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Kazakhstan reaffirms strategic partnership with EU, accelerates political reforms

Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko talked to New Europe in an unique interview a few state-wide referendum on June 5 on the adoption of amendments to the Constitution that may decide the way forward for the Central Asian nation, areas of strategic cooperation between the European Union and Kazakhstan, vitality safety, transport corridors as effectively strengthening cooperation inside Central Asia and increasing the area’s cooperation with exterior companions.

“I would say that the referendum comes as a logical step for President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev who has put forward four packages of political reforms from 2019 since he became president and who put forward very wide-ranging reform proposals in his state-of-the-nation address in mid-March. When it was all put together, it became clear the proposed amendments have to do with the 30% plus of the articles of the Constitution, meaning that one third of the Constitution needs to be changed,” Vassilenko informed New Europe in a video interview throughout his go to to Brussels on May 16.

“So, the president then decided the most democratic way to get his proposals approved would be to put them for a vote to the people. Under our law, it would be possible to pass these amendments in parliament, but the president decided that they are so wide ranging, deep and meaningful that they require the consent of the entire electorate. The previous referendum in Kazakhstan took place in 1995 when the Constitution under which we lived for 27 years had been approved. Further amendments to this Constitution were introduced through parliament but again this time the president’s decision was that these amendments were so wide ranging and deep that they require the consent of the entire electorate,” Vassilenko mentioned.

“The expectations are that the people would, of course, debate this offer from the president. The whole package is put forward for the people to vote on,” he mentioned, explaining that it’s a sure or no vote. “Under our law, a minimum of 50% of the voter turnout is required for the referendum to become valid. Also, a minimum of 50% and above is required for the decision of the referendum to be legitimate. Right now, the challenge is to convince the people that this is the chance for the people to vote on the future of their country,” the deputy overseas minister mentioned.

According to him, there’s a sense that these amendments are preferred by the folks, that folks would wish to assist that. He famous that there’s a problem that there could be some complacency and a few folks could determine that there is no such thing as a level in going and voting as a result of there’s such a large assist for the amendments, and they’re going to supposedly go anyway. “So, the complacency is basically the opponent of the referendum, and we need to, as a government, as a state to explain the meaning of these amendments, the importance of these amendments for the people and the importance of the vote for the referendum,” Vassilenko mentioned.

Kazakhstan has invited worldwide observers from quite a few organizations together with Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Organization of Turkic States, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, in addition to the Office of democratic establishments and human rights (ODIHR) of the Organization of Security and Co-operation of Europe (OSCE). “We hope all these organizations observe the referendum, help us improve the electoral process thought their observations, through their recommendations so when we come up to the next round of the elections, we can take them into account,” Vassilenko mentioned.

Strengthening native self-government

“As part of these reforms we are talking about the strengthening of the Mazhilis (lower house) of Parliament and its powers and beginning with the way the Mazhilis is created. According to the proposed reform, 70% of the Mazhilis will be elected through the party lists and 30% of the seats will be filled through single vote constituencies. Up to know it’s a 100% party list proportional system,” Vassilenko mentioned. “But at the regional assembly level the breakdown is going even further towards strengthening the connection with the electorate, meaning that 50% of those seats will be filled through the party lists and 50% will be filled through direct vote and even at the lower level the election will be fully made through the individual constituencies, without party lists,” he added.

According to Vassilenko, the native assemblies in areas will now have a selection between the 2 choices provided by Kazakhstan’s President as head of the area. “Up until now they basically vote on just one individual that is proposed by the president, but this will change and they will have a genuine choice between the two options thus again having a bigger say in how the regions in which these assemblies are created are run. There is also a greater effort to devolve more responsibility for collecting and using the taxes. Right now, there are six categories of taxes that are collected by local authorities and spent locally. This will increase to 13 categories of taxes that the local authorities will collect and use the money collected locally without sending to central government,” he mentioned.

Asked if Kazakhstan is trying on the EU mannequin, Vassilenko reminded that Tokayev, in his state of the nation handle on March 16, put ahead a proposal for Kazakhstan to contemplate becoming a member of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. “Unfortunately, this Charter is not open for joining by countries that are not members of the Council of Europe but there is a possibility to apply the provisions, the principles outlined in this charter in our national legislation, and the work is being done to do just that,” Vassilenko mentioned.

EU-Kazakhstan strategic cooperation

Turning to EU-Kazakhstan cooperation, Vassilenko mentioned the muse for relations between Brussels and Nur-Sultan is the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which entered into full power on March 2, 2020. “It covers 29 areas of cooperation but in recent months especially the top priority, top attention by all officials is given to connectivity, to transportation, to finding many alternative routes to transport goods between Central Asia, between China and then Central Asia and Europe,” he mentioned.

Another vital space of rising cooperation is essential uncooked supplies. Vassilenko famous Kazakhstan has fairly an excellent variety of deposits and it may be companions for the European Battery Alliance and European Raw Materials Alliance, and there’s potential for nice cooperation on this space.

Another space is the inexperienced vitality and there are a number of tasks supported by the European Union however carried out by European corporations to develop renewable vitality sources in Kazakhstan in addition to to supply inexperienced hydrogen, he mentioned.

Moreover, training is at all times a precedence. “We, of course, are interested in further expanding this cooperation through the Horizon 2020 program,” he mentioned.

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Also, on Kazakhstan’s precedence listing is to extend and enhance the circumstances for folks’s mobility. This is an space which is offered for in Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) which states that the EU and Kazakhstan will assist higher folks’s mobility. “As of the beginning of this year, we restored the visa free travel for citizens of all EU member states which was suspended during the two years of the pandemic. Now we would like to see some progress on the visa facilitation for Kazakh citizens to the European Union. We do not ask for visa free travel, but we ask for some facilitating arrangements for issuing the visas, and this is a priority for Kazakhstan,” Vassilenko mentioned.

Turning to the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister mentioned, “That’s one of the issues that is being discussed right now on how to strengthen and expand this cooperation between logistics companies, national transportation companies of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey”.

On March 31, 4 nations – Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Kazakhstan – signed a quadrilateral assertion on the event of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor, aimed toward strengthening cooperation and growing the transit potential of the nations alongside the hall. “National railway corporations pledged to work collectively to strengthen this cooperation. There is loads of work that must be completed to synchronize the efforts. It has to do with tariffs, it has to do with provision of rolling inventory, of locomotives, of scheduling, et cetera.

There is a really profitable instance that we have already got of getting comparable preparations with the Russian and Belarussian railway corporations beneath the United Transport and Logistics Company with Kazakhstan. Three railway corporations established a joint firm and for the previous 9 years it labored very effectively to move cargo from China, from Central Asia throughout Kazakhstan, throughout Russia and Belarus into Poland, after which additional to Germany and different locations. We wish to replicate that with the Middle Corridor,” Vassilenko mentioned.

“Happiness is having multiple options for transporting your goods. There is also the option to transport cargo across the Caspian Sea. We have two ports, Aktau and Kuryk, on the Caspian Sea; their throughput capacity is 27 million tons, but it has not been used in full. It has been used only maybe up to 20%-25% of its capacity. So, there is potential to use and expand these opportunities and have more options to export goods,” he mentioned.

Asked how Kazakhstan can contribute to EU vitality safety, Vassilenko informed New Europe there’s a German-Swedish firm Svevind which is planning to construct photo voltaic and wind energy stations to supply about 45 MW of electrical energy. “Furthermore, they are looking at a much more ambitious project, and their goal is to produce from this electricity green hydrogen and then export it to Europe. So, we have a lot of potential not just in batteries and critical raw materials but in producing green hydrogen. It requires a lot of effort, a lot of investment but this is something that is already being worked on,” he mentioned.

Central Asia cooperation

Asked about safety points in Central Asia, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister mentioned his nation has at all times been of the place that multilateral diplomacy particularly is the way in which to stop issues from occurring after which resolve them in the event that they exist. He reminded that Kazakhstan is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) which now brings collectively 27 nations. “In Central Asia correct, we now have at all times advocated for stronger regional dialogue between the 5 nations. Since 2018, such a dialogue has been launched at a really excessive stage. Three such conferences of the leaders of 5 nations befell starting with the one in Astana in 2018. We’re now taking a look at a way more bold plan of cooperation between the 5 nations. It contains cooperation in varied areas, however the safety cooperation is dealt by different establishments which I discussed already equivalent to Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and CICA.

I must also point out the OSCE, however I must also point out the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Some of the nations in Central Asia are CSTO members equivalent to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Others aren’t. For us, the primary concept, the primary aim is to strengthen throughout the board cooperation amongst 5 nations – financial, commerce, political – in order that we resolve these issues that exist between the nations. They at all times exist, we now have an enormous problem with managing water assets which have gotten more and more scarce in our area, for instance. So, once more, our concept is to proceed with this dialogue among the many 5 nations of Central Asia,” Vassilenko mentioned.

“We also support various dialogue formats between the five countries of Central Asia and other international actors. For example, EU-Central Asia dialogue or Central Asia Plus One, meaning the United States, or Central Asia Plus South Korea or Central Asia Plus India or Central Asia Plus China or Central Asia Plus Russia. In other words, these are the formats where outside partners of the five countries want to engage with the region as a region, and we welcome these platforms because they have different angles, different focuses depending on the international partner, and different scopes, different history, some are rather new such as the ones with China and Russia, others such as with the United States, is now six years old, with the European Union it is much older, much more established. With Japan or South Korea, they are much more established and has been in existence much longer. To sum up, first we want to strengthen cooperation in Central Asia, within Central Asia and then we want to strengthen cooperation of Central Asia with outside partners,” Vassilenko mentioned.

He famous that apparently the EU is the biggest buying and selling associate as a bloc not only for Kazakhstan but additionally for different nations in Central Asia. “Our neighbors in Central Asia stand for very limited trade volume between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and other countries in Central Asia. So, we want to expand trade within Central Asia because there is great potential, and this trade has not lived up to its full potential in the 30 years of our independent life where we sought commercial partners, investment partners beyond the region. Secondly, we want to expand trade between our region and Central Asia and this is where the EU Global Gateway program is handy or the EU Strategy on Central Asia is useful,” Vassilenko mentioned.

He added, “So, there is framework, there is a political focus in the EU about how to expand its cooperation with Central Asia. We are working together to make it a reality”.

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