EU Commission President Barroso Begins First Official Visit to Astana

ASTANA, June 2 – On June 1, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso arrived in Kazakhstan on his first official visit meant to advance both economic and political bilateral ties.

On Sunday, June 2, Kazakhstan Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov met Jose Manuel Barroso, and the two officials discussed a wide range of topical issues of the Kazakhstan-EU cooperation and exchanged views on regional and international agenda.

“Our relations with the EU have been and remain a strategic priority,” Akhmetov said. The head of the European Commission called for further deepening of relations across the spectrum of the relationship.

One of the key issues for discussion at the meeting was a new agreement on enhanced partnership and cooperation. The parties agreed to give an impetus to the preparation of this document. According to Akhmetov, the agreement will bring the relationship between Kazakhstan and the EU to a new level. The two also discussed the prospects of Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The government of Kazakhstan is grateful for your support in negotiations on the WTO accession. We hope Kazakhstan, having covered a difficult road, will soon join the organization,” Akhmetov emphasized.

For his part, Barroso said “the European Union, the European Commission will continue to support Kazakhstan’s efforts to join the WTO.”

Earlier on the same day, Nurlan Nigmatulin, the Mazhilis Speaker, met Barroso and discussed a range of issues of Kazakhstan-EU cooperation. Nigmatulin emphasized that expanding the partnership with the European Union is one of the strategic priorities of foreign policy of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In turn, Jose Manuel Barroso noted that under the leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev Kazakhstan achieved progress and it became an important country for the EU in the framework of bilateral relations as well as within the region. The Mazhilis Speaker expressed confidence the EU states will be able to participate in the preparation and holding of the international specialized exhibition EXPO 2017, to take placein Astana under the theme of Future Energy.

Nigmatulin and Barroso expressed confidence further development of inter-parliamentary relations will match the spirit of partnership and promote greater understanding and cooperation between Kazakhstan and the EU.

On the same day, Barroso delivered a lecture at Astana’s Lev Gumilyov Eurasian National University (ENU) and answered questions from its students. His visit commemorates the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and the European Union.

Welcoming Barroso to the university, Rector Yerlan Sydykov underlined the importance of the visit and the value of strong partnership between Kazakhstan and the EU not only in economic but also in the the education sphere. He also mentioned the beneficial impact of integrating international education standards into Kazakhstan’s education system, and emphasized the growing interest of local students in Erasmus Mundus programme.

Before giving the floor to Barroso, Sydykov awarded him the title of ENU honorable professor.

During one hour, the EC President described current relations between the European Union and Kazakhstan and outlined their prospects.

One of the most important issues is transportation, Barroso said, adding that “it is in our mutual interest to modernize our transportation links, especially aviation.”

Barroso also underlined the achievements of the country of his visit.

“Kazakhstan has been able in recent years to improve the well-being of its people, thanks to an impressive economic growth. In 15 years, Kazakhstan’s GDP has increased by 16 times. And GDP per capita grew seven fold from US$1,500 in 1999, to US$12,000 in 2012. And those indicators are impressive,” he said.

Talking about achievements further, Barroso mentioned joint projects. “The upcoming opening of the Kashagan oil field – one of the largest projects in the world in the past few decades – will become a symbol of what Kazakhstan has achieved in the energy sector. It is also a symbol of strong relations between Kazakhstan and European Union, which are driven by mutual investments, as well as substantial energy trade,” he said.

The EU is Kazakhstan’s largest trade partner, accounting for about 50 percent in the country’s total external trade. The European Union also remains the largest investor in Kazakhstan. In 2012, EU imports from Kazakhstan were about 24.4 billion euros, while European exports amounted to 6.9 billion euros, resulting in a total trade value of 31.3 billion euros.

In this connection, Barroso also underlined changing global realities, such as the growth of the world’s population and, as a result, the growth in the consumption of natural and energy resources. According to the speaker, “The Kazakhstan 2050 strategy and green economy concept, aimed at decreasing the dependence of the economy on natural resources, which Kazakhstan’s authorities have just embraced, are not only commendable, but are visionary.”

“The European Union has also adopted 2020 Strategy, aimed at smart sustainable inclusive economy, among targets are 20% of reduction of green house gases, 20% of renewable and 20% of energy efficiency by 2020, and the EU has wealth of expertise in this area and is willing to share it with Kazakhstan,” the European Commission President declared.

Barroso also congratulated Astana on winning the right to host EXPO 2017 and stressed that the theme of the exhibition, “Future Energy”, will create an additional space for cooperation between administrations, businesses, civil societies, and universities in Europe and Kazakhstan.

“We are living in an ever more interdependent world, where the technology has made us all neighbours. We are increasingly seing how actions of one nation can impact on us all. We have a common interest in global concerns such as climate change, but also in other fields such as the fight against extremism, terrorism and for non-proliferation. The EU wishes to work closely with Kazakhstan in facing all these challenges. Your perspective on issues regarding stability in a wider region is one which is highly valued,” he continued.

“Kazakhstan has been rightly open to the neighbouring regions and the rest of the world. Cooperation is the key to facing today’s challenges… Cooperation should build bridges between countries and societies and not subtract them,” the speaker continued.

“We have started from a small beginning and day by day we will build our friendly and neighbourly relations… As the great Kazakh poet, Abay Kunanbayev, said, ‘the source of success is unity’ and united we shall continue, planting what one day will become the source of a solid trunk,” Barroso concluded his address.

The audience, which included ambassadors and professors in addition to students, liked Barroso’s ability to answer not only general questions but tough ones with ease.

Azamat, a graduate student of the Journalism and Political Science Faculty who didn’t give his last name, asked the lecturer about his personal assessment of EU integration processes.

“My honest assessment after nine years in my position is that the integration process will overcome all difficulties and the EU will become stronger. Disregarding the negative economic and social impact, if you look at the decisions taken last year, all of them were for more integration, not less. As of July 1, Croatia will become the 28th EU member state. To date, 27 of us [27 member state of the EU], have been accepting the sharing of sovereignty, and we understood that we need stronger economic governance,” Barroso said.

He also criticised negative attitudes towards further European integration.

“Today it seems that the more pessimistic the person is, the more intelligent he looks, what I personally call ‘international glamour of negativity’,” Barroso noted.

“As students you have to look at trends, not at news that happen today. And the EU demonstrates a good trend. The EU integration process began after the Second World War with only six member states and today there are 27 of us… Twenty, forty years ago there was no democracy in many parts of Europe and when you look at today’s situation, it is much better than decades ago,” he emphasized.

“I believe the EU integration process will continue to get out of difficulties that some of our member states are facing, more resilient and stronger. Which is good for the EU, for our neighbours, friends and the wider world,” he concluded.

Dina Tortagulova, a master’s degree student of Architecture and Construction Faculty asked Barroso about the current priorities of EU-Kazakhstan relations.

“We would like to strengthen economic, trade and investment fields. Political dialogue, like rule of law, human rights and external security issues, where Kazakhstan places such an important role in maintaining regional stability, are also important for the relations. As well as people to people contacts, research and innovation… All these broad concepts make build comprehensive relationship between Kazakhstan and the EU,” he commented.

“EU higher education institutions are highly recognized for the quality and research, however, they also face challenges of current transformation in educational sphere. What is your vision of a world-class university today?” a teacher of the Philology Department at the university, Aliya Tulemetova, asked.

“We need more and more critical capacity, we need to develop minds that are critical to understand challenges we live in. It is the society, the power capacity, the knowledge of each individual to be decisive. Top universities will be those who practice cross fertilization, are open to the world and interdisciplinary. Educated societies will do much better in the future,” Barroso answered.

“The EU and the USA have good relations and work closely in many areas. The US is very important power in the world… To date, we prepare to launch the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which is to be the biggest in the world. If it’s concluded, it will contribute to the creation of a more open economic space,” Barroso said in reply to a question regarding relations between EU and the USA from another student.

Perhaps, some of the more interesting questions came at the end of the session.

“Following news over the past year, one could conclude that corporations and banks have gained more power and weight. Previously state owned facilities, such as railroads and hospitals, in some countries today are owned by corporations. Sometimes it seems the EU is ruled by banks not politicians,” Alibek Akylbekov, an ENU student, said.

“To some extent this is right. Insufficient supervision of the financial sector has caused the crisis in the EU. After the crisis, which has started with Lehman Brother in the US, we saw that our difficulty was to control all that happens in the financial spheres. It was an EU initiative to create G20, at the heads of state level, to work together for more proper regulation… States and politicians can also make a lot of mistakes. The best thing is to empower the people; societies should be more attentive to what is going around. One of the lessons of the crisis is that we should not let some of the sectors be left out of proper level of control and supervision,” Barroso underlined.

Yerlan Yerzhanov, a graduate student of ENU, said he “was very interested in the lecture, as it gave an opportunity to not only hear but also ask questions and discuss important issues on the agenda.”

“I believe visits of such influential officials to Kazakhstan and readiness of world powers to promote and strengthen cooperation between them and Kazakhstan will positively affect the situation in the region and hopefully in the world,” Yerzhanov said.

Barroso’s visit to Kazakhstan will continue on June 3 when more high level meetings, including the one with President Nazarbayev, are to take place.

José Manuel Barroso, 57, began his political career in 1980 when he joined the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in Portugal. As Portuguese State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, he played a key role as mediator in the signing of the peace accords for Angola in Bicesse in 1991, and as Minister for Foreign Affairs he was a driving force in the self-determination process in East Timor between 1992 and 1995. Under his leadership, the PSD won the general election in 2002 and he was appointed Prime Minister of Portugal in April of that year. He remained in office until July 2004 when he was nominated by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament as President of the European Commission. In June 2009, the European Council unanimously nominated him for a second term as President of the European Commission, and he was re-elected to the post by an absolute majority in the European Parliament in September 2009.

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