Officials in Brussels Highlight Strong and Diversifying Kazakhstan-EU Relations

ASTANA – On June 5, Brussels became the stage for an insightful panel session on the evolving and dynamic relations between Kazakhstan and the European Union (EU). Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, Roman Vassilenko, highlighted the positive momentum and future potential of this crucial partnership.

From L to R: Moderator of the event Jennifer Baker, Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko and EU Agriculture Commissioner Wojciechowski. Photo credit: Kazakh Foreign Ministry

Significant results

“The European Union is one of Kazakhstan’s key international partners. Our comprehensive dialogue enables us to address issues constructively and effectively,” said Vassilenko addressing the event in person. 

Cooperation between Astana and Brussels has yielded significant results, including the signing of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) in 2015, which  entered into force in March 2020. Kazakhstan remains the only country in Central Asia to have signed such an agreement with the EU. 

Vassilenko addresses the event. Photo credit: Kazakh Foreign Ministry

In recent years, a series of high-level visits have facilitated important political and economic discussions between Kazakhstan and the EU. 

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, paid an official visit to Kazakhstan and participated in the first-of-its-kind Central Asia – EU meeting at the presidential level, with the second meeting taking place in Cholpon-Ata in June 2023.

Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, made his first official visit to Kazakhstan in November 2022. 

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski also recently visited Kazakhstan, bringing a business delegation of senior representatives from the EU agri-food sector.

“Our joint efforts have solidified the EU’s role as Kazakhstan’s largest trading and investment partner. The EU now accounts for over 40% of foreign investment in Kazakhstan and about 30% of our foreign trade. Last year, trade turnover increased yet again by a rather modest 3.5% to $41.4 billion, according to our statistics, with Kazakh exports amounting to $31 billion,” Vassilenko noted. The Kazakh official pointed out that EU investments reached $10.4 billion in 2023. Cumulatively, the EU has invested more than $180 billion in Kazakhstan since 2005, and over 3,000 European companies are operating in the country.  

“We are very optimistic about future success stories, especially following the recent business mission of European agricultural companies to Kazakhstan, led by EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski. We see the numerous high-level meetings, talks, and business forums in Almaty and Astana with the EU delegation as having been very fruitful,” said the deputy minister. 

The Kazakh diplomat participated in the 21st meeting of the Kazakhstan – EU Cooperation Committee meeting on June 6, which he deemed “instrumental in achieving shared goals and objectives.”

Ties are diversifying

While the ties are strong, both sides are committed to further diversifying them. Vassilenko explained that they focus on several priority areas, including strengthening infrastructure and connectivity ties, developing the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), ensuring food security, addressing energy and climate change issues, and cooperating in the field of critical raw materials. 

“We hope a potential visit to Kazakhstan by the President of the European Commission will also provide a strong impetus to these plans,” added Vassilenko. 

He detailed promising ongoing projects between Kazakhstan and the EU, including a green hydrogen plant being prepared by Svevind, a German-Swedish company. 

Zhanibek Arynov, an assistant professor at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Public Policy, spoke about the volume of trade between Kazakhstan and the EU. “When we talk about EU and Kazakhstan relations, critical minerals frequently come up. I hope that in this field, we don’t end up with a situation where Kazakhstan just exports critical minerals to the European market. Instead, Kazakhstan should be able to import technology to process these minerals and export [finished] products, rather than just raw materials,” said Arynov. 

Insights from a recent EU mission to Kazakhstan

Addressing the event, Wojciechowski noted that his recent mission to Kazakhstan was of “great political importance to the EU” and of “great personal importance” to him. 

According to the commissioner, agriculture is a crucial aspect of the Kazakhstan-EU partnership.

“Although agriculture was my focus last week, I also had the opportunity to explore a broader picture of our relationship and see Kazakhstan’s great potential across a number of areas – as a source of critical mineral resources, as a middle corridor connecting Europe and Asia, and as a strategically located educational and business hub in Central Asia,” said Wojciechowski.

He shared his thoughts on how Kazakhstan and the EU can strengthen their relations and suggested continuing to expand political engagement. 

“We must work together at a technical level. A number of logistical and artificial hurdles prevent us from achieving a closer relationship, such as transit difficulties and trade barriers. During our meetings, we committed to addressing these issues from our respective services to find technical and viable solutions for both parties,” he said. 

He also stressed the importance of personal contacts. His delegation, he noted, had more than 400 business-to-business meetings with their Kazakh counterparts. 

“By establishing personal contacts in these meetings, our respective businesses have been able to develop understanding and trust, the basic foundations of any long-lasting relationship,” said Wojciechowski, expressing hope for similar success in many other areas. 


Taneli Lahti, head of the cabinet of the EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, also sees the increased engagement, noting that the frequency of high-level visits is “exceptionally high.”

“Over the past two or three years, we have witnessed a clearly strengthened momentum in our relations and cooperation. We have a very active dialogue on policy issues and policy sectors at all levels, including at the highest level,” he said.

“There is a mutual wish to deepen and develop the relations in very concrete terms. (…) With Kazakhstan, we are truly building and developing a partnership in all its facets. There is an enormous economic, political, and cultural potential there, and I see it flourishing and developing quite quickly,” said Lahti.

The European official identified connectivity, particularly transport connectivity between the EU and Central Asia, as a significant focus. 

He mentioned the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) study on transport connections between Central Asia and Europe, which was published a year ago, and the investment forum in Brussels in January, which gathered relevant stakeholders to discuss these transport links. 

Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, managing director of the European Neighborhood Council, a Brussels-based research institute, said there is a compelling reason for European companies’ current commitment to diversifying trade routes.

“We do a lot of consultations with the business sector, and whether we are talking to businesses in Germany, France, or Italy, all of them are fully aware of the fact that the Suez Canal is being disrupted,” he said. 

He cited figures from the International Monetary Fund, stating that traffic through the Suez Canal has plummeted by 60% between April 2023 and April 2024. This drastic disruption has significantly impacted global cargo trade, prompting European businesses to explore alternative routes and multi-corridor policies, including the TITR.

Vassilenko noted that disruptions in global supply chains are evident from the fluctuations in the volume of container traffic across the TITR. 

“For example, last year, the volume of container traffic across the Middle Corridor shrank by 30% because shipping by sea again became more competitive and cheaper. But now, because of these disruptions in the first four months of this year, the volume of container traffic across the Caspian Sea jumped by 70% because it is again becoming competitive. The Middle Corridor is an important alternative,” he said. 

According to him, the route perfectly complements other major transport initiatives, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the EU’s Global Gateway. 

Future of relations

Arynov stated that with a robust legal and political framework for deepening cooperation, it is time to move beyond discussions and focus on delivering tangible results. 

“Maybe in some cases, we may lack a bit of political will to be bold in not just decisions and negotiations but also in our actions. I think this is the priority. It is time to deliver,” said the Kazakh professor. 

Arynov sees it as essential not to “geopoliticize” relations with the EU, especially considering the country’s geographic location and economic ties with Russia and China. 

In his closing remarks, Vassilenko said the geopolitical landscape surrounding Kazakhstan and Central Asia is increasingly complex. This dynamic underscores the significance of Kazakhstan as a middle power within an emerging region that is increasingly assertive about its interests. 

“In fact, there is a lot of geopoliticization of relations with Kazakhstan and Central Asia. There is obviously an intensifying competition between global power players for cooperation with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states,” he said. 

Kazakhstan is positioned to play a pivotal role alongside other middle powers in bolstering the multilateral system and the international rule of law. 

“We need to continue to work as an international community to strengthen this international law-based system, and Kazakhstan, as a middle power, can help strengthen that,” he added. 

Taneli Lahti expressed confidence that Central Asia will remain on the EU agenda following the ongoing elections in the European Parliament. 

“For the near future, I am not worried at all about the importance of Central Asia on the European agenda somehow disappearing with the transition, a new parliament, and a new commission. This is a subject that enjoys so much support in the civil service [in Europe] that continuity is already ensured. But also at the political level, political leaders will want to develop this relationship further,” concluded Lahti. 

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