A new reality in EU and Kazakhstan co-operation

Luc Devigne

Director of the European External Action Service Luc Devigne and Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Roman Vassilenko co-chaired the Cooperation Committee meeting that met recently in Astana to make headway on issues pertaining to the EU-Kazakh Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (EPCA). As EUreporter's Colin Stevens writes in an article "A new reality in EU and #Kazakhstan co-operation", the Agreement, signed in Astana in December 2015, provides significant boost to economic and political ties between the EU and Kazakhstan and enhance concrete cooperation in 29 key policy areas. These include economic and financial co-operation, energy, transport, environment and climate change, employment and social affairs, culture, education and research.

The new Agreement will also lead to enhanced co-operation in foreign and security policy, notably in the fight against terrorism, conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.  Officials say the agreement, which constitutes the first of its kind signed by the EU with one of its Central Asian partners, elevates relations between the EU and Kazakhstan to a new level.

The first meetings of the Trade Committee and of the Customs Subcommittee also took place with the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Finance of Kazakhstan.  These meetings consolidated the relations and co-operation between the EU and Kazakhstan, ensuring regional stability and development. Luc Devigne said: “Kazakhstan has become an increasingly important partner to promote peace and security in the region and globally. We will have soon our next meeting of the EU-Central Asia High Level Political and Security Dialogue.”

The Co-operation Committee discussed a number of issues of importance to both parties, notably political and economic reforms, the rule of law, trade and economic relations, and international issues. The protection of human rights, civil society development, education and research were also discussed, together with energy, transport and security issues such as counter-terrorism, border management and the fight against drug trafficking.

The Trade Committee discussed the state of play of the implementation of the trade chapter of the Agreement, notably the transit of goods from the EU to Kazakhstan, sanitary and phytosanitary matters, Intellectual Property Rights and recent trends in the investment climate.

The Subcommittee on Customs discussed customs cooperation, addressing in particular trade facilitation, mutual administrative assistance and the fight against fraud.  The EU and Kazakhstan will meet again later this month in what is the latest of a series of such events designed to underpin ever improving relations between the two sides.  The upcoming meeting of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC) on 27 April will be co-chaired by Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule, who heads the European Parliament delegation on Central Asian countries, and Maulen Ashimbayev, chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of Mazhilis of Parliament of Kazakhstan, who will head his country’s delegation.

They will focus on further strengthening of parliamentary cooperation between the two sides.  Parliamentary Cooperation Committees (PCCs) have taken place on a regular basis with Kazakhstan since 2000. The PCCs are a key element of the EPCA and provide the framework for the relationship between the EU and Kazakhstan.  While the EPCA has, thus far, been endorsed by eight EU members Grigule is confident the ratification process will be speeded up.

She points out that the EU is Kazakhstan’s largest trading and economic partner and the biggest investor in the Kazakh economy, accounting for 50% of trade and more than 50% of foreign direct investment.  The EU, she says, has no such agreement (the EPCA) with any other country of the former Soviet Union.

Iveta Grigule, who chairs the EU-Kazakhstan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said relations between Kazakhstan and Brussels are “very good and will be stronger in the future.”  She told EU Reporter: “Kazakhstan is an important EU partner, and not only from the perspective of the Central Asian region. In recent years, relations between both sides have improved, becoming more intense and pragmatic.  This, she said, is evident from the EPCA.  The MEP, also a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, added, “This large Central Asian country (Kazakhstan) is an important partner for us Europeans in various fields. For this cooperation to be successful and beneficial for both sides, it is very important that both partners rely on common understanding and similar principles.”

The country only gained independence December 16 1991 and 2017 is a big year for Kazakhstan: it become a UN Security Council non-permanent member on January 1 and later this year hosts EXPO 2017, an important international exposition scheduled to take place between June 10 and September 10 in Astana.  On the margins of EXPO the EU will hold EUDays with the participation of European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, a Slovak diplomat and a Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Energy Union. He was European commissioner for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration from 2010 to 2014. EUDays is one of several events the EU will be organizing in Astana within the framework of the exhibition.

ФОТО Luc Devigne