NUR-SULTAN -- The European Union (EU) plans to invest €11 million ($12.4 million) in Central Asian business projects to help bolster competitiveness and economic development in the region.
The EU delegation to Kazakhstan May 28 in Nur-Sultan announced the plan at an information session devoted to the Central Asia Invest V programme.
The goal of Central Asia Invest V is to "support and enhance business competitiveness to boost investments, to develop the private sector and the economic diversification in Central Asian countries", according to an EU statement.
As part of the programme, the EU has issued a call for proposals that will aid small- and medium-sized enterprises, address issues of tax regulation and the informal economy, promote intra-regional and international trade and increase the abilities of entrepreneurs and job seekers.
The deadline is June 24.
The delegation lauded Kazakhstan's efforts in fostering closer ties and co-operation among Central Asian countries.
"Your country, given its achievements in foreign trade and investment policy, is well placed to be a leading force in promoting intra-regional integration," EU Ambassador to Kazakhstan Sven-Olov Carlsson said in the statement.
"It has valuable experience and good practices to share with its neighbours having achieved quite high levels of human capital development and poverty reduction in the region," added Carlsson.
The Central Asia Invest programme was launched in 2007. During the first 10 years, the EU allocated €23 million ($26 million) for 34 projects that came about through the co-operation of the business intermediary organisations of EU member states and of Central Asian countries, according to the statement.
In addition, "over 60 business intermediary organisations enhanced their competences in supporting micro and small- and medium-sized enterprises", which helped regional integration, said the EU.
For Shymkent-based political analyst Rauan Dautaliyev, the EU initiative helps Kazakhstan and the region tackle poverty and curb radicalisation of youth.
"The [EU] is one of the most important partners of Kazakhstan," he said in an interview. "With the adoption of a new programme on Central Asia, interaction is becoming deeper on many major issues, including co-operation and security in the region."
"Socio-economic problems are fertile soil for radicalising the population," Dautaliyev said. "Economic stability, business development, employment and the presence of a stable income and of clear goals in life are effective measures against radicalisation and the promotion of terrorism and violent extremism."
While the portrait of a potential terrorist is not always obvious, "social disorder and poverty can push someone towards radicalism," he added.
EU co-operation with Central Asia takes many forms, including the Border Management in Central Asia programme, which helps the region's countries secure their borders.
The European Council (EC), which sets general policy directions for the EU, on May 15 adopted a new strategy aimed at creating "a stronger, modern and non-exclusive partnership" with Central Asian states. Similar information sessions have been taken place in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
In the period of 2014-2020, the EU plans to invest more than €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in Central Asian countries in areas including the rule of law, the environment, water, trade and border management, according to the EU.
A day after the EU announced the new Central Asian grant, EC President Donald Tusk kicked off his Central Asian tour on May 29.
As part of his visits on May 29 through June 2, Tusk discussed regional and bilateral co-operation, the environment, border management and regional security with the leaders of each nation.
Tusk's official visit in Kazakhstan was tied to the annual celebration of Europe Day in Nur-Sultan on May 31. The day included a special programme called "Unity in Diversity" at the Nur-Sultan Ballet Theatre.
The EU delegation to Kazakhstan organised the event with the aim of presenting the culture and traditions of Europe.
"Kazakhstan is a key partner for the European Union, and our relations have never been stronger," Carlsson, the EU diplomat, said before the concert.
Attendees at the concert included Kazakh officials, diplomats posted in Nur-Sultan, business leaders, and residents of and visitors to Nur-Sultan.
"It is symbolic that the concert was held on Europe Day in Kazakhstan. We felt the spirit of Europe and European values through contact with beautiful works of art," said Ainur Omarova, a 51-year-old resident of Nur-Sultan.