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Kazakhstan: Anticipating Expo-2017

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khan-shatyry2By Colin Stevens.

Kazakhstan is busy with preparations for 'Expo-2017'. Astana – the new capital of Kazakhstan  has grown into a successful host of international forums. With its vibrant energy of a young state, neutral status and a climate of religious tolerance, it has attracted the representatives of states with varied religious and cultural backgrounds, which was one of the major reasons for the International Exhibitions Bureau to bestow the honour upon Astana.   

The forthcoming exhibition, to be held under the slogan 'Future Energy', is conceived as a large-scale project focused on energy as a priority, exploring strategies, programmes and technologies aimed at the development of sustainable energy sources and reliability and efficiency of conservation. The promotion of renewable energy sources will demonstrate to visitors the need for their active participation in energy-saving policies. Future Energy's main purpose is to draw public attention to solutions and methods for providing sustainable energy management.

Rich in oil, Kazakhstan is exploring its potential in wind and hydro-energy, as the vast steppe and multitude of rivers are a natural environment for green energy, including the ultimate source of life on the planet – the sun. While the stock of hydrocarbons is limited, green energies are an unlimited resource that are rapidly becoming a worldwide trend.

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An opportunity to be among the pioneers of the endeavour  has converted €2 billion spent on the event into smart investment for the economy of Kazakhstan, as the new infrastructure constructed will serve further purposes in the future. While visiting Astana, International Exhibitions Bureau Secretary General Vincent Lossertales considered the Expo-2017 challenge for Astana as "financially responsible", underlining that he would make every effort to promote investment in Expo-2017 and subsequently Kazakhstan. Obviously the ‘Expo’ is more than an event, but a paradigm of the future - a vision and concept for the development of Kazakhstan as a modern state.

"The Expo is a certain kind of event where you can show the country and its national character," Lossertales said, suggesting that those who believe the Expo in Astana will not be up to standard ‘‘do not know either Astana or Expo-2017’’.

Providing 20,000 jobs for the country's labour market, the management of the national company Astana Expo-2017 is committed to ensuring only the best for the event. In return, however, they expect the participation of world-class international companies.

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Furthermore, progress in the production of energy sources that are 'made in Kazakhstan' will provide a very attractive opportunityfor investment, substantially improving the state's image on the world scene. The Astana Expo will continue a line of significant events and milestones such as as the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Community, the Congress of Leaders of World Traditional Religions and the OSCE Summit in 2010.

Expo-2017 is set to continue this tradition of amplifying the beneficial effects of international exchanges to contribute to the progress of humanity. Astana is anticipating five million visitors during the expo – a great opportunity for West to meet East.

Colin Stevens

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Computer technology

Europe must work together to stay at forefront of high-tech - Merkel

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European countries must work together on next-generation chip manufacturing, Angela Merkel said, drawing on her 16 years of experience in the highest office to warn that no European country could stay at the forefront of high-tech on its own, write Andreas Rinke and Thomas Escritt.

The outgoing German chancellor told Reuters in an interview that the costs of moving to the next level in areas from chip development to cloud and quantum computing and battery production meant that the private sector would need state support.

Merkel herself conducted fundamental research in quantum chemistry in East Germany before entering politics after German reunification in 1990. She pointed to Korea, Taiwan and U.S. President Joe Biden's stimulus package as examples of what was possible.

"The state will have to play a significant role. South Korea and Taiwan go to show that competitive chip production in the 3- or 2-nanometer range, for example, is essentially impossible without state subsidies," she said.

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The global economy's current struggle to restore supply chains snapped by resource shortages and the coronavirus pandemic further highlights the need to ensure that Europe has its own production facilities in key areas, she said.

But she also lamented the failure of German companies to capitalise on an outstanding research base.

In particular, she said she was "shocked" at German companies' lack of interest in quantum computing, even though Germany was a world leader in research in a field that could make computers faster and more powerful than ever before.

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NO ALEXA FOR ANGELA

She said her government had made steps towards improving Germany's innovation and start-up cultures, pointing to a German-led project to create a secure and efficient cloud data infrastructure for Europe, named Gaia-X.

"But in the long term it cannot be the state that drives new developments," the European Union's longest-serving leader said.

Germany's sprawling, decentralised government structure could also be a hindrance to innovation.

Merkel said the presence of an ethics council and data protection officer in each of the 16 federal states put a heavy burden on firms in life sciences, for instance, where Germany had fallen behind.

It was, however, at the leading edge of research in areas such as quantum physics, climate research, physics, chemistry and robotics, she said.

Not that the same could be said for Merkel's own use of home technology.

"I’m happy enough when I can set up a delayed start on my washing machine, but beyond that, to be honest, I have neither the time nor the inclination to have my whole home remote-controlled," she said.

"Maybe I’ll develop an interest when I have more time in the near future."

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Digital economy

First calls for proposals under the Digital Europe Programme are launched in digital tech and European Digital Innovation Hubs

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The Commission has announced the first set of calls for proposals under the Digital Europe Programme. This follows the adoption of the work programmes allocating nearly €2 billion for investments aimed to advance on the digital transition. The calls are open to businesses, organizations, and public administrations from the EU member states, as well as entities from other countries associated to the Digital Europe Programme.

These grants will be targeted towards an investment of over €415 million in cloud to edge infrastructure, data spaces, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum communication infrastructure, in advancing people's digital skills, and projects that promote a safer internet, fight child sexual abuse, and disinformation, until the end of 2022. The first call for proposals is also opening for the set-up and deployment of the European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) network. These hubs will support private companies, including SMEs and start-ups, and the public sector in their digital transformation.  More information as regards applying for grants under this set of calls for proposals is available online. Further calls will be published in early 2022.

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Digital economy

Digital Economy and Society Index 2021: Overall progress in digital transition but need for new EU-wide efforts

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The Commission has published the results of the 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which tracks the progress made in EU member states in digital competitiveness in the areas of human capital, broadband connectivity, the integration of digital technologies by businesses and digital public services. The DESI 2021 reports present data from the first or second quarter of 2020 for the most part, providing some insight into key developments in the digital economy and society during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the effect of COVID-19 on the use and supply of digital services and the results of policies implemented since then are not captured in the data, and will be more visible in the 2022 edition.

A Europe Fit for the Digital Age Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said: “The message of this year's Index is positive, all EU countries made some progress in getting more digital and more competitive, but more can be done. So we are working with member states to ensure that key investments are made via the Recovery and Resilience Facility to bring the best of digital opportunities to all citizens and businesses.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “Setting ourselves 2030 targets was an important step, but now we need to deliver. Today's DESI shows progress, but also where we need to get better collectively to ensure that European citizens and businesses, in particular SMEs, can access and use cutting-edge technologies that will make their lives better, safer and greener.”

All EU member states have made progress in the area of digitalization, but the overall picture across member states is mixed, and despite some convergence, the gap between the EU's frontrunners and those with the lowest DESI scores remains large. Despite these improvements, all member states will need to make concerted efforts to meet the 2030 targets as set out in Europe's Digital Decade. You will find more information in a dedicated press release and Q&A.

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