EU EXPANDING ITS COOPERATION WITH CENTRAL ASIAN LEADER KAZAKHSTAN: ADRIAAN VAN DER MEER
In 1994, the European Commission's Delegation office was officially opened in Almaty. Now almost fourteen years later Adriaan van der Meer, the head of the European Commissionís Delegation to the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Republic of Tajikistan, has given an interview to Kazinform correspondent in a new office of the Commission in Astana.Mr. Van der Meer, would you be so kind to give us an introduction on the European Union.
The year 2007 was a very important year for the European Union because we have managed to overcome an important crisis, namely, how do we work together, in which way, following which methods. Now we have a new treaty on the table on strengthening our role in the world with one high representative we will have more power than he or she has now. We have a system whereby we can work together more on the basis of qualified majority instead of on the basis of unanimity also in very sensitive issues, such as justice and home affairs. So, personally Iím very glad that we have passed this hurdle .The aim is to ratify the treaty by 2009.
Iím glad because our citizens are interested in concrete results of European integration, they are worried about a number of important issues. One of these is of course the question of what does globalization mean for them, for their jobs, for their future work. Secondly, what does climate change mean for them in future. Thirdly, what does it mean this whole issue of the ageing population of the European Union with questions as regards labour migration. And fourthly, the whole issue of international crime, increased drug trafficking and so on. These are the main issues which our citizens are worried about and this is where the answers for our politicians. This is what we are working at for the moment including the whole point of energy security.
Also, of course absorbing the recent enlargement to 27 member states which we have now, including the fact that by January 1, 2008 we will extend the Eurozone with two new countries Cyprus and Malta. We are also extending the Schengen area for visa with another 9 new countries. So this is important for the Kazakh citizens that when they travel to the European Union, they can have a Schengen visa which allows them to travel freely in 24 countries. This is unique in the world. I know that there are complaints about the speeds of the procedure to obtain the Schengen visa. But once you have it you can travel in 24 countries since December 21, 2007 which is unique. There is nowhere else in the world where this is taking place.
What you see of this Commission, or what you see of the European Union of today is that maybe the big concepts has disappeared behind the horizon. What this Commission is trying to do is to come with solving very concrete issues for its citizens. For example, passenger expenses when you are taking airplane, roaming price when you are abroad, protecting children, when they search the Internet and so on and so forth. Of course, these are completely different issues, completely different challenges, than our funding fathers 50 years ago had foreseen. Iím glad to say that now that we have finalized this institution debate we will soon have the organization to be able to cope with these new challenges
2007 was a very important year for us because we celebrated 50 years of European integration, 50 years together, but Iíd like to say there is of course new beginning of the construction of the European house. There is a strong external dimension, the need to work together with all countries in the world and for the moment we are still the biggest donor in the world.
How do you see the relations between the EU and Kazakhstan today?
I work now for more than 2 years in Central Asia and particular in Kazakhstan. Itís absolutely fascinating to see whatís happening. It must be fascinating to be a part of transformation, modernization process, be it economically, be it in democratic sense or elsewhere. What I would like to say is that we fully understand and still understand the enormous tasks the various countries have in Central Asia after the changes in the early 90s, namely, what we call the triple transformation process.
One is to establish independent states with an independent government or machinery, etc. Two is to engage in the process of democratization. And three is a process of economic reform. What is so important for us, for me in particular, is that Kazakhstan understands the important role of foreign direct investment in modernization of its country. And this is, of course, important for us but most for the country itself. Now we are at crossroads because we have to make our relations more mature and to go deeper into the sectoral issues according to the needs of your country. This is what we are doing. We started by discussing biotechnology, we started by discussing reform of telecom, we started to discuss administrative reform, even the issue of salaries and so on and so forth.
So, it is for me positive to see that already at these specific issues we can now start to exchange and further bring your country forward. There is a lot of work to be done, itís quite clear, for example in terms of decreasing the differences between the regions. There is a need to look further at the health and education sector, there is a need to look further on at the infrastructure, to improve it. But it is also necessary to look at the other issues, like road safety on which we had a seminar. Where weíve managed to get an expert from Belgium to explain to Kazakhstan what could be done in terms of education, in terms of engineering and in terms of enforcement. So, there are a lot of challenges to do. But, obviously, Kazakhstan is on the right way.
Mr. Van der Meer, as the head of the European Commissionís Delegation, you supervise its work not only here in Kazakhstan but in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well. How would you compare our country with these two states?
Well, itís a good question. It is a realistic question as well. It is quite clear that there are differences between the countries. When I look at the figures on GDP, itís clear that Kazakhstan has taken the lead role in Central Asia. There is, of course, letís be frank, a fortunate situation that Kazakhstan has the oil and gas reserves which are coming upstream, the economic climate in that respect is favorable, high prices per barrel. But on the whole, of course, the direction is in the right way.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are in the different position.
Let me first take Tajikistan. Tajikistan was already in the disadvantaged position due to the civil war. It faces difficulties because of Afghanistan. Itís quite clear that there is an impact of the developments of Afghanistan in Tajikistan in terms of drug trafficking, in terms of possibilities to cooperate in general. Tajikistan would like to establish hydropower, it would like to further improve its business investment climate and would also like to further diversify its agriculture going out of the cotton production only. These are all issues we are supporting, but most of all I would like to say that the Tajik-Afghan border is extremely important for us and will remain a priority in our work to assist modernizing the border posts, the border guards, etc. So, our main instrument in Tajikistan is support aimed at reform in the public finance sector, social sector, agriculture. Tajikistan is an important country because obviously it is the poorest country and, therefore, obviously it gets the highest amount of assistance from the European Union, European Commission in particular.
In Kyrgyzstan we noted the results of the parliamentary elections. We are very pleased with the good cooperation between the Government and OSCE/ODIHR monitor mission. It is very important for us that the OSCE is able to do its work there in the best possible way. Important for Kyrgyzstan is to further diversify its economy, to improve the business investment climate, to reduce the number of permits, licenses and we are working on that in order to attract investments. But the amount of foreign direct investments is too low because our investors feel that they need more stability in order to come in with their investments.
So what we are doing there is we have small projects on poverty alleviation in order t at microscale develop economic growth. But what I would like to see personally is that the whole issue of border demarcation between Kyrgyzstan and in particular Uzbekistan is solved into 2008. Because to have two borders fixed is an important factor for the stability of the country. Also here I would like to say the EU will be fully engaged and will remain fully engaged in the country. Also here we have support in particular for social and finance sector.
This is the situation in the countries. And the interesting part of my job is that I deal with three rather different countries and we have to deal on the rather different way. And also with our assistance and implementation of our agreements it is the matter of trying to find the best approach.
Kazakhstan will chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010. Would you like to comment on this issue?
The decisions of Madrid were very important for the future of the OSCE. And from our side the EC we would like to send warm congratulations to Kazakhstan for having achieved its objective. Itís an important success for the country, important success for the diplomacy, diplomatic work of Kazakhstan. Iíve read a very interesting quote in a newspaper say ďÖwe can already feel the country has changedĒ. Itís a very important, quite interesting observation.
Now of course we are looking forward, to this chairmanship. A number of statements were made in Madrid as regards further reforms, in elections, in political parties, in local government, and in the media. These are very important points and again here we have an open attitude, an open mind that one feels that expertise from EU and OSCE in particular is needed. Obviously we will make it at the disposal of the country. I also understood that some of the member states Spain, Germany, Hungary are providing and will provide training courses for Kazakh officials in how to run presidency, how to prepare itself for the presidency and how to carry out international negotiations. What I would like to say from our side, from the European Union, from the European Commission we will do everything to try to make the presidency, the chairmanship a success.
In mid December Kazakhstan celebrated 16 years of its independence. What would you like to wish people of the country on this holiday and New Year?
I would like to warmly congratulate the people of Kazakhstan and its leadership with achievements of the country since its independence. I have been following the country closely since 1995. I know how difficult it was at that time. I think itís a miracle almost what has been achieved in such a short time. But of course as Iíve said before other things remain to be done. But of course the success is enormous. So, Iíd like to congratulate Kazakhstanís people on this success and wish them good health, not only for the independence but also for the New Year.
How long have you lived in Kazakhstan and what is your overall impression of the country and its people?
As Iíve said Iíve lived here for more than two years. Actually, I did not know before coming here the beauty of the nature of course specifically around Almaty, the mountains. I walked almost every weekend in the mountains, even it was cold, it was extremely beautiful. Iíve been in Turkestan, Iíve been in Shymkent, in the international park Tien Shan, and then of course the Altai mountains. And last but not least the canyons near Almaty. Iíve never expected that the country was so beautiful. I think there is the task to make this known to wider public.
As regards Astana, Astana is changing everyday, itís amazing whatís happening. First time I came here two and a half years ago and things are developing very rapidly. I see important developments such as ďMegaĒ (a shopping mall on the left bank of the River Ishim) that has been established here. It can compete with any European shopping mall. It is of the highest standards and of course for us Europeans it is a specific asset to have such type of facility here in the town.
I would like to say not many people know that in September we have opened the Euro park behind the building of KazMunaiGaz in Astana new capital and that is our contribution to the city. We have also opened this year the European Documentation Center in the Eurasian National University. This is also our contribution to the city. And also this year is an important year because on July 3, 2007 the headquarters of the delegation has moved to Astana. So, we are now all new citizens of Astana.
I would like to thank the mayor (Askar Mamin) by the way for the help in the establishment not only of the delegation but also of the residence.
In March we had a concert of the EU Youth Orchestra in Pyramid (Palace of Peace and Accord) here in Astana and that of course was the best event of the year for me. To see young people from 27 countries plus 4 young promising dynamic Kazakh musicians playing together was for me the best expression of our cooperation. Because they were working together in full harmony, this cultural event resulting in high class concert in music and I will never forget actually that in Almaty afterwards people came to me with tears in their eyes thanking me for that concert. These are impressions that I will take home with me whenever I have to leave the country.
Source: KAZINFORM, 28.12.2007
NEW AGRICULTURE MINISTER OF KYRGYZSTAN SUPPORTS NEW METHODS OF WORKS
New minister of agriculture, water resources and processing industry of Kyrgyzstan Arstanbek Nogoev called his ministryís workers to get rid of old methods of works and pass to new ones. He told it during his first meeting with workers of the ministry.
According to him, he will demand the discipline from workers of the ministry as well as professionalism. He also promised to engage in solution of their problems, particularly, to increase their wages, solve habitation problem.
A.Nogoev is appointed the minister of agriculture, water resources and processing industry of Kyrgyzstan according to the presidential decree, replacing Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Source: KABAR, 28.12.2007