Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan and the European Union: 25 Years from Establishment of Relations to Full-Fledged Partnership
Meeting with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Brussels, 30 March 2016. (Akorda.kz)
When people talk about the special way of Kazakhstan's development, there is no doubt that among other things they also have in mind the multi-vector foreign policy of President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, which he has been consistently implementing since the first days of independence and which has become the key to the successful establishment of our young country.
A wise approach of the President to building relations with foreign partners has allowed Kazakhstan to create a favourable external environment that promotes dynamic political, social and economic development of the republic and its transformation into a respected and in-demand partner of the world community in addressing the most pressing problems of our time.
Cooperation with European countries and European integration structures has a special place in this context. Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and having a territory on the European part of Eurasia comparable to the area of Germany, Kazakhstan does not separate itself from Europe, actively developing relations with the Old World. At the same time, we have our unique experience in building cooperation with the European Union (EU), different from other countries of the post-Soviet space.
On Feb. 2, 1993, Kazakhstan and the EU established diplomatic relations; in December of the same year, our country opened its mission to the EU in Brussels and in less than a year – in November 2014 – the European Commission opened a representative office in Almaty.
On Jan. 23, 1995, Kazakhstan, the EU and its member states signed the first basic document – a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which laid a solid foundation for building and enhancing Kazakh-European relations. It is noteworthy that Kazakhstan was the first state from Central Asia to sign such an agreement with the EU.
At the same time, it should be noted that the 1995 agreement was in many respects typical for all newly independent states, including the post-Soviet countries of Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia that began developing relations with Europe in practically identical conditions.
The past years of progressive evolution of our country and its consolidation in the status of a mature state that conducts a verified and predictable domestic and foreign policy have determined the mutual desire of Kazakhstan and the EU to deepen cooperation on a whole range of issues.
Today, European colleagues recognise that Kazakhstan is a priority partner for them in Central Asia, cooperation with which is of strategic nature for Europe.
Thanks to the clearly defined tasks and directions of the Path to Europe State Programme announced by President Nazarbayev in 2008, Kazakhstan has established strategic partnership relations with European countries such as France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
In addition, having secured the confidence of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian community, in 2010 our country headed the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and organised the first and, so far, the only summit of this organisation in the 21st century.
The experience of the successful chairmanship of such a powerful organisation contributed to greater recognition of our country and developed a precedent for promoting Central Asian interests on a global scale. Kazakhstan continues to successfully do this as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017-2018.
The dynamic development of Kazakh-European relations required the renewal of the legal framework for cooperation in conditions of global competition and taking into account the changing geopolitical and economic situation. As a result, on Dec. 21, 2015, in Astana, a new Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between Kazakhstan and the EU was signed.
New elements that were not part of the 1995 agreement were included in the EPCA. Among them are outer space security, countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fighting terrorism, cooperation in public service, climate change, health care, public finance management, taxation and other areas.
Moreover, the so-called “trade block" was expanded, which included the most important provisions related to the development of competition, intellectual property, public procurement and facilitation of the removal of trade barriers.
It should be recalled that the negotiation process for the EPCA lasted about four years and was quite difficult, because the provisions of the agreement should have fully taken into account our obligations within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The key role in the success of the talks was played by President Nazarbayev, who held this process under special control, personally solving emerging fundamental issues with the leadership of the EU.
Once again, Kazakhstan has become the first and, so far, the only country in the region to sign the “second-generation" agreement with the EU.
Since March 1, 2016, the EPCA has operated under provisional application, which means that it is possible to implement its provisions that fall within the exclusive competence of the European Commission. This relates to a large part of the agreement, including the trade block.
However, for the EPCA to enter into full force and for the remaining standards to be implemented, including the above new provisions, national parliaments of the EU member states and the European Parliament should ratify the EPCA. By the way, this process is going quite fast. Thus, in slightly more than two years since its signing, the agreement has now been ratified by 23 states and on Dec. 12 last year it was overwhelmingly approved by the European Parliament.
I would like to note that the entry into force of the 1995 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement took more than four years, and at that time the EU included only 15 states.
So the speed of ratifications of EPCA shows the serious interest of the EU countries in developing cooperation with Kazakhstan on new tracks.
The EPCA signing and the launch of the provisional application gave a powerful impetus to the political and economic cooperation of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the EU and its member states.
Partnership with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe has gained an unprecedented scale, which has strategic importance for all parties amid the boom observed in the transport and logistics sector between Europe and Asia and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The central objective for the coming years for Kazakhstan and the EU is to build up trade and, most importantly, ensure its comprehensive diversification.
A positive signal in 2017 was the growth of mutual trade by almost $6 billion (from $24.4 billion in 2016 to $30 billion in 2017). Thus, the EU remains a leader among Kazakhstan's trade partners with a 49.8 percent share in the total volume of our trade turnover.
At the same time, the main items of Kazakhstan's export to Europe, which makes up five-sixths of the mutual trade, are still hydrocarbon resources and other raw materials, prices for which are subject to significant fluctuations.
Thus, Kazakh and European diplomats are faced with the task of finding ways to expand non-recourse exports from Kazakhstan to Europe and, in general, diversify our mutual trade.
In this context, the January state-of-the-nation address of the President titled “New Development Opportunities under the Fourth Industrial Revolution" opens new, broader prospects for European investors in developing cooperation with Kazakh partners.
Due to modernisation, digitalisation, and introduction of innovative technologies and improvement of the business climate – areas in which the EU countries have considerable experience and long-term achievements – Kazakhstan will continue to increase the growth rates of the economy and attract additional investments in priority industries.
Now about 6,000 companies with European participation operate in our country. There are very successful examples of cooperation with major European partners such as Alstom, Orano (previously Areva), Danone, Gedeon Richter, Knauf, Metro, Peugeot, Polpharma, Renault, Siemens, Talgo, Thyssen Krupp, Vicat and others.
Another priority objective at this stage in relations with the EU is to facilitate the visa regime, which should give a powerful impetus to the development of business contacts between Kazakh and European business people. Kazakhstan's introduction of a visa-free regime for citizens of the OECD and EU member states from Jan. 1, 2017 contributed to a significant increase in investments from the EU to Kazakhstan by providing European entrepreneurs with free access to our territory to open their businesses and, more importantly, opportunities for their permanent and unimpeded control.
Kazakhstan, in turn, counts on the reciprocal steps of the European side, at the first stage offering for the EU to simplify visa requirements for our citizens. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is conducting consistent work with European partners in this direction, which is beginning to yield certain results, and I hope, in the near future, it will be reflected in the concrete actions of the European Commission.
A comprehensive review of relations between Kazakhstan and the EU is impossible without due attention to a wider regional context. Being part of the Central Asian region, Kazakhstan is in the zone of interests of the EU, identified in the EU Strategy for Central Asia adopted in 2007.
Within this strategy, the EU supports the countries of the region in areas such as the rule of law, border security, combating drug trafficking, education, energy, transport, environmental protection and water resources management and rural development.
During the ten years of its existence, the strategy has proved itself as a comprehensive tool for inter-regional interaction and the projects implemented within it have contributed to the development of our region and fulfilment of the existing potential of the Central Asian states.
Moreover, the implementation of the strategy has allowed our European partners to gain a better understanding of the Central Asian region and its countries, their needs and plans to develop relations with the EU in the future.
The decision of the European side to carry out a large-scale revision of the strategy and to prepare an entirely new document by the end of 2019 once again proves that the EU gives priority to building new relations with our region.
In fact, now is the best moment to prepare an updated strategy, given the fact that the Central Asian countries attach more importance to interaction with each other, and this opens up new opportunities for the implementation of joint mutually-beneficial projects with the EU.
Kazakhstan has actively joined the process of updating the strategy, highlighting the following priorities as the main ones: development of private entrepreneurship, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), transport and logistics infrastructure in the countries of Central Asia, cooperation in improving energy efficiency, continuing interaction in the field of environmental protection, climate change and efficient use of water resources, as well as education.
Participation of all five foreign ministers of the Central Asian states in the EU-Central Asia (CA) ministerial conference held last November in Samarkand confirmed the high interest of the region in cooperating with the EU. Summarising its findings, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini called the meeting a milestone in EU-CA relations.
Kazakhstan, in turn, is confident that the harmonisation of interests of global partners in the region and synergy of their activities in areas of mutual interest will be beneficial for all participants and, first of all, for the countries of the region.