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First president of #Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 80th birthday and his role in international relations



Aigul Kuspan, the ambassador of Kazakhstan to the Kingdom of Belgium and head of mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the European Union, looks at the life and achievements of Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Aigul Kuspan, the Ambassador of Kazakhstan

Ambassador Kuspan

6 July 2020 marked the 80th birthday of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan - Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev. Rise of my country from just a chunk of Soviet Union to a trusted partner in international relations – including the EU and Belgium - is a story of a leadership success for which First President should be granted. He had to build a country, to establish an army, our own police, our internal life, everything from roads to the constitution. Elbasy had to change minds of Kazakh people to 180 degrees, from totalitarian regime to democracy, from state property to private property.

Kazakhstan in international relations

First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev took a historic decision in 1991 to renounce the World’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, enabling Kazakhstan and the entire Central Asian region to become free of nuclear weapons. Due to his strong desire on making World a peaceful place for all of us, he is recognized as an outstanding statesman within Kazakhstan and all over the World.

Proactive diplomacy became one of the key tools in ensuring the sovereignty and security of Kazakhstan and the consistent promotion of the country’s national interests. Based on the principles of multi-vector cooperation and pragmatism, Nursultan Nazarbayev established constructive relationships with our closest neighbours China, Russia, Central Asian countries, and the rest of the World.

From a European and international perspective, the heritage of the First President is equally impressive: Nursultan Nazarbayev has committed his life in contributing to regional and international peace, stability and dialogue. With his European counterparts, he has established the foundations for the landmark EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA). He initiated numerous international integration and dialogue processes, including Astana Peace Talks on Syria, the UN General Assembly resolution calling for an International Day Against Nuclear Tests, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council).

Nursultan Nazarbayev at UN Security Council, 2018

The chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010 and the UN Security Council in January 2018 (which form the agenda for security issues for the whole world) has shown success and viability of the path chosen by Nursultan Nazarbayev in the international arena.

OSCE Summit in Nur-Sultan, 2010

Kazakhstan-EU relations

Kazakhstan is an important and trusted partner for the European Union. With his European counterparts, First President has laid the foundations for the landmark EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) which entered into force on March 1st, 2020. The Agreement marks the beginning of a brand new stage of Kazakh-European relations and provides wide opportunities for building up full-scale cooperation in the long term. I am confident that the effective implementation of the Agreement will allow us to diversify trade, expand economic ties, attract investments and new technologies. The significance of cooperation is also reflected in the trade and investment relationship. The EU is a Kazakhstan’s principal trading partner, representing 40% of the external trade. It is also the main foreign investor in my country, accounting for 48% of the total (gross) foreign direct investment.

Nursultan Nazarbayev and Donald Tusk

Bilateral relations between Belgium and Kazakhstan

Being accredited as an Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium, I am pleased that the relationship between Kazakhstan and Belgium has been continuously strengthened since my country’s independence. On December 31st, 1991 the Kingdom of Belgium officially recognised the state sovereignty of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The foundation of the bilateral relations started by an official visit of President Nazarbayev to Belgium in 1993, where he met with King Boudewijn I and Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene.

Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Brussels eight times, most recently in 2018. Cultural exchanges have taken place between Belgium and Kazakhstan beyond high-level visits. In 2017 our countries celebrated their 25th anniversary of the bilateral relationship. There have also been several high-level visits from the Belgian side to Kazakhstan. First visit in 1998 of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, as well as two visits of Crown Prince and King of Belgium Philippe in 2002, 2009 and 2010. Inter-parliamentary relations are developing positively as an effective tool for strengthening political dialogue.

Meeting with King Philippe

Strong diplomatic relationship has been continuously developing by supporting mutually beneficial trade relationship. The economic exchanges between Belgium and Kazakhstan have also had a substantial increase since 1992 with priority areas of co-operation in energy, healthcare, agricultural sectors, between seaports and in new technologies. In 2019, the amount of commercial exchanges increased to more than €636 million. As of 1 May, 2020, 75 enterprises with Belgian assets were registered in Kazakhstan. The volume of Belgian investments into Kazakh economy has reached €7.2 billion during the period of 2005 to 2019.

 Official reception in the Egmont Palace

The legacy of the first president

First President Nursultan Nazarbayev has led my country from 1990 to 2019. In the early 1990’s, Elbasy guided the country during the financial crisis that affected the whole post-Soviet area. Further challenges were waiting ahead when the First President had to deal with the 1997 East Asian crisis and 1998 Russian financial crisis which affected the development of our country. In response, Elbasy implemented a series of economic reforms to ensure the necessary growth of the economy. During this time, Nursultan Nazarbayev oversaw the privatisation of the oil industry and brought the necessary investment from Europe, United States, China and other countries.

Because of historical circumstances Kazakhstan became ethnically diverse country. The First President ensured the equality of rights of all people in Kazakhstan, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliations as a guiding principle of state policy. This has been one of the leading reforms that has led to the continued political stability and peace in the domestic policy. Throughout further economic reforms and modernization, social welfare in the country has increased and a growing middle class has emerged. More importantly, shifting the Capital from Almaty to Nur-Sultan as a new administrative and political centre of Kazakhstan, has led to the further economic development of whole country.

One of the most important challenges Nursultan Nazarbayev outlined for the country was the Kazakhstan’s 2050 strategy. The goal of this program is to promote Kazakhstan into one of the 30 most developed countries in the World. It has launched the next phase of modernisation of Kazakhstan’s economy and civil society. This program has led to implementation of five institutional reforms as well as the Nation’s 100 Concrete Steps Plan to modernise the economy and state institutions. The First President’s ability to develop constructive international and diplomatic relations has been a leading factor of the country’s development and has led to a flow of billions of euros of investment into Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, my country has joined the top 50 competitive economies of the World.

A highlight of the First President’s legacy was his decision not to pursue a nuclear state. This promise was backed up by closing the World’s largest nuclear testing site in Semipalatinsk, as well as a complete abandonment of Kazakhstan’s nuclear weapons program. Elbasy was also one of the leaders promoting the integration processes in Eurasia. This integration led to the Eurasian Economic Union, which has grown to a large association of member countries assuring free flows of goods, services, labour and capital, and has benefited Kazakhstan and its neighbours.

In 2015, First President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that the election would be his last and that “once institutional reforms and economic diversification are achieved; the country should undergo a constitutional reform that entails the transfer of power from the president to the parliament and the government.

Stepping down from his position in 2019, promptly replaced by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the new leadership continued to operate in the first President’s spirit of economic development and constructive international cooperation.

As President Tokayev mentioned in his recent article: “Undoubtedly, only a real politician, wise and forward-looking, can choose his own path, being between two parts of the World - Europe and Asia, two civilizations - Western and Eastern, two systems - totalitarian and democratic. With all these components, Elbasy was able to form a new type of state combining Asian traditions and Western innovations. Today, the whole world knows our country as a peace-loving transparent state, which actively participate in the integration processes."

Visit to Belgium for 12th ASEM Summit, 2018


#COVID-19 - Sassoli: Strasbourg declared red zone



European Parliament President David Sassoli (pictured) said: "The seat of the European Parliament is Strasbourg, this is laid down in the Treaties that we want to respect. We have done everything to resume the normal course of our plenary sessions in Strasbourg. However, the resurgence of the pandemic in many member states and the decisions taken by the French authorities to classify the entire Lower Rhine department as a red zone, obliges us to reconsider the move to Strasbourg.

"While we are very disappointed about this decision, we have to consider that the transfer of the administration of the European Parliament would entail quarantine for all staff upon their return to Brussels. We are going through a difficult time and I am grateful for all the co-operation, availability and expertise shown by the City of Strasbourg, the health authorities, and the government. The European Parliament's wish is to return to Strasbourg and we are confident that, in the face of a decline of the pandemic, this will be possible. The plenary session of the European Parliament from 14 to 17 September will take place in Brussels."

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Deep concerns in Brussels about the fight against corruption in #Ukraine



Brussels observers of the fight against corruption in Ukraine have expressed deep concerns about the efficiency of policies put in place in the last five years, during an online dialogue between the Polita think tank in Kyiv and the Brussels Press Club on 2 September, writes Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers.

On 28 August, the Constitutional Court declared a decree by President Petro Poroshenko in April 2015 appointing Artem Sytnyk as the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) unconstitutional.

In May 2020, the Constitutional Court received a motion from 51 MPs challenging the constitutionality of the presidential appointment of Sytnyk as NABU director five years earlier. Some anti-corruption watchdogs consider Sytnyk to be the victim of a cabal organized behind the scenes by billionaire businessmen such as Igor Kolomoisky and Oleg Bakhmatyuk, along with Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov. NABU has investigated controversial activities of their companies as well as of Avakov’s family.

This latest incident on the bumpy road of reform for the judiciary demonstrates that anti-corruption policies are still undermined by very powerful stakeholders in Ukraine. There are also too many anti-corruption institutions that can be manipulated by prosecutors, judges and MPs who are on the payroll of extremely rich businessmen.

National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU)

NABU was created in 2015. It currently has 653 employees, including 245 detectives, who are paid high salaries to mitigate the temptations of corruption.

NABU boasts of having opened 406 criminal proceedings and served 125 individuals with charges during the first half of 2020. However, only 33 cases have been sent to court and, in total, only five convictions have been handed down against six people.

One of the reproaches of Ukrainian human rights organizations is that since 2015, no prominent corrupt official has been convicted. In its issue published on 21 February 2020, Kyiv Post reported that as of 1 January 2020, only 32 guilty verdicts had been issued in five years and that of these only lower level bureaucrats had been sentenced and smaller schemes had been dismantled. Two emblematic cases, among many others, remain unresolved as of today.

The first case concerns the Privatbank owned by Igor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Bogolyubov. It was subject to large scale coordinated fraud which resulted in losses amounting to at least USD 5.5 billion before nationalisation in 2016. As a last resort, Ukrainian tax-payers had to bail this bank out.

In the case of the Rotterdam+ scheme, the fraudulent overpricing of energy is estimated at over USD 710 million. The main beneficiary is said to be businessman Rinat Akhmetov, who controls 90% of the coal in Ukraine.

The High Council of Justice

One highly controversial institution is the High Council of Justice, which is tasked with determining the outcome of the new judicial reform bill that was submitted by President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Ukrainian Parliament on 22 June 2020. Many of its members have a toxic reputation and have been accused of corruption and ethics violations, which they deny.

One of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) criteria for the payment of USD 5 billion for a reform program was that Ukraine must create a commission tasked with monitoring and firing tainted members of the High Council of Justice. This commission was to include foreign experts to provide impartiality. However, the new bill does not envisage the creation of such a commission and the firing of controversial members of the High Council of Justice would exclusively be decided by a majority of its own members without any involvement of foreign experts.

Furthermore, according to Ukraine’s agreement with the IMF, Kyiv was obligated to create a High Commission of Qualification of Judges by 7 February. This would be the competent body for hiring and firing judges, and would also include foreign experts. These foreign experts should have been appointed by the High Council before mid-January, but they weren’t.

Instead, in December 2019, the High Council of Justice swiftly published rules depriving international experts of any major role in decision making processes, which was in direct contradiction of the IMF deal.

Now, Zelensky’s new bill stipulates that a selection panel comprised of three members of the Ukrainian Council of Judges and three foreign experts would choose new members of the High Commission of Qualification of Judges. It also states that the international experts may be nominated by foreign organizations, but that the High Council of Justice will have the final say regarding the hiring of nominees. This opens the door to manipulation of this process and will likely prevent any real reform, according to some anti-corruption watchdogs.

In conclusion, the June draft law fails to respect the judicial reform criteria of the IMF memorandum which Ukraine must comply with by October 2020 to receive the next tranche of USD 5 billion. The bill even goes in the opposite direction as it strengthens the High Council, which is actively sabotaging the IMF’s reform program.

It is thus unsurprising that 76% of the general public distrust the judiciary according to a Razumkov Center poll published in February, as it is apparent that even the reform process is fraught with corruption.

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Two European patients re-infected with #Coronavirus




Two European patients are confirmed to have been re-infected with the coronavirus, raising concerns about people’s immunity to the virus as the world struggles to tame the pandemic, write Anthony Deutsch and Philip Blenkinsop.

The cases, in Belgium and the Netherlands, follow a report this week by researchers in Hong Kong about a man there who had been re-infected with a different strain of the virus four and a half months after being declared recovered - the first such re-infection to be documented. That has fuelled fears about the effectiveness of potential vaccines against the virus, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, though experts say there would need to be many more cases of re-infection for these to be justified.

Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst said the Belgian case was a woman who had contracted COVID-19 for the first time in March and then again in June. Further cases of re-infection were likely to surface, he said. “We don’t know if there will be a large number. I think probably not, but we will have to see,” he told Reuters, noting that COVID-19 had only been in humans for less than a year. “Perhaps a vaccine will need to be repeated every year, or within two or three years. It seems clear though that we won’t have something that works for, say, 10 years,” he said.

Van Ranst, who sits on some Belgian COVID-19 committees, said in cases such as the Belgian woman’s in which symptoms were relatively mild, the body may not have created enough antibodies to prevent a re-infection, although they might have helped limit the sickness.

he National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands said it had also observed a Dutch case of re-infection. Virologist Marion Koopmans was quoted by Dutch broadcaster NOS as saying the patient was an older person with a weakened immune system. She said cases where people have been sick with the virus a long time and it then flares up again were better known. But a true re-infection, as in the Dutch, Belgian and Hong Kong cases, required genetic testing of the virus in both the first and second infection to see whether the two instances of the virus differed slightly.

Koopmans, an adviser to the Dutch government, said re-infections had been expected. “That someone would pop up with a re-infection, it doesn’t make me nervous,” she said. “We have to see whether it happens often.” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a UN briefing in Geneva regarding the Hong Kong case that, while anecdotal reports of reinfections had surfaced now and then, it was important to have clear documentation of such cases. Some experts say it is likely that such cases are starting to emerge because of greater testing worldwide, rather than because the virus may be spreading differently.

Still, Dr David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and chair of the British Medical Association’s medical academic staff committee, said the cases were worrying for several reasons. “The first is that it suggests that previous infection is not protective,” he said. “The second is that it raises the possibility that vaccinations may not provide the hope that we have been waiting for.”

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