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Think Tank Launches to Focus on EU-Central Asian Relationship



Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov visited Brussels on Nov.12 for the launch of a new think tank dedicated to the discussion of Central Asia’s relationship with the EU.

The new dialogue platform, the Eurasian Council on Foreign Affairs (ECFA), was founded to foster the exchange of knowledge and best practices between Central Asia and Europe. It will be headquartered in Brussels.

European statesmen, academics, EU, NATO and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officials and other opinion-makers attended the think tank’s launch.Former EU Commissioner for External Affairs and Foreign Minister of Austria Benita Ferrero-Waldner was named chair of the ECFA Advisory Council, while Idrissov became the first honourary president of the organisation. Rauan Kenzhekhanuly, head of Kazakhstan’s Wiki Bilim public foundation, is the ECFA’s first founding director.

Other notable guests at the ECFA launch ceremony included Secretary-General of the OSCE Lamberto Zannier and the ambassadors of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to Belgium.

In his opening remarks, Idrissov called the ECFA an innovation both historic and timely, as it is not always easy to bridge the cultural and psychological gulf between Europe and Asia.

“I believe the geographic, cultural and psychological gap between Europe and Asia will be increasingly bridged and blurred, and the twain shall meet here, in Brussels, in Europe and in the Eurasian Council on Foreign Affairs,” he said.

Idrissov also referred to the new economic strategy, Nurly Zhol (Bright Road), announced by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in a surprise state-of-the-nation address on Nov. 11 in Astana, calling it a clear vision for the efficient and sustainable development of Kazakhstan.

Member of the ECFA’s Advisory Council, Former Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Kazakhstan plays a very important role in promoting dialogue on nuclear nonproliferation, and it is essential that the EU cooperate effectively with the country. “President Nursultan Nazarbayev makes a vital contribution to ensuring stability and sustainable development not Members of the Eurasian Council met recently in Brussels only in Kazakhstan itself, but also in the entire region. Therefore, the development of the transit potential of Kazakhstan is and will be important not only from an economic perspective, but also from the point of view of the development of human contacts.”

Ferrero-Waldner called the conclusion of negotiations between Kazakhstan and the EU on a new enhanced partnership and cooperation agreement “very important for moving relations to a qualitatively new level. Kazakhstan has made impressive progress over the years of its independence, and is now moving to a new trajectory of growth.”

The ECFA’s launch coincided with the publication of its first detailed opinion research from within Kazakhstan. The research, commissioned from UK-based polling agency Ipsos MORI, highlights the attitudes of the country’s citizens toward their government and its key policies.

The results show that 90 percent of respondents feel “fairly positive” or “very positive” about their country, 4 percent more than in a similar survey from late 2013. Kazakhstan has become a better place to live over the past 10 years, most said, with 83 percent saying it has gotten “a lot better” or “a little better.” The top five descriptive words most associated with Kazakhstan were “hospitable,” “stable,” “peaceful,” “improving,” and “successful.”

According to an ECFA press release, the organisation has been modelled on the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S., the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House of the U.K. and the European Council on Foreign Relations. Over time, it is hoped that the new think tank will become a valuable and independent source of high-quality research, publications and information that will keep Europe abreast of development in Central Asia.

While in Brussels, Idrissov also took part in the opening of the international conference “Toward Eurasian Security: Europe and Central Asia’s Post-Afghanistan Strategy,” organised in cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, Germany’s national foreign policy network.


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