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Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected

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MEPs have welcomed attempts by Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected in its upcoming parliament elections. This comes  just ahead of the next elections, which have been set for January 10, 2021. This will elect members to the lower house of the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis. It will be the energy-rich Central Asian country’s first parliamentary elections since Kassym-Jomart Toqaev in 2019 succeeded Nursultan Nazarbaev, who resigned that year after nearly three decades in power, writes Colin Stevens.

In a departure from custom, the date falls at the end of the legislature’s five-year term,

President Tokayev says the electoral and political process has been liberalized to allow for more involvement from civil society.He refers specifically to what was dubbed the parliamentary opposition bill – a piece of legislation that he approved in June. Under this change to the law, non-ruling parties are supposed to acquire a greater say in setting the legislative agenda.

This is important in the context of the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, where the governing Nur Otan party won 84 out of the 107 seats up for grabs in the 2016 election.

Tokayev said another positive change was the mandatory 30 percent quota on party lists for women and youths. For the purposes of this requirement, a youth means anybody under 29-years-old.

Elections for local government bodies, the Maslikhats, are taking place on the same date.

There are currently six registered political parties in Kazakhstan. Nur Otan, which has as its figurehead the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, The other two forces in parliament are the pro-business Ak-Zhol, which bills itself as the “constructive opposition,” and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, or KNPK.

A recent poll (in which 7,000 people were questioned) showed 77 percent of respondents plan to cast their ballot.

The last parliamentary elections were held in March 2016.

Ahead of the elections, this website canvassed the opinions of MEPs and others.

Andris Ameriks, vice chairman of the Central Asian delegation in the European Parliament, told EU Reporter: “During these elections, people of Kazakhstan will make their choice in electing deputies for the following 5 years. I believe that the nation of Kazakhstan will make the right choice, while Kazakh leadership will follow the democratic processes in the name of prosperity and wellbeing of the country and its people.”

He added: “I greatly welcome continuation of ex-President Nazarbayev’s established direction in the legal reforms and actions taken by the current Kazakh leadership in developing the country’s democracy, transparency and good governance.

“Introduction of a mandatory quota of 30% of women and young people on the party lists, signed by President Tokayev, is of  great importance for the further development of balanced political life in  Kazakhstan and for keeping the politics in line with the world’s practice.

“The results of the elections are highly important for Kazakhstan, Central Asian region and for the EU as for a close partner of Kazakhstan, therefore I hope that people of Kazakhstan will be active and responsible in deciding who will represent them in the Majilis during the next five years.

“At a time when the whole world is struggling with a pandemic that has caused great social turmoil and provoked national governments, it is vital that these elections provide a real example of mutual trust between the people and the authorities.”

Slovenian RE member Klemen Groselj, who is parliament’s standing rapporteur on Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan is already an important partner of the EU in Central Asia, especially in the energy field, but there are also other possibilities of cooperation that have not been fully exploited yet.

“Looking at recent events in the South Caucasus, I believe there is now more than ever a mutual interest in a further development and strengthening of existing relations. I see a wide range of concrete opportunities for cooperation in the near future, for instance in the framework of the Green Deal and Digitalization.”

On the election, he added: “I expect the Kazakh authorities to guarantee the necessary conditions for a free and fair election process while providing adequate precautionary measures in light of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Open, safe, transparent and fair elections can be a solid foundation for the future growth of our economic and political cooperation with Kazakhstan.”

Greens MEP Viola von Cramon noted: “With decreasing Russian influence and progressively aggressive China, central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan are signalling some openness to the EU. It is a positive sign.

"There had been positive steps were made in guaranteeing the basic right of assembly and investigating tortures by law enforcement officials. The question is now how far will the controlled democratization will go.

“In regard to the upcoming elections, having a mandatory 30% quota for women and young people as well as an increased role of opposition in the legislative process is a welcome change. How will the rankings in the list be distributed and whether we will see truly critical opposition gaining ground in the lower house of the Parliament? We will be very closely following these changes.”

Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. told this website: "The EU welcomes the invitation extended to OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and members of the European Parliament to observe the 10 January 2021 Kazakhstan parliamentary elections. In light of the ongoing  reform and modernization processes in Kazakhstan, in particular the  adoption of laws on elections and  political parties (May 2019), the EU expects the elections to be conducted in a free, open and transparent manner, fully respecting the freedoms of expression and assembly."

He said: "The EU welcomes that for  the  first  time  a  30  percent  quota  will  be  introduced  in  party  lists  for  women  and youth jointly. The EU encourages Kazakhstan to avail of the advice and expertise of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and to fully implement the recommendations made previously and any that may be forthcoming."

Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU/Asia Centre, said that the elections “should mark another step forward in Kazakhstan’s  steady progress towards a more open and democratic society”.

The former European commission official added: “It would be important to allow more parties to compete than was the case during the last parliamentary elections.”

Economy

EU approves €2.9 billion in state aid for battery project attracting €9 billion

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The Commission has approved, state aid of up to €2.9 billion in funding for an ‘Important Project of Common European Interest’ (IPCEI) to support research and innovation in the battery value chain. The twelve EU countries involved will provide public funding expected to unlock an additional €9 billion in private investments.

The project, called “European Battery Innovation” was jointly prepared and notified by Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “For those massive innovation challenges for the European economy, the risks can be too big for just one member state or one company to take alone. Today's project is an example of how competition policy works hand in hand with innovation and competitiveness. With significant support also comes responsibility: the public has to benefit from its investment, which is why companies receiving aid have to generate positive spillover effects across the EU.”

When Vestager was asked if companies from outside the EU, such as Tesla, could benefit from this funding she said that this was possible and showed that the EU was committed to open strategic autonomy and welcomes non-EU firms when they have the right projects.

The Vice-President for Foresight, Maroš Šefčovič, said: “The Commission has given its green light to a second important project of the common European interest in the field of batteries. Technology is vital for our transition to climate neutrality. The figures show what an enormous undertaking this is. It involves twelve member states from North, South, East and West, injecting up to €2.9 billion euros in state aid in support of 46 projects designed by 42 companies, which in turn will generate three times as much private investment. "

The project will cover the entire battery value chain: extraction of raw materials, design and manufacturing of battery cells, recycling and disposal. It is expected to contribute to the development of a whole set of new technological breakthroughs, including different cell chemistries and novel production processes, and other innovations in the battery value chain, in addition to what will be achieved thanks to the first battery IPCEI.

 

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EU urges AstraZeneca to speed up vaccine deliveries amid 'supply shock'

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The European Union has urged AstraZeneca to find ways to swiftly deliver vaccines after the company announced a large cut in supplies of its COVID-19 shot to the bloc, as news emerged the drugmaker also faced supply problems elsewhere, write and

In a sign of the EU’s frustration - after Pfizer also announced supply delays earlier in January - a senior EU official told Reuters the bloc would in the coming days require pharmaceutical companies to register COVID-19 vaccine exports.

AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March, with an EU official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.

“We expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly,” an EU Commission spokesman said, adding the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call earlier on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said Soriot told von der Leyen the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.

News emerged on Monday that the company faces wider supply problems.

Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters AstraZeneca had advised the country it had experienced “a significant supply shock”, which would cut supplies in March below what was agreed. He did not provide figures.

Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said AstraZeneca would be supplying 150,000 doses instead of the 200,000 planned, and far less than the 1 million shots the country had initially requested.

AstraZeneca declined to comment on global supply issues.

The senior EU official said the bloc had a contractual right to check the company’s books to assess production and deliveries, a move that could imply the EU fears doses being diverted from Europe to other buyers outside the bloc.

AstraZeneca has received an upfront payment of 336 million euros ($409 million) from the EU, another official told Reuters when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with the company in August for at least 300 million doses - the first signed by the EU to secure COVID-19 shots..

Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down-payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.

“Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain,” AstraZeneca said on Friday.

The site is a viral vectors factory in Belgium run by the drugmaker’s partner Novasep.

Viral vectors are produced in genetically modified living cells that have to be nurtured in bioreactors. The complex procedure requires fine-tuning of various inputs and variables to arrive at consistently high yields.

“The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent,” said EU lawmaker Peter Liese, who is from the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The EU called a meeting with AstraZeneca after Friday’s (22 January) announcement to seek further clarification. The meeting started at 1230 CET on Monday.

The EU official involved in the talks with AstraZeneca said expectations were not high for the meeting, in which the company will be asked to better explain the delays.

Earlier in January, Pfizer, which is currently the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, announced delays of nearly a month to its shipments, but hours later revised this to say the delays would last only a week.

EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but the EU official involved in the talks did not rule out penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its commitments. However, the source did not elaborate on what could trigger the penalties. “We are not there yet,” the official added.

“AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay,” Liese said.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on Jan. 29, with first deliveries expected from 15 February.

($1 = €0.8214)

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EU

Chemicals: EU protects wildlife from negative effects of lead in the environment

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On 25 January, the Commission took firm steps to ensure that wildlife is protected from the negative effects of lead in the environment, by restricting its use in gunshot in or around wetlands. Adopted under the framework of the EU's chemicals regulation, the measure will help to protect the environment by significantly reducing lead pollution while preventing the avoidable death by lead poisoning of around 1 million waterbirds every year. Lead is a highly toxic substance, which released to the environment contaminates both the soil and water.

Every year, 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes of lead are released into wetlands from lead gunshot.  There are affordable alternatives, for example steel gunshots, which currently cost about the same as lead gunshots. The measure adopted today will harmonise and enhance the effectiveness of national legislation limiting the use of lead gunshot in wetlands already in place in 24 member states.

It will start applying in two years' time. The restriction supports the goals of the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability and the Green Deal. It also supports the objectives of the Birds Directive, and is a first concrete deliverable under the new EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy. More info here.

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