EU-Kazakhstan Relations: A Vital Partnership for Progress and Peace

Kestutis Jankauskas, EU Ambassador to Kazakhstan
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Since the European Union (EU) and Kazakhstan established diplomatic ties thirty-one years ago, they have developed a strong collaboration. In this article Kestutis Jankauskas, the Ambassador of the European Union to Kazakhstan shares his views on the long-term partnership between Kazakhstan and the member of the European states.

According to Ambassador Jankauskas, the EU has become Kazakhstan's biggest commercial partner and investor over the past few decades, underscoring the close economic relations between the two parties.

Kazakhstan's signing of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU nine years ago, as the first Central Asian country, further solidified their ties. This agreement represents a major development in their bilateral ties and covers 29 domains of political, social, and economic life.

"The EU and Kazakhstan have faced possibilities as well as problems as a result of the current geopolitical issues, which include the sad events of January and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The mentioned occurrences highlight the significance of enhanced collaboration among nations that maintain the fundamentals of a global regulatory framework. In this regard, Kazakhstan's modernization and economic diversification initiatives have received strong backing from the EU, says Kestutis Jankauskas.

"Currently Kazakhstan faces several strategic necessities. “Kazakhstan needs to strengthen its resilience and enhance economic diversification, improve infrastructure for cargoes and people, upgrade its energy systems to counter climate change, and attract investments to ensure social stability for its growing young population,” says the Ambassador Jankauskas.

The European Union needs to build new partnerships across the globe while promoting security, a green and sustainable agenda, and enhancing connectivity. Based on their priorities, the European Union and Kazakhstan are currently working on deepening and widening mutually beneficial cooperation in a number of areas: transport and digital connectivity, critical raw materials, water management and agriculture, green energy, medicine and education.

Key Challenges and Initiatives

Peace and security remain paramount, with both regions committed to maintaining a rules-based international order and countering aggression. This includes addressing sanctions circumvention and building alternative transport routes and digital infrastructures. The EU's significant investment in Kazakhstan, particularly in renewable energy projects such as green hydrogen production and wind and solar power plants, demonstrates this commitment.

“The company SVEVIND started major investments in green hydrogen production in the Mangistau region. Several European investors have built renewable - wind and solar – power plants. To fully tap into its renewable energy potential, Kazakhstan needs to refurbish the transmission grids. There is great potential in agriculture cooperation. For that, new modern water management technologies are necessary to ensure that water – which is more scarce - is used efficiently”, adds Kestutis Jankauskas.

In 2022, a Memorandum on sustainable critical raw materials was signed, paving the way for new technologies in geological exploration and production. Such initiatives are crucial for Kazakhstan to fully realize the potential of its renewable energy potential, especially as it aims to increase its share of renewable energy to 50% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

The EU welcomes Kazakhstan’s joining the Global Methane Pledge in December 2023, and looks forward to accelerate the development and implementation of policies and projects to reduce methane emissions rapidly, particularly from the fossil energy sector.

“We also welcome Kazakhstan joining the UAE Compromise (2023) which includes the Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge. Kazakhstan has vast potential for wind and solar power, and should invest in it for a greener and more sustainable future. We have provided trainings to Kazakh government representatives and business regarding the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), and stand ready to continue helping to understand it better and to adjust to its requirements”, says the Ambassador of the European Union to Kazakhstan.

This initiative will facilitate access to European and global markets for Kazakhstan's products. As part of the Global Gateway project, the Team Europe Initiative on Water, Energy, and Climate Change aims to sustainably manage water and energy resources, while also addressing environmental challenges and combating climate change in Kazakhstan and the broader Central Asia region.

According to the Ambassador, the initiative will enhance regional cooperation on water basins and develop infrastructure projects in areas such as hydropower, dam safety, and irrigation.

“We aim to support Kazakhstan's reform efforts for IFAS, the principal regional organization for water and energy in Central Asia. Drawing on our experience in the EU, we recognize the substantial benefits of regional cooperation in the energy sector, which enhances security of energy supply and promotes the integration of renewable energy sources for all involved”.

Regional Conflicts

Conflict in Ukraine has significantly impacted traditional trade pathways, compelling Kazakhstan to seek new partnerships, sources, and markets for various commodities. Despite sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus, collaboration between the EU and Kazakhstan has successfully maintained the flow of critical commodities like oil to European markets. Moreover, both entities are jointly ensuring that Kazakhstan's territory does not facilitate the circumvention of these sanctions.

“Additionally, the EU and Kazakhstan have made strides in developing the Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor, which links Europe and Central Asia without traversing the sanctioned nations. Ongoing improvements in infrastructure and the resolution of connectivity issues are essential for enabling sensitive cargoes to avoid Russian territory. This corridor not only offers Kazakhstan a vital alternative route but also benefits other Central Asian countries, which together represent a significant and growing market of nearly 80 million people and a key transit point for land-based trade between Europe and China”, adds Kestutis Jankauskas.

Education and Research: Investing in the Future

For the past decade, Kazakhstan has actively participated in the Erasmus+ program, benefiting from short-term mobility, Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Degrees, capacity building in higher education, and Jean Monnet activities.

“More recently, the country has begun engaging with the Horizon Europe program, which supports research and development. The EU is prepared to offer expertise to potential applicants through EU tools, such as the TAIEX program”, shares Kestutis Jankauskas.

Kazakhstan is keen to draw more European universities to establish branches, campuses, and dual degree programs within its borders. The EU plans to assist in promoting and increasing the visibility of European universities in Kazakhstan by adopting a “Team Europe mode” at upcoming educational events. Collaboration with the “Bolashaq” program aims to expand the roster of certified European institutions.

“We strongly encourage Kazakhstan to integrate educational programs and research centers of the European Union into its higher education system,” he said.

Promoting Regional Stability and Cooperation

The EU is deeply committed to supporting stability and sustainable development in Central Asia. Through multiple development and cooperation programs, the EU has helped Kazakhstan and its neighbors manage their borders and counter trans-boundary threats. Programs like Ready4Trade support investments and enhance trade competitiveness, reinforcing the economic ties within the region.

“Recent initiatives have focused on sustainable water management and the Ready4Trade program, which supports investment, boosts competitiveness, and reduces cross-border trade barriers. We regularly engage in regional security dialogues with Central Asian partners, with the next round of discussions scheduled for early June in Brussels”, the Ambassador Jankauskas says.

Cultural and Tourism Exchanges

Kazakhstan's rich history and vibrant culture, combined with its commitment to modern development and international standards of human dignity, make it a unique partner for the EU.

The EU is committed to facilitating exchanges and boosting tourism, education, and business, allowing more people to experience the rich cultural exchange between EU and Kazakhstan.

“We are delighted to support this journey. Many Europeans have expressed admiration for Kazakhstan’s natural beauty, people, music, and cuisine. Our efforts are aimed towards facilitating easier exchanges, and enhancing travel, tourism, education, and business interactions between the EU member states and Kazakhstan”, he concludes.

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