Oettinger: It’s time to take EU-Kazakhstan relations to a new level

Fiule photo. Gunther Oettinger as EU Commissioner for budget and human resources, 12 September 2018. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

This article is part of our special report A busy EU-Kazakhstan agenda.

Former European Commission Vice President Günther Oettinger called on Monday (10 May) for elevating the EU-Kazakhstan relations to “a new level”, inviting the European business to invest more in added-value products manufactured in the Central Asian country.

Oettinger spoke as an online guest at a conference in Brussels organised by the Berlin Eurasian Club, a business association of mostly German and Kazakh businesses, which coincided with the EU-Kazakhstan Cooperation Council that took place in person in the Belgian capital on the same day.

The former EU Commissioner argued that time was ripe for Kazakhstan, a producer of raw materials among which he mentioned copper, nickel, iron, manganese, gold, and also oil and gas, to process these raw materials into added-value products necessary for industrial production, naming the chemical industry, the automotive sector and the pharmaceutical sector.

Such cooperation with firms from the EU would result in a win-win situation, he argued. In his words, more partnerships with European industries were needed for training skilled workers. Also, the EU Erasmus+ program should give more young people from Kazakhstan the opportunity to come to Europe to learn about the EU’s economics, democracy, market economy, he said.

Kazakhstan is rich in minerals and fossil fuels, but the country aims to diversify its energy sources and become carbon-neutral by 2060. Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who attended the event, said the Kazakh national program for transition to a green economy was in line with the European Green deal objectives.

Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mukhtar Tileubedri, stressed the important role of the EU in the Kazakh economy. As a bloc, the EU27 ranks first among Kazakhstan’s trade and investment partners, accounting for 27.7% in terms of Kazakhstan’s foreign trade last year.

Over the last 15 years, 44% of the foreign capital invested in Kazakhstan came from the EU27, he said, adding that from 2005 to 2020, the Kazakh economy has attracted more than $157 billion foreign direct investment from EU countries.

Tileubedri also stressed Kazakhstan’s geographic advantages, as it borders China and the Russian Federation. Tourism was another accent of the conference, the aim being, according to the deputy PM, to increase its share in the national economy.

As Gabidulla Abdrakhimov, the Kazakh vice minister of tourism, explained, the current share of tourism was 5% of GDP and the aim is to raise it to 8% in 2025, thanks to investments to the tune of $2.5 billion.

He invited EU investors to seize the opportunities of the several special economic zones and flagged the big interest of several world-known investors in Aktau, on the Caspian Sea shore.

Michael Siebert, managing director for Russia, Eastern Partnership and Central Asia in the European External Action Service, congratulated Kazakhstan for the development of its national COVID-19 vaccine.

Kazakhstan launches QazVac, its own COVID-19 vaccine

Kazakhstan has joined the select number of countries that have produced and made available their own COVID-19 vaccine, as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev tweeted on Friday (23 April) that the first batch of QazVac vaccine had been despatched to several regions of the country. 

He also spoke highly of the interest of the Kazakh side in the revamped EU-Central Asia strategy, which focuses on connectivity.

Later on Monday, Tileubedri met with his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva for the meeting of the EU-Kazakhstan Cooperation Council, where the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between the bloc and Kazakhstan that entered into force in March 2020 was at the top of the agenda.

The EPCA sets a legal framework for cooperation in 29 areas, from international and regional security to trade, investment, development of infrastructure as well as innovation in culture, sport and tourism sectors.

Silva, whose country currently chairs the EU Council’s rotating presidency, said that “even in a year as difficult as last year, the EU has consolidated its position as Kazakhstan trade partner and first foreign investor.”

As part of political dialogue, good governance, the promotion and protection of human rights, and engagement with civil society were also part of the agenda.

“The European Union strongly supports Kazakhstan in its reform processes and modernisation processes and hopes these reforms will be effectively implemented,” Silva told journalists.

Kazakhstan abolishes capital punishment

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree abolishing the death penalty in Kazakhstan, according to a statement released by his office on Saturday (2 January).

Tileubedri highlighted the third package of reforms of Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, unveiled in January and supposed to enhance the government’s engagement and dialogue with the civil society.

“Implementation of these reformsis a vivid demonstration of our continued commitment and efforts to strengthen human rights protection, civic participation, parliamentarism and multi-party system,” Tileubedri said.

He also emphasised that visa liberalisation is high on Nur-Sultan’s agenda and that Kazakhstan hopes to launch negotiations on this issue.

However, the topic was not included in the main conclusions posted on the European Council website following the meeting.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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