SEnECa Blog Post: Strengthening the EU-Kazakh Relations: from Capacity to Feasibility

The European Union is one of the main economic and foreign policy partners of Kazakhstan. The Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev always empha­sizes the strategic signif­i­cance of the EU in his annual addresses to the nation of Kazakhstan. Deep inter­action with the European countries helps to promote democ­ratic reforms, improve the quality of life, attract invest­ments and new technologies as well as improve legis­lation (including rule of law) and modernize the system of public admin­is­tration in accor­dance with existing standards.

The inter­action of Kazakhstan with European countries is devel­oping both bilat­erally and multi­lat­erally, including the EU supra­na­tional struc­tures. Key priority areas for EU cooper­ation with Kazakhstan include:

(1) Political dialogue. The estab­lished political dialogue forms a strong basis for further devel­opment of bilateral relations. Kazakhstan actively interacts with key European insti­tu­tions, such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as well as with related insti­tu­tions such as the European Cultural Convention and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which Astana recently joined. Among key issues of bilateral cooper­ation remain the facil­i­tation of the visa regime and the possi­bility of the Kazakh airlines to fly to European countries.

(2) Energy and natural resources. Dialogue on energy issues is one of the key mutually beneficial areas of the Kazakh-European cooper­ation. Whereas Kazakhstan is the main supplier of Caspian oil and gas resources to Europe, the European Union is the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan. 80 percent of the Kazakhstan resources (oil and gas) are exported to the EU. Diver­si­fi­cation of export routes for energy resources are of mutual interest, both for Kazakhstan and for the European Union. The interests of the EU are mainly focused on the Southern route for gas supplies to Europe.

(3) Culture and human­i­tarian cooper­ation. There is an annual dialogue on human rights with state bodies of Kazakhstan, regular meetings with NGOs and seminars with the partic­i­pation of civil society of the EU and Kazakhstan. At this stage, priority areas include local government and the reform of the judicial system, which in turn will promote social cohesion, democ­ratic devel­opment and respect for human rights. Cooper­ation in science and education plays a funda­mental role in bilateral relations. Cooper­ation between the univer­sities, vocational education and the adhering to inter­na­tional educa­tional standards within the Kazakh education system are the key areas of cooper­ation between the EU and Kazakhstan.

2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the diplo­matic relations between Kazakhstan and the EU. Therefore, the country and the people would like the new Enhanced Partnership and Cooper­ation Agreement to signif­i­cantly enhance bilateral relations in many areas including regional cooper­ation in Central Asia. There is much potential in the EU involvement in Kazakhstan and the region. However, it is high time to make it more feasible and public. It is necessary to implement those ambitious economic and political commit­ments into something real that people of the region can feel.

For Kazakhstan, the EU support in the inter­na­tional arena is very important. Many European countries assess Kazakhstan’s success and achieve­ments quite positively. Kazakhstan would like to see a more active and ambitious European Union in Central Asia in many spheres. Whereas geopo­litical context is obviously lacking in bilateral relations, the pragmatic approach makes it easier to strengthen the EU presence and influence in the region and to balance Chinese and Russian growing interests in Central Asia, among other challenges.
In addition, the European soft power has great potential and will certainly receive support in the region in the long run. At the local level, it will be inter­esting to build people-to-people relations in the two regions, so that citizens from the EU, Kazakhstan and Central Asia can learn about each other, share ideas and exchange the views on many common concerns.

SEnECA Blog Contri­bution by Daria Larionova from the Central Asia Institute for Strategic Studies