Thank you, Minister [for Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Vladimir Norov], dear members of the media.
I am very glad to have the opportunity to co-host today together with my friend, Foreign Minister Norov in this beautiful of Samarkand, in these magnificent premises, the important Conference on Connectivity between the European Union and Central Asia. This is another great opportunity to give a new impetus to the European Union – Central Asia cooperation and to increase the relations between these two regions.
Yesterday, we exchanged at the annual European Union – Central Asia Ministerial meeting – if I can say – at the political level. Today, at this Conference, we brought the issue at the economic level. We will work together, the European Institutions and the Member States, with concrete actions and initiatives.
Our purpose is to bring closer Europe and Central Asia – to bring [both regions] closer, using what we call “Team Europe”, which is the consolidated action of the Member States of the European Union, its Institutions, and our financial capacities.
We offer, Minister, our extended hand to the Central Asian partners to build on our Strategy for Central Asia, to deepen our links, to expand cooperation and to work together to ensure a sustainable development and economic prosperity in the future.
We talk about the future, but we have to remember that in the present we – the European Union – are already the biggest investor in the region, and the biggest trade partner. No one invests more than us, and no one is buying your products more than us. Our demand for your products is about one quarter of your external trade. Our investment – the cumulated investment – is about 40% of all investment that has come to the region.
We understand better the enormous potential of our relation. You – your region – are already a significant part of our energy imports, and this will increase in the future.
We plan to increase our investment in infrastructure and connectivity around the world through this idea of “Global Gateway” to an amount until 2027 – in the next four years – of about €300 billion. Central Asia must be part of this effort.
We understand that Central Asia needs to move fast and securely, to look for secure and faster ways to send their products – your products – to the European Union and to the world markets. And for that, you need, we need, roads to enhance trade with this region. Roads or trains, or ports, or airports – all kinds of transportation infrastructure.
You know, when you are a businessman and you are looking for a market, you need to be able to send cargos by just the click of a button. If you have to go through complicated administrative procedures that take time and cost money, you look for another market.
Today, everything is done by a click. So, our businessmen need to be able to send a cargo – or to receive a cargo – by just clicking a button.
But, to make a click, you need digital connections. You need digital connectivity to ensure that people in Central Asia have a stable internet to receive the click. If there is not a stable internet [connection], no-one will receive the click. You can click as much as you want, it will not work.
I am glad to announce today that we are launching two Team Europe initiatives in Central Asia – I’d like to be concrete – to step up both the green and digital agendas.
First, and we know how important it is: Water, Energy and Climate Change – all things go together. An initiative on Water, Climate [Change] and Energy that will contribute to managing some of the most important resources of the region – water and energy resources – sustainably addressing environmental challenges and tackling climate change.
The second one is our Initiative on Digital Connectivity that will enhance Central Asia’s access to the global internet through satellite connectivity.
More and more, the outer space will be the new field of development of telecommunications. We cannot expect to send a cable. There is the [outer] space, there are the satellites – this is the way of connecting people.
This click will go up 40,000 kilometers and go down another 40,000 kilometers in a matter of seconds. It is cheaper and quicker, and we can provide it.
No one knows the importance of connectivity better than the countries here on the Silk Road that have been connecting world – and world trade – for centuries. When the first Spanish Ambassador came here in the 14th century – [Ruy González de] Clavijo – he sent messages to Spain explaining the beauty he had discovered in Samarkand. I hope I will have too the chance to discover these beauties – maybe tomorrow, after coming back from Tashkent from the meeting with the President [of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev] . And we will have the opportunity, Minister, to continue discussing how challenging the times that we have to face together are.
Power politics is on the rise globally, and the system of international rules and law is being tested and undermined. And we have to work together in defending the multilateral system.
Maybe for ordinary citizens, the multilateral system does not mean a lot. Maybe the rule of law is something [ … sound interference …] I was saying that We have to defend the multilateral system that maybe, for ordinary people, does not mean a lot.
But let me say that: without international law, we cannot engage in trade. There is no trade without international law. There is no investment. Nobody will invest if there is not a law that protects investments.
And in order to rebuild economies and societies, and overcome the consequences of the pandemic, we need a legal framework that goes beyond the borders of any country: that is international law.
When we talk about our mutual [EU-Central Asian] connectivity, let me say that it is not at the expense of other connections. Connections among us, but also with others. And our connectivity will reinforce the connectivity with others, like a graph, where every arch of the graph increases the potential of the other. It will reinforce and complement those other connections already existing.
Dear Minister, dear representatives of the media, we have a shared interest and a strong commitment to take cooperation between us to the higher level in our agenda. When I am saying connectivity, I am also saying connectivity within Central Asia, among the countries of Central Asia.
We have an enormous potential, and we will walk the path to growth and prosperity that has to be fair, secure, green and sustainable.
Q. Last year, we were speaking about Afghanistan and the impact on the region. Should the situation deteriorate, with Russia and the war in Ukraine, there will be migration flows to the region and it will have an economic impact. How does the EU plan to support the region?
Migration flows caused by the war in Ukraine, well, I do not think they are coming from Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s border is quite quiet, as far as we know. There are no migration flows, there are some terrorist activities, but much less than one could have expected. This happens on this border, it happens also on the Pakistani border. Migration flows caused by the war in Ukraine, well, yesterday I had the opportunity to greet a young lady in a shelter for women coming from Ukraine, but these are individual cases.
The flow of – can I call them migrants? Certainly not – caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, are Russians themselves. I know that there are a lot of young Russians, here – but I would not call them migrants. I would call them exiled, people who are leaving because they do not want to participate in the war. They are leaving to put their lives in safety. I do not think they can [be] called “migrants”, as one can say about someone who is looking for a better life, looking for a better job or better conditions of life. This is something that is happening, and not only in this country or this region. If you go to the Caucasus, you will see a big flow of Russians. On that, frankly speaking, we do not have any specific action foreseen to support Central Asian countries: I think they are quite self-sufficient to do that. I repeat: I think that the movement of people that can affect the region – [caused by] the war in Ukraine – is not from Ukraine, but from Russia itself.
Link to the video (starting as of 5:30): https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-233537