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#Kazakhstan President Tokayev's first year in office a success says EU

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What happens in Kazakhstan also matters for the EU because the 27-member bloc is the number one investor in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (pictured), has marked his first year in office, with a pledge to forge ahead with more reforms. Tokayev won the presidential election on 9 June 2019 with 70% of the votes, running against six other candidate.  He is widely praised for introducing far-reaching reforms in the country, the ninth largest in the world though with a population of just 19 million.

In his first major speech, the president defined his policies in all fields of the economy and society.

In the state-of-the-nation address he promised to oppose ‘unsystematic political liberalisation’ and instead carry reforms ‘without running ahead’. Crucially, a large part of his one-hour speech was devoted to improving living standards for the Kazakh people.

He also emphasised his goal of having a strong president, an influential parliament, and an accountable government. This reflects the government’s continued focus on reducing inequality in Kazakhstan and improving Kazakh citizens’ quality of life.

At the same time, the president also focused on political and economic development, including supporting micro, small and medium-sized businesses.

While much of President Tokayev’s first year in office has focused on – successfully - delivering on these promises  prioritised domestic reforms, he has also paid heed to several foreign policy priorities for Kazakhstan.

Most recently, of course, the focus has been very much on combating the ongoing health pandemic.

Last month, he admitted that this “has not been easy for our country.”  He also warned, “the crisis has not yet been completely overcome. The epidemic has not completely disappeared. A pandemic is still dangerous to public health.”

Several key issues, he believes, still need to be resolved in the near future.

First. Improving the self-sufficiency of the Kazakh economy.

Second. Kazakhstan has allocated around 1 trillion tenge for the implementation of the president’s Employment Roadmap and, following the implementation of the projects, an analysis of their socio-economic efficiency will be carried out.

Third. the construction of affordable housing will give a powerful incentive for economic development, employment growth and social support.

Fourth. the time has come, he insists, to work out the issue of introducing a progressive scale of individual income tax in respect of wages and other types of income.

Fifth. Support for national business.

Sixth. The country should switch to working directly with each capital holder to boost increased competition for foreign capital.

So, what is the verdict on his first year?

Mukhtar Tileuberdi, the minister of foreign affairs of Kazakhstan, says, “The President has been quick to implement his ideas. In his first few months in office, he has shown his commitment to promoting the development of a multi-party system, increased political competition, and pluralism of opinions in the country”.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said that in recent months “the breadth and depth of our relationship has progressed immeasurably.”

This is partly due to the fact that in 2015 Kazakhstan signed an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the European Union which came into force  in March 2020, he said.  In doing so, Borrell notes it became the first country in Central Asia.

The Spanish official, a former president of the European parliament, adds “The European Union is the country’s biggest trade and investment partner, while Kazakhstan is by far the EU’s largest trade partner in Central Asia. What is more, we have invested heavily in strengthening governance, supporting its justice, social and economic reforms.”

Borrell says that, under the president’s tutelage, “We are turning the page and beginning an exciting new chapter.”

Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, the Chair of the EU-Kazakhstan Friendship group in the European parliament, is equally enthusiastic, saying “In Europe, the prevailing opinion is that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in fact, is building a social welfare state, where special attention is paid to reducing inequality, improving the quality of life of every Kazakh, and where priority is given to solving the day-to-day problems of the people.”

The ECR deputy adds, “In the field of foreign policy, Kazakhstan, as has been the case before, pays special attention to its partnership with the European Union. On 1 March 2020, the European Union-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement came into force. On the basis of this document, we expect that the parties will be able to fully reap the benefits of their partnership. As EU-Kazakhstan Friendship group chair I will do my utmost to further our relations to our mutual benefit.”

But the president has also overseen a whole raft of other changes, including abolishing the death penalty and reaffirming the need to strengthen the role of the Kazakh language as a state language.

He is spearheading a rapprochement between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union and also promoted freedom of expression for his country’s 20m citizens.

The president is also intensifying efforts to attract foreign direct investment, support farmers to market their products to foreign markets and support the activities of the Astana International Finance Centre.

He has also pledged to continue to support micro, small and medium sized businesses.

Shavkat Sabirov, director of the Institute for security and cooperation in Central Asia, says there has been a damaging lack of public confidence in political leadership around the world in recent time and this has many causes.

“But,” he notes,” perhaps none is more important than the widespread belief – fairly or unfairly – of citizens that their wishes, concerns and hopes are being ignored or taken for granted by those they have put in power.

It is a charge that Kazakhstan Tokayev has shown in his first months in office that he is determined to avoid.

Since his election last year, he has made his main priority reforming state and government services so they are more responsive to the needs and ambitions of its citizens.

Kazakhstan adopted the new law on peaceful assemblies, continuing its path of “controlled democratisation” with more liberal legislation that analysts said is helping to develop strong multi-party democracy.

The Deputies of the Mazhilis – the lower house of the Kazakh parliament – adopted a bill titled “On the procedure for organising and holding peaceful assemblies in Kazakhstan”, as well as an accompanying draft law on the organisation and holding of peaceful assemblies.

The bill which was signed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on 25 May has now legal force and will become, as some independent experts have stated, a new step towards the democratisation of the land-locked Central Asian country.

This bill was developed upon the initiative of Tokayev, who promoted the need for liberalisation of the legislation on peaceful assemblies and the implementation of the concept of a “state that listens” to its citizens.

Kirill Petrov, a political scientist and head of the analytical department of Minchenko Consulting, called the new law a continuation by Tokayev of the work of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“This is a step towards the development of a highly competitive multi-party system, and the continuation of the political development of the republic in the direction of collegial management, which is a requirement of our times”, Petrov said.

He has wasted no time, either, in extending as he promised opportunity to all and increasing support to those who need it most.

It is a packed agenda - and President Tokayev is promising there will be no slow-up in reforms.

Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU/Asia Centre, is a vastly experienced and respected expert on Asian affairs and gives a decidedly upbeat assessment of the country’s new head of state.

“President Tokayev’s ambitious reforms,” says Cameron, a former senior European Commission official,”should provide a solid basis to deepen cooperation between the EU and Kazhakstan."

According to Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, there is still room for improvement. He says, "In the field of human rights, the legacy of President Tokayev’s predecessor is very heavy and a lot of progress needs to be quickly achieved. Freedom of religion is one of those areas where some controversial laws should be revised and aligned to international standards as quite a number of peaceful Sunni Muslims have been unduly sentenced to very long prison terms. The US is putting in place a constructive policy in this regard with the establishment of the US-Kazakhstan Religious Freedom Working Group.

“Washington is also developing an Enhanced Strategic Partnership Dialogue (ESPD) and has engaged Kazakhstan on a range of issues, such as human rights, labor and religious freedom. President Tokayev should not miss this opportunity to restore the image of his country."

Looking to the future, there is still much more to do if the shared ambition of First President Nazarbayev and his successor of Kazakhstan joining the ranks of the world’s most developed 30 countries is to be achieved.

 

Kazakhstan/EU Factfile

  • The EU is Kazakhstan's biggest trade partner, with almost 40% share in its total external trade.
  • Kazakhstan's exports to the EU are heavily dominated by oil and gas which account for more than 80% of the country's total exports.
  • Exports from the EU are dominated by machinery and transport equipment, as well as products within the manufacturing and chemicals sectors.
  • Imports from Kazakhstan greatly exceed EU exports to Kazakhstan.
  • Kazakhstan has a growing importance as an oil and gas supplier to the EU. Kazakhstan has benefited from strong foreign direct investment in recent years, largely to its oil and gas sector. Almost half of the foreign direct investment inflow comes from the EU.

 

EU

EU-Ukraine relations come under the spotlight

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The EU and U.S are doing a lot for Ukraine on the issue of reforms, not only to economic reforms but reform of the justice system, writes Martin Banks.

Over the past six years, as part of legal reforms, Ukraine has developed and adopted amendments to its constitution, adopting about a dozen laws. 

 The new Supreme Court, the Higher Anti-Corruption Court were created, the qualification assessment of judges and other processes have started, all designed to have a positive impact on the judicial system and the fight against corruption. The EU was actively involved in all these reforms.

The result, though, has not yet met expectations. In 2019, an opinion poll by the Razumkov Centre for the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine showed 46% believe that the judicial reform has “not yet begun at all” and that 43% have a negative attitude towards a judicial reform.

Corruption in Ukraine continues to thrive, and the judicial system has become even more ineffective than before. At the same time, some Ukrainian politicians are actively using the topic of judicial reform for their own interests. In particular, former President Petro Poroshenko used the topic of judicial reform to gain control over the courts. And he succeeded with only a few judges daring to make decisions against Poroshenko's will. 

As a result, the number of experienced judges who have left the system has increased since 2014. Some Ukrainian courts have no judges left at all and the courts have suspended their work, making it difficult or impossible for citizens to access justice at all. 

As of early 2020, the shortage of judicial personnel in the courts was almost 30%. This affects the quality of court proceedings and the timing of consideration of cases. Suspects stay in pretrial detention centers for an inordinate time, cases accumulate, and the dynamics of justice slow down, leading to social tensions.

Almost everybody agrees that the implemented reforms proved to be totally ineffective but why is this happening? Why have all efforts been in vain? The question was to be discussed at an international conference "Dialogue about justice - 2" in Kiev, but the event was badly disrupted.

EU policy makers and civil servants cancelled their participation in the conference, when they learned the day before that the panel consisted of some people with a “dubious” reputation.

Even those who decided to take part faced with problems. Immediately after it started, an anonymous message was received about the mining of the Parkovyi ECC building, where the conference participants were gathered. 

 All those present had to leave the premises and wait outside for an hour while police checked the building.

 Why did someone try to disrupt the conference? The Ukrainian edition of "Vzglyad” said the conference tried to “disrupt” organizations and structures that focus on Poroshenko.

Journalists talked to a representative of one such organization engaged in promoting judicial reform in Ukraine who said that in Ukraine only certain NGOs have the right to contact with Europeans on the topic of judicial and other reforms.

Ukraine, he said, has formed a "caste" of reformers who do not allow anyone else to discuss reforms without their permission and it is these who determine who in Ukraine is "dubious", that is, who EU representatives have no right to communicate. 

One of the conference participants was a well-known Ukrainian lawyer, Rostislav Popovich who noted it was the second such high-level discussion on judicial reform - the first one was held last year in the European Parliament. He wrote on his Facebook page:“The Kiev event was attended by people's deputies, judges of higher courts, leading lawyers, MEPs and specialists from Europe, the U.S and Israel. The composition was representative and the topics discussed were topical. But it was very difficult to hold it in Kiev - not because of the coronavirus, but because the conference was disrupted by people who wrote letters to MEPs, demanding that they refuse to participate, speaking of 'odious' participants. 

“Why such a strange reaction? It was because the conference wasn't held by them and they didn't select the participants. They did not want to allow Europeans to learn the truth about the real situation in the country and about those 'reforms' that have been implemented here.”

He believes that in Ukraine there are people “parasitizing on the problems of the judicial system and many other problems.”

According to Popovich, they “monopolize” the right to speak on behalf of the country with Europe and other Western partners."These people, as a rule, do not understand the topic, do not understand the real situation and promote "reforms" that fail one after another and only make the situation worse. At the same time, activists do not bear any responsibility for the result. Moreover, for them, worse is better. As long as there are problems in the country, these people receive grants to fight these problems.”

He argues that the EU communicates in Ukraine exclusively with a small group of people who call themselves civil society - mostly activists, funded by grants from the EU and international organizations. They purport to represent all Ukrainian people and are often the ones with whom European politicians often come into contact to discuss reforms.

In reality, says the lawyer, these activists “represent no one - they have neither support nor even respect among Ukrainians, and are often accused of corruption themselves”.

It was, he states at the insistence of those pushing for judicial reform that those who work directly in the judicial system were “eliminated” - judges, lawyers and lawyers. He says this is an abnormal situation for any country and one reason why the reforms failed.

It is quite understandable why few people in Europe seem to have a good understanding of what is happening in Ukraine, on reason why Europeans involved in promoting certain models of unworkable judicial reform worsen the situation.

Europe should maintain contacts not only with professional activists, but also with a wider range of people in Ukraine to be able to form an objective picture of what is happening in the country. That would ensure the reforms really benefit Ukraine.Ukrainians have already shown that they are against external management by Russia. But now they say that Ukraine has fallen under the external control of the West and Ukrainian people will not accept such a situation.

This could have dramatic consequences and some politicians are already calling for a rejection of European integration with such appeals gaining support among voters.

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London exhibition to highlight two of Kazakhstan’s most influential non-conformist artists

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 Image: Aisha Bibi (2010) by Almagul Menlibayeva

An exhibition of contemporary Kazakh art is opening its doors in London, writes Lucía de la Torre.

Almagul Menlibayeva: It’s Easy to Be a Line / Yerbossyn Meldibekov: It’s Difficult to be a Point is a dual exhibition featuring two contemporary artists.

The exhibition is curated by Almaty-based arts hub Aspan Gallery, and is the gallery’s first project in the UK. The artists’ work will be on show at London’s Cromwell Place, and will be open to the public for free.

The project brings together Almagul Menlibayeva and Yerbossyn Meldibekov, two Kazakh artists born in the 1960s whose art broke away from the socialist realist conventions of the Soviet era. Menlibayeva’s work fuses video and photography to create telling artworks that explore the female identity in the context of the migration stories of Central Asia, mirroring them with the contemporary migrant crisis.

Meldibekov, whose work has been previously exhibited at the Garage Museum in Moscow, combines performance, installation, video, and photography to explore the changing identity of places and monuments during the Sovietisation and decommunisation of Central Asia.

The exhibition will be open 5-18 October. You can find more information and book your tickets here.

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Huawei ban spurs new competition for Ericsson and Nokia

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The crackdown on China’s largest technology company has given startups such as Altiostar Networks Inc. and new entrants including Qualcomm Inc. a rare opportunity to grab a slice of the $35 billion the telecom industry spends each year on this crucial part of mobile phone networks.

“This could break up that tech vendor lock-in that’s been around for decades,” said Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer of network services at AT&T Inc., the third largest U.S. wireless carrier. “It’s about how do you create a much more competitive, innovative ecosystem.”

Technology gets political

Position on including equipment from China’s Huawei in 5G mobile networks, as of 15 July, 2020

Source: Bloomberg

Base stations are the heart of cellular networks, powering millions of antennas that perch on cell towers and city rooftops all over the world. Until recently, these boxes were a proprietary combination of processors and software that had to be purchased all at once. Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia account for three quarters of this market, which is worth as much as $35 billion a year, according to researcher Dell’Oro Group.

Open radio access network, or O-RAN, changes this by creating an open standard for base station design and ensuring all the software and components work well together -- no matter who is supplying the ingredients.

This is a potentially radical shift. When telecom giants such as AT&T and China Mobile Ltd. want to expand their network they usually have to call their existing supplier and order more of the same because a box from Nokia won’t work with one from Ericsson. The new technology lets wireless carriers mix and match more easily.

The initiative also means that new suppliers can succeed by focusing on one or two components, or a single piece of software, rather than spending lots of time and money building a whole base station from the ground up.

O-RAN gear has been used sparingly since an industry alliance was formed to promote the technology in 2018. But when the U.S. toughened its stance against Huawei last year and encouraged other countries to crack down, interest in O-RAN adoption increased. The Chinese tech giant is a low-cost provider. Now it’s unavailable in some markets, carriers are more willing to look at alternative suppliers embracing the more flexible O-RAN approach.

“Increased geopolitical uncertainty is helping them to get an invite to the table they would not normally have had,” Dell’Oro Group analyst Stefan Pongratz said. “Multiple vendors, not just in Europe but across the world, are basically reassessing their exposure to Huawei.”

How Huawei landed at the centre of global tech tussle: QuickTake

Open standard base stations will generate sales of about $5 billion in the next five years, more than originally predicted, according to Dell’Oro.

Ericsson questions the performance and cost-efficiency of current O-RAN offerings. But the telecom companies, who decide where the money is spent, aren’t being shy about telling incumbent providers to get on board or risk being left behind.

“We’ve been candid with them: This is the architecture that the operator community is pursuing,” said Adam Koeppe, who oversees technology strategy, architecture and planning at Verizon Communications Inc., the biggest U.S. wireless carrier.

The list of companies vying to fill the gap left by Huawei is a mixture of some of the oldest names in technology and newcomers. Qualcomm, Intel Corp.Hewlett Packard EnterpriseDell Technologies Inc.Cisco Systems Inc.Fujitsu Ltd. and NEC Corp. are offering various parts of the new base station technology. Startups such as Altiostar, Airspan Networks and Mavenir Systems are trying to carve out niches, too.

O-RAN proponents point to the success of Rakuten Inc., a Japanese e-commerce provider that has used the technology to break into mobile phone services. The company began 4G wireless service in April and is upgrading to 5G now, using O-RAN suppliers including NEC, Qualcomm, Intel, Altiostar and Airspan. Rakuten said using this more open approach has cut capital expenditure by 40% and reduced operating costs 30%.

Dish Network Corp. is building a 5G wireless network in the U.S. with help from Altiostar. New projects like this are great, but the real opportunity is with operators that are shifting their existing networks to O-RAN, according to Thierry Maupilé, Altiostar’s executive vice president of strategy and product management. The Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based company has raised more than $300 million from investors such as Rakuten, Qualcomm and Cisco.

Why 5G mobile is arriving with a subplot of espionage: QuickTake

O-RAN is part of a broader push to make all kinds of computer networks more flexible and easy to control. By standardizing hardware and using more software in centralized data centers, companies can run networks more cheaply, while fixing and upgrading them more easily. 5G will need this flexibility to work well.

For AT&T, the new approach has already started to help. The company has introduced Samsung equipment based on O-RAN in areas where it had previously been limited to Ericsson gear, AT&T’s Fuetsch said.

Nokia expects to have a full range of O-RAN offerings available in 2021. Some of the final standards aren’t yet set and they need to be completed and tested which will take time, according to Sandro Tavares, global head of marketing.

“O-RAN is supported by more than 20 major operators around the world, so it is pretty clear that there is a strong push for it to happen,” he said. “This is a big move for our industry, and it is clear for the main players that we should not be cutting corners in this process.”

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