Kazakhstan continues to play a crucial role in the European Union’s initiatives to improve and deepen relations with Central Asia. Through high-level contacts and continuous discussions at multiple levels, bilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan and the European Union has progressed steadily and has become even more relevant in light of the current geopolitical context.
Kazakhstan, which is located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe on the Eurasian continent and thus has strategic importance, demonstrated this once again with two high-level visits that happened one after the other last week. On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the European Union, the European Council head Charles Michel visited Astana between Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 to attend the Central Asian leaders meeting on Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s invitation.
Trade and investment
The EU is by far Kazakhstan’s most important trade partner, accounting for 40% of its total external trade. Kazakhstan exports almost entirely to the EU in the oil and gas sectors, as well as in minerals, chemicals and food products. During his recent visit to Astana on Oct. 27, Michel also emphasized the fact that the EU is Kazakhstan’s major trade and investment partner. Michel called Kazakhstan a “crucial partner” with whom the EU hoped to “develop cooperation,” as Kazakhstan has sought to reduce its reliance on Russia since the latter sent troops to Ukraine.
On the other hand, Kazakhstan is also the leading trade partner of the EU in the Central Asian region. The Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) between the European Union and Kazakhstan, which entered into force on March 1, 2020, was the first of its kind and most important agreement signed by the European Union with one of its Central Asian partners to provide a comprehensive framework within bilateral relations.
The EPCA serves as the legal foundation for EU-Kazakhstan relations, providing a broad framework for strengthened political dialogue and collaborative sectoral cooperation, covering 29 areas of cooperation from trade and investment to science and tourism.
Energy and business
Energy and business considerations form the core of Europe’s connections to Central Asia, and from a broader perspective, currently, the EU-Central Asia connectivity projects are crucial to Kazakhstan. Due to the sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, in what Moscow calls a “special military operation,” the replacement of trade routes with the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, also known as the Middle Corridor, leads to the proximate motivation for seeking deeper ties between the bloc and Kazakhstan at this precise moment.
A global oil and food crisis was exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor in late February, which led to the largest battle in Europe since World War II. It also caused an energy standoff between Moscow and the EU, escalating the situation and making it more difficult and expensive for the bloc to stockpile energy in advance of the winter heating season.
Last but not least, the current geopolitical situation has emphasized the necessity for new alternative routes connecting Asia and Europe, and it seems that the EU feels inclined to deepen bilateral relations with Kazakhstan, where there is a mutual interest in further cooperation.