Despite the difficulties of representing 28 countries and more than 500 million people, the European Union has been remarkably successful in delivering peace and prosperity.
The EU’s foundations were laid when Europe was still recovering from the second devastating war between its countries in a generation. It’s a mark of its success that it’s now impossible to believe its member nations could again descend into armed conflict. On the economic front, the removal of barriers has also spurred co-operation, growth and rising living standards.
This success is why the EU was hailed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev two decades ago as a model for economic co-operation in our region, report The Astana Times. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which grew out of his vision, is still in its infancy. But there are signs that the EAEU can deliver rewards for its members and provide a wider economic boost.
As the EU has shown, a successful economic union should not be inward-looking. Economic co-operation is not a zero-sum game but benefits all participants.
February marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the EU, which has become the foundation of a strong and growing economic and political partnership.
The European Union is Kazakhstan’s biggest trade and investment partner. It is the major market for the country’s oil and gas, a supply which helps ease its energy security concerns. In all, the EU accounts for 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s external trade. It is trade, too, where there remains room for growth. In the first 10 months of last year, Kazakh trade with EU countries grew 23 percent compared to the same period in 2016 and amounted to over $24 billion.
It is the same story on investment. While Kazakhstan has been successful attracting funding from diverse partners in recent years, direct investment from EU member countries in 2016, at nearly $11 billion, was just about half of the annual total. The European Investment Bank and other international financial institutions have helped fund improvements in Kazakhstan’s economy, including $247.3 million last year to develop its agriculture sector.
Behind these impressive statistics are hundreds of individual partnerships between European companies and their Kazakh counterparts. More than 6,000 joint ventures, including major firms as well as, increasingly, small and medium-sized businesses operate in Kazakhstan.
Accdoring to The Astana Times, Kazakhstan’s oil and gas sector is where co-operation is strong and long-standing. But the recent opening of a Kazakh-French plant to produce radar equipment – the first in Central Asia – is one example of new high-tech ventures beyond the commodities sphere.
There is strong interest from EU companies in the next stage of the modernisation and diversification of the Kazakh economy. Sustainable energy production and use is an area rich for co-operation as EXPO 2017 underlined. More joint ventures in engineering and manufacturing have recently been set up.
The relationship between the EU and Kazakhstan goes beyond commercial. Over the last 25 years, the EU and its institutions, as well as individual member countries, have given Kazakhstan strong and welcome support as we transitioned from being part of the Soviet Union to a modern, stable independent nation. In turn, Kazakhstan earned recognition as the EU’s key partner in the region, working together on shared foreign policy goals.
It is why, before the 25th anniversary was reached, a new Agreement on Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation was drawn up and has been operating provisionally since May 2016. (For its full entry into force, the ratification by nine remaining EU member states is required while 19 states have already ratified). The agreement – the first of its kind for a Commonwealth of Independent States country – has also in the last few weeks been endorsed in the European Parliament.
As The Astana Times report, during the debate over the agreement, European Commissioner for Justice Vera Yurova said the relationship between the EU and Kazakhstan had never been stronger. The history of the last 25 years suggests that there is plenty of potential to deepen this partnership in the years ahead.