At the 2022 EU-Central Asia Connectivity Summit in Samarkand, EU High Representative Josep Borrell noted that Europe and Central Asia see the need to advance their strategic autonomy and could pursue this goal by enhancing connectivity with each other in various spheres, including energy trade, digital infrastructure, security architecture, food supplies, and access to critical raw materials. While strategic autonomy has been a guiding concept for EU policymakers over the past ten years, it is new for Central Asia. Given the obvious and fundamental differences between the regions, the European definition of strategic autonomy as the capacity “to act autonomously to safeguard its interests, uphold its values and way of life, and help shape the global future” cannot be directly applied to Central Asia.
However, the challenges and solutions that the concept implies are relevant. It would be desirable for Central Asian countries to avoid excessive and harmful dependencies on other actors, and they can do it by fostering regional cooperation and integration, particularly around the water-energy-climate change nexus. This policy memo explores the concept’s potential for Central Asia, outlines the trajectory and the current state of Central Asian regionalism, proposes the creation of a Central Asian Water and Energy Community inspired by the European Coal and Steel Community, and discusses how the EU and Central Asia could support each other in their pursuit of strategic autonomy. It argues that stronger EU support and an economic corridor to Europe would help the region maintain its balancing act, and the EU, in its turn, would receive a belt of strategic partners extending from its borders to the heart of Asia.