It is a pleasure to join you today, even if only virtually. I have a very simple message for you today. Central Asia matters to Europe. And Europe matters to Central Asia.
In the thirty years since your independence, Central Asian economies grew almost non-stop – until the pandemic hit all of us. Our cooperation can help restart your economic engine. And at the same time, it can make Central Asian economies stronger, fairer and more sustainable in the long run.
This is exactly what we are pushing for in Europe, too. We are using the massive investment in our recovery plan to reshape our economy. We are speeding up the transition to clean energy. We are connecting more people and companies with digital infrastructure. And we are promoting the decisive reforms that Europeans have been demanding for years.
Green recovery, digitalisation and a stronger business climate. These are also the three points on today’s agenda. Europe has unparalleled expertise in all of these fields. And we are offering greater cooperation to all countries in Central Asia, in our mutual interest.
Valdis Dombrovskis will outline in his address a few proposals to reach this goal. And he will also tell you more about our new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway Europe. But allow me to run quickly through the three topics on our agenda.
First, on the green recovery. Central Asia is already suffering from the consequences of climate change. This summer’s drought has destroyed harvests, killed animals and emptied reservoirs. But Central Asia also has an immense untapped potential for renewable energy. With the right investment, your region can become less dependent on coal and other fossil fuels, creating quality jobs and cleaning the air that you breathe. Let us work together so that green investment can drive the economic recovery.
Second, digitalisation. The answer to this is not just to build new infrastructure, but also to improve rules and regulations for the digital market. Europe has a lot to offer in this respect, because this is what we are doing at home too. The European path to digitalisation puts people, companies and their rights at the centre. This is what we are putting on the table.
Third, on the business environment. Europe is already the biggest foreign investor and the biggest trade partner in many of your countries. Europe is the source or the destination of one third of your international trade flows. Yet I am convinced that the potential exists to make our partnership even stronger. And for this, companies want to know that they can compete on a level playing-field. That they can trust your judicial systems and the rule of law. This is also the foundation of a sustainable growth model – one that creates jobs and prosperity in Central Asia, for your people and for future generations too. All of these principles will be at the heart of Global Gateway Europe, our new connectivity strategy.
Global Gateway Europe will be all about investing in our mutual interests. We want to create links, not dependencies. And Central Asia is the global gateway by definition. You stand at the centre of Eurasia. Your prosperity matters to Europe. And I am convinced that our partnership can truly matter to your people, too.
Thank you, and let me wish you an excellent EU-Central Asia Economic Forum.