NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan and the European Union (EU) are bolstering co-operation in areas including trade, the fight against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as part of an agreement that took effect March 1.
The Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (EPCA) between the EU and Kazakhstan will strengthen ties "in areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the agreement", the Delegation of the EU to Kazakhstan said in a statement in late February.
While the agreement was signed in 2015, the EU and Kazakhstan in the past five year have worked jointly to implement priority projects, officials and analysts in Nur-Sultan said.
The accord provides for co-operation on a wide range of issues, including international peace, nuclear security and the fight against weapon smuggling.
'A new era of partnership'
Kazakhstan's co-operation with the EU is facilitated by the new EU strategy for Central Asia, which the Brussels-based bloc adopted in 2019 in order to strengthen partnerships.
"This is a new era of partnership," wrote Adil Tursunov, an adviser to former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, said about the EPCA, in an article published in Kazakh media in late February.
"Kazakhstan and the European Union have gained important positive experience in co-operating in the international arena, including on the anti-nuclear track, as well as in strengthening regional stability and security," Tursunov wrote.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in a meeting last May in Nur-Sultan with Donald Tusk, the then-president of the European Council, emphasised the country's solid relationship with the EU.
"Our ties are getting stronger. We are actively involved in deepening strategic relationships and partnerships with all European countries," he said.
At that same meeting, Tusk called Kazakhstan "a key EU partner in the region".
Collaboration on trade, security
The EU plays an important role in bolstering Kazakhstan's economy, said Yernar Beisaliyev, a Nur-Sultan political scientist.
Kazakhstan repeatedly has expressed discontent with the policies of the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which has shown blatant favouritism toward Russian businesses while discriminating against their Kazakh competitors. Russia and Kazakhstan both belong to the bloc.
The EU provides an alternative.
"The European vector is one of the main strategic directions of Kazakhstan's foreign policy. Today, the European Union is a major economic partner of our country," said Beisaliyev.
"About a third of Kazakhstan's foreign trade and half of all investments in the country are attributable to EU countries," said Beisaliyev.
In addition, co-operation with the EU on security is paying off for Kazakhstan and neighbouring areas.
Since 2003, the EU-funded Border Management Programme in Central Asia (BOMCA) has helped the region's countries strengthen border security.
"Border security, the fight against radicalisation and violent extremism, profiling, de-radicalisation and many other security issues are becoming the subject of project funded by the EU or carried out with the participation of European partners and experts," Beisaliyev said.
Inter-regional problems such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism "negatively affect Kazakhstan and affect EU interests", he said.
"A good example of assistance is the EU project to promote stability and peace, which was implemented in Central Asian countries by the international NGO Internews," he said. "A media literacy programme has been running for three years. It helps ordinary people not to succumb to the tricks of extremist propaganda."
Last November, a delegation from the EU and the United Nations visited Kazakhstan as part of the joint initiative titled "Supporting the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalisation to Violence in Prisons".
The EU will support the Kazakh government in rehabilitating convicted extremists and terrorists, EU Ambassador to Kazakhstan Sven-Olov Carlsson said at the time.