can substantially enrich the discussions and the search for ways forward.

Platform: At the Central and South Asia Regional Conference on Countering Violent Extremism in Astana (29-30 June 2015), you declared that “countering violent extremism posed serious challenges on Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours as well as the EU”, which in this respect are “in the same boat”, but that “the legitimate security concerns of the state institutions and the equally legitimate rule of law aspirations of the citizenry should be balanced”. Bitter lessons learnt during the recent period in different parts of the world show how delicate this balance is. What recommendations would you have to pursue this difficult task in Central Asia?

Peter Burian: In Central Asia and in other parts of the world, we face a tendency of individuals radicalizing and taking the decision to join ISIS. This trend concerns me enormously but it also concerns me how law enforcement reacts on this new challenge. While few effective preventive measures are undertaken, governments respond with restrictions of fundamental freedoms and security bodies increasingly use deterrence in their efforts to curb extremist tendencies. The recent ban of the Islamic Renaissance Party Tajikistan as an extremist organisation is an example, and the EU reacted with a statement calling to hold up fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of assembly, association and expression also in times of increasing global security risks. I visited Dushanbe directly after the violent events in early September and I will continue engaging with high-level officials to raise my concerns and discuss the benefits of a multi-party environment.

Platform: The second phase of the Rule of Law Platform will last until January 2018. What are the challenges awaiting this new project? What recommendations do you have for Platform II?

Peter Burian: While the first phase identified training and discussion needs and interests, and provided regional and national seminars and roundtable on relevant topics like fair trial, national justice reforms and judicial capacities, I noted a trend towards commercial issues in the second phase. I believe it is wise to address RoL and governance issues in areas where government have a vested interest, namely in the economic sector. The challenge for the new phase, however, is to initiate real changes, i.e. to translate enhanced knowledge into actions, for example to improve transparency and accountability of authorities dealing with business-related licenses.

Platform: Finally, for what specific action would you like your mandate as EUSR to be remembered particularly?

Peter Burian: I want the EU-funded Platforms to serve as a catalyst not only for interested EU Member States to channel their specific activities and to address the needs of the Central Asian countries for policy dialogue but to enable joint actions which would have been impossible otherwise. In some cases, this requires a shift in perspectives. I would like to initiate this shift in the mind-sets of relevant Central Asian officials to spot and embrace the benefits of regional visions and joint actions instead of pointing to the existing differences and obstacles.

Ambassador, thank you very much for this interview.