The European Parliament has postponed voting on an agreement with Turkmenistan until March 2011, according to the the Legislative Observatory on the European Parliament’s web site. The agreement was supposed to be signed by late November but has now been delayed.
The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the European Commission and Turkmenistan is now scheduled for adoption in committee in the first reading on January 25, 2011, and for voting in plenary on March 7, 2011.
An interim trade agreement with Turkmenistan was signed in April 2009, pending debate on ratification of the PCA.
The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on December 1, 2009, changed some technical aspects of such trade agreements, including decision-making procedures. A new «consent procedure» has replaced the old «assent procedure». The PCA is classified as an «interinstitutional non-legislative procedure». An absolute majority of MPs is needed to approve the PCA.
These changes are secondary to the main issues being debated by the European Parliament about Turkmenistan, however. There is some disagreement about the extent to which human rights have improved or worsened in Turkmenistan, and there is also some question as to whether or not Turkmenistan will participate in the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline.
Human rights groups have protested that the EU has put energy security and trade concerns before human rights progress, and have endeavored to show parliamentarians that the Turkmen regime’s much-advertised improvements in education, media, and governance have been superficial. Hundreds of students were barred arbitrarily from studying abroad, and only after a year of protests were most of them permitted to go to Bulgaria, Russia and other countries for study. While Internet cafes have been opened, controversial news services and sites maintained by Turkmen human rights and political groups abroad are blocked. Political prisoners have not been released and the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit the country.
The April 2009 agreement referenced some benchmarks for concrete human rights issues to be resolved before ratification of the agreement. Parliamentarians are now weighing whether to scrap them to help facilitate a deal with Turkmenistan to participate in the Western-backed Nabucco pipeline.
The online publication CEE Bankwatch Network has said a contributing factor in the delay in the vote was due to pressure from Bankwatch and other groups including Human Rights Watch, Global Witness and Open Society Institute. Bankwatch has published a report detailing concerns about the unprecedented sums contemplated to support Nabucco (USD 11 billion and growing) and the plans to include Turkmenistan, which it says would «further help strengthen an authoritarian government» which ranks low on corruption surveys.
A hearing on human rights in Turkmenistan was held in the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on October 26, where Human Rights Watch and Open Society Institute presented testimony, and the concerns of Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the Turkmenistan Independent Lawyers’ Association groups were also made available in written reports.
In 2008, the EU pledged to buy 10 billion cubic meters of gas directly from Turkmenistan, but has not made the purchase yet.
The Nabucco consortium has various reported Turkmenistan as eager to participate, and as reluctant - and perhaps not even needed if European plans to get gas from Azerbaijan instead work out.
According to the Telegraph, meanwhile, another consortium with Italian energy company ENI made an announcement today that it hopes to get an agreement with Ashgabat this month to ship compressed natural gas across the Caspian on four tankers. ENI earlier made a test shipment of Turkmen gas to Baku, the first delivery to circumvent a Russian-dominated energy route.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick EurasiaNet