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Astana EXPO

A new reality in EU and #Kazakhstan co-operation

Colin Stevens



Director of the European External Action Service Luc Devigne and Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Roman Vassilenko co-chaired the Cooperation Committee meeting that met recently in Astana to make headway on issues pertaining to the EU-Kazakh Enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (EPCA), writes Colin Stevens.

The Agreement, signed in Astana in December 2015, provides significant boost to economic and political ties between the EU and Kazakhstan and enhance concrete cooperation in 29 key policy areas. These include economic and financial co-operation, energy, transport, environment and climate change, employment and social affairs, culture, education and research.

The new Agreement will also lead to enhanced co-operation in foreign and security policy, notably in the fight against terrorism, conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.  Officials say the agreement, which constitutes the first of its kind signed by the EU with one of its Central Asian partners, elevates relations between the EU and Kazakhstan to a new level.

The first meetings of the Trade Committee and of the Customs Subcommittee also took place with the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Finance of Kazakhstan.  These meetings consolidated the relations and co-operation between the EU and Kazakhstan, ensuring regional stability and development. Luc Devigne said: “Kazakhstan has become an increasingly important partner to promote peace and security in the region and globally. We will have soon our next meeting of the EU-Central Asia High Level Political and Security Dialogue.”

The Co-operation Committee discussed a number of issues of importance to both parties, notably political and economic reforms, the rule of law, trade and economic relations, and international issues. The protection of human rights, civil society development, education and research were also discussed, together with energy, transport and security issues such as counter-terrorism, border management and the fight against drug trafficking.

The Trade Committee discussed the state of play of the implementation of the trade chapter of the Agreement, notably the transit of goods from the EU to Kazakhstan, sanitary and phytosanitary matters, Intellectual Property Rights and recent trends in the investment climate.

The Subcommittee on Customs discussed customs cooperation, addressing in particular trade facilitation, mutual administrative assistance and the fight against fraud.  The EU and Kazakhstan will meet again later this month in what is the latest of a series of such events designed to underpin ever improving relations between the two sides.  The upcoming meeting of the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC) on 27 April will be co-chaired by Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule, who heads the European Parliament delegation on Central Asian countries, and Maulen Ashimbayev, chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of Mazhilis of Parliament of Kazakhstan, who will head his country’s delegation.

They will focus on further strengthening of parliamentary cooperation between the two sides.  Parliamentary Cooperation Committees (PCCs) have taken place on a regular basis with Kazakhstan since 2000. The PCCs are a key element of the EPCA and provide the framework for the relationship between the EU and Kazakhstan.  While the EPCA has, thus far, been endorsed by eight EU members Grigule is confident the ratification process will be speeded up.

She points out that the EU is Kazakhstan’s largest trading and economic partner and the biggest investor in the Kazakh economy, accounting for 50% of trade and more than 50% of foreign direct investment.  The EU, she says, has no such agreement (the EPCA) with any other country of the former Soviet Union.

Grigule, who chairs the EU-Kazakhstan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said relations between Kazakhstan and Brussels are “very good and will be stronger in the future.”  She told EU Reporter: “Kazakhstan is an important EU partner, and not only from the perspective of the Central Asian region. In recent years, relations between both sides have improved, becoming more intense and pragmatic.  This, she said, is evident from the EPCA.  The MEP, also a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, added, “This large Central Asian country (Kazakhstan) is an important partner for us Europeans in various fields. For this cooperation to be successful and beneficial for both sides, it is very important that both partners rely on common understanding and similar principles.”

The country only gained independence December 16 1991 and 2017 is a big year for Kazakhstan: it become a UN Security Council non-permanent member on January 1 and later this year hosts EXPO 2017, an important international exposition scheduled to take place between June 10 and September 10 in Astana.  On the margins of EXPO the EU will hold EUDays with the participation of European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, a Slovak diplomat and a Vice-President of the European Commission, in charge of Energy Union. He was European commissioner for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration from 2010 to 2014.

EUDays is one of several events the EU will be organizing in Astana within the framework of the exhibition.

Astana EXPO

Changing times, changing names - #Kazakhstan

Colin Stevens



What do the following world cities have in common - New York, Bombay, Toronto and Saigon? The answer is that each has had its name changed. New York changed from Amsterdam and Toronto from York. Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City and Bombay reverted to Mumbai, writes Colin Stevens.

In Germany, Karl Marx Stadt became Chemnitz in 1990 after the country's reunification. In the former Soviet Union, now Russia, authorities renamed Königsberg to Kaliningrad, after Mikhail Kalinin, one of the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution. Also, Stalingrad became Volgograd after Stalin's death in 1953

But there is another major city whose name change you may be less familiar with.

In March 2019 the Kazakhstan capital was renamed Nur-Sultan in honour of the departing Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The new name given to the Kazakhstan capital is a fitting tribute to the First President who was first elected in 1990 and went on to oversee the oil rich country’s remarkable rise.

The capital is the dynamic political and commercial centre of the country and is also one of Central Asia's most exciting and rewarding destinations.

With a population of just over 1 million – the same as Brussels - the idea of creating a new capital belonged to Nursultan Nazarbayev.

However, it is not the first time the city’s name has changed. On 6 May, 1998, Akmola was renamed Astana. Under Nazarbayev’s long rein, the city was named “City of the World” by UNESCO in 1999 and,since 2000 has been a member of the International Assembly of Capitals and Major Cities.

For history buffs, Nur Sultain was chairman of the Supreme Soviet (head of state) from 22 February to 24 April 1990.

Trip Advisor says Nur-Sultan “boasts a landscape glittering with new architecture and construction projects as the government infrastructure continues to be built”.

Spread over a vast 722 square kilometres, the city, whose name changed by order of presidential decree, consists of four districts - Almaty, Saryarka, Esil and Baikonur. Nur-Sultan is located in the centre of Kazakhstan with the River Esil its main waterway. Its location in the centre of the Eurasian continent makes it an economically advantageous transport, communications and logistics hub - a kind of a transit bridge between Europe and Asia.

Many investors are attracted to its high growth rates with the basis of its economy being industrial production, transport, communications, trade and construction. Its biggest companies include Tselinograd Car Repair Plant, "Tsesna-Astyk" Concern, the car assembly plant "Tulpar-Talgo" LLP and helicopter assembly plant "Eurocopter Kazakhstan Engineering”.

Over the years, the city has become one of the country’s largest business centres and, despite the coronavirus-led economic slump, the entrepreneurial culture still thrives here with 128,000 SMEs operating in Nur-Sultan.

The capital, which used to occupy no more than barren grassland, is the leader in construction in the country and this is partly reflected in the well-being of its residents with the average monthly salary of 154,000 tenge higher than the national average.

The main symbol of the new capital, its original “visiting card”, is the “Baiterek” complex. Other unique architectural structures include the Palace of Peace and Accord, designed by the famous British architect Norman Foster and made in the shape of a pyramid plus the "Khan Shatyr" shopping and entertainment centre - the tallest tent-shaped building in the world.

The capital of this vast, landlocked country also boats the most remote-from-the-sea aquarium - "Duman" along ith the Opera and Ballet Theatre "Astana Opera" and the largest mosque in Central Asia "Hazret Sultan".

If that wasn’t all, there is also the Cathedral in honour of the Dormition of the Mother of God; the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Archdiocese of the Blessed Damosel Mary; the synagogue "Beit Rachel Khabad Lyubavich" and the Central Concert Hall "Kazakhstan".

The flagships of the nation’s education system are also located here: Nazarbayev University, Eurasian National University named after L.N. Gumilev, Kazakh National University of Arts, Kazakh Agrotechnical University named after S. Seifullin, Kazakhstan branch of Moscow State University named after M.V. Lomonosov and Astana Medical University.

The Astana Economic Forum and other important international events are held in the capital on a regular basis while Nur-Sultan, which lies at the junction of the Trans-Kazakhstan and South Siberian railways, hosted the historic OSCE summit.

In 2011, the capital, noted for its clean and quiet streets, hosted the VII Asian Winter Games and, in 2017, the international exhibition EXPO-2017, for which an entire exhibition complex, EXPO-Town, was built on the left bank of the River Esil. The heart of the exhibition complex was the Sphere "Nur-Alem", a unique building in the shape of a sphere with a diametre of 80 meters, on top of which there are two noiseless wind generators.

“Nur-Alem” is the first technological museum of future energy in the Republic.

Top tip for first time visitors: the country can be chilly in the winter so May-September is best for a tourist visit.

All in all, it is clear that in a remarkably short period of time, the new capital, named after the renowned First President of Kazakhstan, has truly put itself on the world map.

Many agree that, in an increasingly troubled world, the city, with its eye-popping skyline and grandiose government buildings, has become a symbol of independence and global success.

Today, it is compared favourably to other planned capitals like Canberra, Brasilia, and Washington, DC.

Astana, which means "capital" in Kazakh, became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997, taking over from Almaty.

The respected Business Insider magazine says that since 1997 the city has undergone a “massive transformation” and is “filled with futuristic skyscrapers that resemble a science-fiction movie.”

Its rise to world prominence is also a fitting legacy to the former president who served nearly 30 years and who turned 80 on 6 July.

Nur-Sultan’s top five must sees

1. Modern architecture

Astana's growth has been breathtaking and places like the domed Khan Shatyr and the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation are well worth seeing.

2. Exceptional museums

Kazakhstan's capital is a cultural nexus with great attractions like the National Museum of Kazakhstan and the (slightly egocentric but fascinating) Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

3. Activities for kids to enjoy

With attractions like the Duman leisure centre (which has an enormous aquarium) and spectacular city centre light shows every night, youngsters will have plenty to do.

4. World-class shopping options

Kazakhs have fully embraced the global shopping scene, and you'll find a galaxy of prestige brands at Astana's malls like the Khan Shatyr and Mega Mall.

5. Irrepressible nightlife

Astana is bursting with energy, and nowhere is this more evident than the city's clubs, where highlights include the Chocolate Room and Fashion.

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Astana EXPO

Congress in #Astana focuses on religion as means to address global challenges

Astana Times



The world is experiencing major challenges. From the long-running conflicts in the Middle East, and instability and mistrust between many nations, it’s hard to deny that the world is going through a turbulent period.

Multiple reasons have been put forward for the difficulties we are facing, ranging from economic hardships of some countries and regions, geopolitical rivalries and mistrust among the public in the current political system. Yet few thorough and credible suggestions have been put forward about how to resolve the issues that trouble humankind today. Perhaps one answer is to look to spiritual values and promote aspects of religion that have been a positive force in the world for millennia.

Some may consider this suggestion outdated. Others may even argue that religion has a negative impact on our world. This is understandable given that some evil extremist groups have been attempting to hijack religion in order to spread hatred and division. However, it should be remembered that more than 60 percent of the world’s population follows a particular religion and the vast majority do so with purely peaceful intent. Precisely for this reason is it crucial that religious leaders ensure that faith is not used as a vehicle for hate and disorder, but, in fact, contributes to kindness and the peaceful coexistence of humanity.

This has been one of the main aims of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. This week, leaders of different faiths, as well as government officials and heads of international organisations, will once again gather in Astana for the sixth time to discuss how religion can contribute to the resolution of the many challenges the world faces and ensure that faith is a force for good.

Founded on the initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the congress, which takes place every three years, has grown in influence and authority. The number of participating delegations in congress’s sessions has increased from 17 in 2003, when the congress was established, to 82 this year.

Religious leaders undoubtedly have a role to play in contributing to the resolution of some existing issues and crises. For instance, civilians have suffered greatly in the conflicts in Myanmar and Yemen. Furthermore, we have recently witnessed how the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region has further divided the two populations on religious grounds. Religious leaders have the authority and influence to contribute to the prevention of violence and conflict in these countries. Undoubtedly, this cannot be achieved without the participation of political leaders. It is for this reason that 82 delegations from 46 countries are all participating in the sixth congress in Astana this week.

Religion can also play a role in healing the divisions that currently exist in some countries and regions along political, national and ethnic lines. After all, faiths of all denominations have taught us the values that promote unity across humankind – including kindness, respect and compassion. This may sound like wishful thinking in the current climate of distrust and disagreements, but only such values can cure the troubles that our world is experiencing.

The objective of religious and political leaders should be to spread this message globally. This is why it is so important for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions to continue its work and to welcome delegations from all over the world to Astana to discuss how this can be achieved.

Of course, nobody is under the impression that the congress can solve existing crises overnight. But it can play a vital role in contributing to the solutions. This should be the aim of the congress this week and the purpose of its work for years to come.

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Astana EXPO

Life after #EXPO: What awaits buildings and infrastructure?

Astana Times



Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has shared the future plans for the EXPO 2017 site.  “Nur Alem and a number of other pavilions will be preserved as expo heritage. The completion of the exhibition will be the foundation for launching several new large-scale projects,” said Nazarbayev.

The Astana International Finance Centre (AIFC) is the first in line for development. The centre, which will launch Jan. 1, is expected to become a financial hub for Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Middle East, West China, Mongolia and Europe.

“It must become a financial hub, a centre of attraction for investments and occupy a decent niche in the international financial system,” added Nazarbayev. It will be a centre for the development of Islamic finance and green financing and it will have its own stock exchange

The second largest project to be developed on the expo site is the World Mining Congress (WMC) & Expo 2018. WMC is a unified international platform where achievements will be presented and experiences shared, as well as discussing and adopting innovative technological solutions in the mining and metallurgical industry. Kazakhstan has been preparing to host WMC since 2013.

The nation’s high expectations associated with the event are primarily due to attracting investments, especially within the Mines & Money investment summit, a successful European format platform for B2B meetings. WMC and Mines & Money are expected to attract approximately 300 investors. The industry is capital-intensive, and to date, the prospective area for subsoil investment purposes is more than 1.1 million square kilometres.

The high hopes for the WMC congress, with the theme “Innovational excellence – a step forward to mining growth,” are also related to the Industry 4.0 and technology transfer. Exhibitors will present the latest developments in mineral extracting automation and processing as well as industry digitalisation. Acquiring scientific developments for practical use is part of the WMC plan.

“Thus, the whole EXPO exhibition complex will further serve for innovative and sustainable development purposes. I invite everyone for active cooperation in the work of the new centres,” said Nazarbayev.

Other projects planned for the expo site are the Future Energy International Centre for the transfer of green technologies and a Kazakh “Silicon Valley” for IT companies and startups, formally known as the International IT-startup hub.

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