EU invisible at EXPO 2017 in Astana

Walking on glass in EXPO 2017. [Georgi Gotev]

This article is part of our special report Expo 2017 Astana.

Most EU countries have national pavilions at EXPO 2017 in Astana, dedicated to the theme of “Future energy”. But the EU’s action in terms of energy choices for the future and the Union’s leadership in tackling climate change are not visible in those national pavilions, as EURACTIV has seen.

EXPO 2017 is the first thing the newly arrived notice after landing in Astana. A giant crystal globe dominates the city’s skyline as soon as you take the highway from the airport toward the centre of Kazakhstan’s modernistic new capital. I ask the driver what it is, he replies “EXPO”.

The flagship of EXPO 2017 is “sharik”, as people call it. [Georgi Gotev]

The Kazakhs have made it big. The energy-rich country is eager to host major events and is not shy in spending. The infrastructure built for the EXPO undoubtedly costs billions. A first return is already obvious: the EXPO is full of people, families with children or young couples, who appear to enjoy immensely the exhibitions and the many shows and concerts organized there.

Before I arrived, the organisers greeted the three-millionth visitor, a figure which appears to exceed the initial expectations. I arrived at the EXPO early in the morning, when it was almost empty, and was wondering whether this was possible. Very soon I got the answer, as the place became crowded and huge queues formed in front of some of the pavilions.

But the largest queue is in front of “sharik”, or “the sphere” in Russian, as people commonly call the structure hosting Kazakhstan’s national exhibition. Russian is widely spoken and, as a Russian speaker, I can overhear conversations as we slowly advance toward the lifts. Some of the visitors have already been here and advise others what the “must see” places are. Obviously, the price of the ticket ( an equivalent of €11), seems like a good deal.

The upper floor of “Sarik”. Walking on glass. [Georgi Gotev}]


By hosting EXPO 2017, Kazakhstan officially wanted to reach two goals: to bring home the world’s best expertise in clean energy and renewables, and to make its population sensible to the issues of climate change.

One must keep in mind that Kazakhstan is extremely rich in fossil fuels. But the country has not only subscribed to the Paris agreement, it is making it a priority to change its patterns of energy consumption. Indeed, in many places in Kazakhstan, the sun shines 300 days a year, and there are locations where, I was told, the winds never stop. This potential is obviously immense.

Kazakh boy looks at solar panel technology developed by “Astana solar”. [Georgi Gotev]

Kazakhstan holds up to 30% of the world’s uranium reserves. It does not yet have any nuclear power stations, but the clear ambition is to develop this sector, seen by the country’s authorities as “green”, also because the new nuclear techniques are expected to be much more environment-friendly.

“Areva technologies will be used”, says this message in the Kazakh pavilion, dedicated to the future of the country’s energy mix,

The participating EU countries are Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, UK. Groups of countries are represented in so-called “Plazas”: “Plaza Africa, “Plaza Pacific”, Plaza “South America”, “Plaza Caribbean countries”, “Silk Road”.

In the French pavilion, the message is clear: this country is a leader in nuclear technologies, just what Kazakhstan needs.

French pavilion advertises nuclear know-how. “The daily consumption of a 1 GW coal power station is 10,000 tons of coal. A nuclear station needs fuel the size of a pineapple for one day”. [Georgi Gotev]

Other EU countries chose different messages. For Germany, the future of energy is wind and solar, and electric vehicles. Poland highlights “blue coal” technologies, presented as environment-friendly. The Netherlands banks on its traditional windmills and the modern wind farms.

The pavilions of Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, are next to each other, Austria is not very far. But there is no EU pavilion. [Georgi Gotev]

But there is no EU pavilion and nowhere could I see a message about the Union being a leader in tackling climate change, and almost nowhere did I see any mention of the Paris agreement.

In the German pavilion, I introduced myself as a journalist and asked if the EU and the Paris agreement were mentioned anywhere at all. The answer was no, but Valentina, an Austrian national in charge of communication in the German pavilion, gave me a 40-page brochure called “German Pavilion EXPO 2017 Astana” (not available to visitors) in which the Paris agreement is mentioned on page 28. The German Federal government is mentioned dozens of times, but EU doesn’t appear anywhere.

When I asked the same question at the Netherlands pavilion, the answer of the Dutch young woman in charge was “No, we don’t mention this, but why should we? We have so many other important things to show”.

Everywhere in the pavilions of major EU countries, the big energy firms, which are also sponsors, appear to take centre stage, and there is no room left for any such thing as EU policies or EU action and initiatives.

Among the EU member countries’ pavilions, the largest queue I saw was in front of the German pavilion.

Queue in front of the German pavilion. [Georgi Gotev]

Austria is also one of the public’s favourites, as its pavilion is the most ludic – I took photos of people and their children having a great time with swings or other workouts.

The Austrian pavillion is the most ludic. [Georgi Gotev]

Some EU countries are absent. As a Bulgarian and Belgian national, I doubly regret that there was no Bulgarian or Belgian pavilion. (The Bulgarian ambassador told me that despite his many efforts, Sofia didn’t find the funds.) If there were an “EU Plaza”, maybe my two small countries would have had a corner there? For God sake, the Caribbean has a “Plaza”, Africa has a “Plaza”, and the EU hasn’t??

My other regret is that I missed the Beatles concert because I had to catch my plane. Not the real Beatles, of course, but a very good cover group brought to Astana by the UK pavilion.

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