Economic cooperation between Europe and Central Asia is deeply rooted in the past. During many centuries the scope and the intensity of the European-Central Asian economic relations were largely determined by the nature of transport, communications and trade along the Silk Road, and also by the overall security situation: the protection and defense of specific segments of the trade routes. With the development of maritime and the decline of the overland trade the international importance of Central Asia as a trade and transport bridge of Eurasia gradually decreased. As a result we see that for several centuries the region was in the position of economic and geographic isolation, and the way out of which became possible only due to geo-economic and geopolitical development of Russian Siberia and Asia in general. Therefore it is no exaggeration to say that Russia and later the Soviet Union in many ways "made" the window of wide opportunities for Europe and Central Asia in terms of development of the economic and other relations between them.
Taking into account the fact that foreign economic relations of the former Soviet Union were mainly focused on Europe, these links were "automatically" inherited by new post-Soviet states, including the republics of Central Asia (CA). For this reason, the European-Central Asian economic ties that had taken place in Soviet times continued (but in a purely commercial form) after the collapse of the Soviet Union, being immediately ahead by its scale and value of communication in all other areas of intergovernmental cooperation. This explains the fact that after 1991 Europe quickly became the main trading partner of the countries in the Central Asian region, surpassing even Russia, especially taking into account the fact that Russia itself didn’t pay attention to developing of relations with Central Asia.
In addition to the trade and economic ties to Europe inherited by Russia/USSR, the important point was the fact that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asian countries chose Europe as a political reference. Countries of the region placed great hopes on Europe in terms of modernizing their economies, as well as a successful integration into the global market. It appears that in many ways this was the reason why the Turkish model of development was attractive for many countries in Central Asia.
It is significant that the traditional economic partner of Central Asia was Russia and at that time it was in a state of deep economic crisis, and the Yeltsin administration carried out a policy of "getting rid of the burden of the national republics". In turn, such countries like the USA and China were for the Central Asian states a kind of «terra incognita», and the ties with it, unlike in Europe, were born from "blank slate", and, in the early 90s the countries of the region didn’t have a vision about the above states in the system of their foreign economic and other priorities. In addition, as for China, Central Asia had a special vigilance, if to remember the impact of anti-Chinese propaganda in the former Soviet Union and the historical memory about complex and controversial periods of interaction in the past. As for the Islamic world countries that are close by culture, the Central Asian countries had initially been concerned about the expansion of the ideas of radical Islam.
Considering everything above, in the early 90s of the last century, Europe was the "ideal partner" for Central Asian countries that had chosen a path of building a secular State of the "European style". However, after two decades of post-Soviet period it is safe to say that the hopes of the Central Asian states for economic modernization with the help of European capital did not come true. European-Central Asian economic relations in fact have never gone beyond the format of a trade and cooperation on the supply of oil and other raw materials.
The share of the EU in external trade relations of Central Asia is essential. In the period of 2005-2010, the share of the EU member-states in Kazakhstan's foreign trade reached about 40%, Tajik - about 19% Turkmenistan - about 15%, Uzbekistan - about 6%. The share of the EU's countries in the foreign trade turnover of Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet period varied greatly in different years, from 4% to 26%. It is not an exaggeration to say that outside the oil and gas industry of Kazakhstan the scale of the European economic presence in Central Asia is extremely insignificant and it does not play any significant role for either of the region, especially for the EU.
On the one hand, the passivity of the EU and the European business to a large extent is due to the economic and geographic isolation of Central Asia from Europe, and it is also due to the fragmentation of economic, defense and political space within the region. It makes design and investment difficult, especially in the deep processing of raw materials. On the other hand, under the conditions of globalization, the countries of Central Asia seem to be much inferior to many other countries and regions of the world by its investment appeal. Thus, the major European investment has always gone to China and several other countries in Asia and Africa, where Europe and the European business has kept close ties and strong positions since the days of colonial empires.
At present, there is not much hope left that Central Asia will enter the orbit of the economic impact of the EU. The reason for this is a deep economic crisis of the euro zone. This is especially true for the new EU member states (former Soviet satellites), where the economic situation is slightly better than in Central Asia. Obvious is the fact that to save the economy of several countries in Europe that are mired in debt crises will be possible through the "strong" EU countries, primarily Germany and France, where the economic situation is also quite complex. In this regard, the EU is likely not to have enough financial, economic and other opportunities for large-scale economic activities in such regions like Central Asia.
Therefore, in general, despite the fact that the trade with the EU has an important place in the overall trade relations in Central Asia (especially Kazakhstan), the nature of European-Central Asian economic cooperation can not be called a productive one for the region. This interaction does not have a solid foundation, it is extremely unstable, the prospects for its further development are unclear, and the propaganda hype about the fast-growing economic ties between the EU and several countries in Central Asia is no more than an attempt to pass the desirable for reality.
Firstly, significant amounts of trade between Central Asian countries and some EU countries - are largely the remnants of the historical heritage, given that trade relations of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union had traditionally been focused primarily on Europe. Especially if we remember the fact that the countries of Eastern and Central Europe (the new EU member states) were recently included in a common economic space with the Soviet Union, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance. However, this historical legacy today does not increase real economic cooperation between Central Asia and the EU and it does not lead to any noticeable increase in project investment activity of the European companies in the region. One of the few exceptions is the oil and gas sector of Kazakhstan, but even here it should be noted that European business is focuses solely on the purchase and removal of hydrocarbons.
Secondly, all Central Asian countries have almost 100% raw material orientation in trade with the EU, which prevents the modernization of the economies of Central Asia, contributes to their resource depletion, and for these reasons it does not meet their long-term national and state interests. In addition, European-Central Asian trade relations make less than 0.2% of the foreign trade of the European Union and therefore they do not have any importance for the EU.
Thirdly, European products are often too expensive for the countries of Central Asia and therefore trade relations of the region are increasingly reoriented to China and other Asian countries whose goods are more competitive in price/quality than the European. This objectively leads to a gradual weakening and erosion of trade links between Central Asia and Europe, because the countries in the region prefer to focus more on foreign economic relations in Asia, and on its traditional partners - Russia. All this is compounded by the geographic remoteness of Central Asia from the euro zone and by the unrelenting economic crisis in Europe, which dramatically reduces the possibility of the EU in terms of foreign expansion.
Considering the above, it is possible to predict with a relatively high degree of probability that in some time the EU will mainly solve its own internal economic problems. CA can hardly be a priority in the foreign EU strategy. The scale of the EU's economic presence in Central Asia will hardly remain at their current, low level.
In consideration of the fact that as for Central Asia Europe is mainly interested in hydrocarbons, the activity of European companies in the region will depend on the presence of "big oil" in Kazakhstan and the "big gas" in Turkmenistan. In addition, much will depend on the development prospects of the economic situation in the euro zone, which will determine the demand of European consumers for hydrocarbons and other raw materials.
If the huge hydrocarbon reserves in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan become a reality, and the crisis in Europe is overcome in the medium term, we can expect an increase in project-investment activity of the EU in these two Central Asian countries. However, even in this case, this activity will likely give the impulse to the European-Central Asian economic cooperation in general and it will not go beyond trade.
And if hydrocarbon reserves in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are much less than expected, even the current, extremely low level of European-Central Asian economic cooperation will gradually decline and, ultimately, the relationship will be reduced to purely commercial relations. In the future the European-Central Asian economic cooperation is likely to continue to erode due to the relatively low investment attractiveness of the Central Asian countries for the European companies and due to the continuing shift of the countries of the region to an Asian direction in the foreign economic cooperation.
Theoretically, the European-Central Asian economic relations could develop in case of a real industrial cooperation in the field of processing industry. But a fundamental prerequisite for this is that economic integration in Eurasia - between Russia, Central Asia and China, and also the development of the EU's new strategy in the region, taking into account the high value of the Russian and Chinese factors. However, in the foreseeable future this should not be expected.
If the process of economic integration is not observed even in the Russian-Central Asian relations, where there are all the basic terms and conditions, including more than 100 years of coexistence in unitary states, then it will not develop between Central Asia and Europe.