Remarks by President Charles Michel after his meeting with President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Astana

© European Union, 2020, Source: Council of the EU – Audiovisual resources© European Union, 2020, Source: Council of the EU – Audiovisual resources

Thank you, President Tokayev, for your warm welcome. As you mentioned, this is my first visit to Kazakhstan, and it’s a pleasure to be here in a country of free and hospitable people. Congratulations to the people of Kazakhstan on their Republic Day (25 October), marking 32 years since Kazakhstan proclaimed its sovereignty in 1990.

We had a timely and wide-ranging discussion on the common challenges at this critical juncture. One thing is absolutely sure: our relationship is strong and getting even stronger. It is based on trust and mutual understanding.

I will visit the Alzhir memorial today and pay tribute to the victims of totalitarian repression.

Central Asia and Europe are coming closer together and becoming more and more connected. Kazakhstan is a crucial partner for the EU. Kazakhstan is an important player on the international stage and in the region.

I would like to congratulate you on hosting the first EU-Central Asian leaders’ meeting. Strong cooperation of Central Asian countries is key to the security and development of the region. Today’s meeting is much more than just a policy dialogue between two regions. It’s a powerful symbol of our reinforced cooperation and a strong signal of the EU’s commitment to this region.

We wish to develop our cooperation based on our shared strategic interests. Today the EU is Kazakhstan’s first trading partner and first foreign investor. Kazakhstan is the EU’s biggest trading partner in Central Asia. You are also a regional transport connectivity hub between East and West, and you are working to diversify connections even further. So the EU is looking forward to the EU-Central Asia Sustainable Connectivity Conference in Samarkand in November. At this conference, we will discuss how to increase the capacity of the Middle Corridor, and we will also present two Global Gateway initiatives, on water, energy and climate change and on digital connectivity.

We have agreed the memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership on sustainable raw materials, batteries and hydrogen, to be signed soon. We are also looking to conclude the horizontal air services agreement, which should help to boost flights and people-to-people contacts. I look forward to the signing of the financing agreement on the bilateral cooperation facility, which should help the implementation of our Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

We also talked about the ambitious reforms of the Kazakhstan government, including following the June referendum. The EU underlines the importance of a full, fair and transparent investigation into the events of January. The EU supports reforms aimed at bolstering democracy. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is an essential element of our cooperation. We also had a good discussion on improving good governance and anti-corruption measures.

My visit takes place at a difficult time for Europe and for the wider region. Russia continues to grossly violate international law and the UN Charter. The EU stands firmly in support of the principle of territorial integrity. We have strongly condemned Russia’s war of aggression and are committed to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. We have also imposed hard-hitting sanctions to curb Russia’s war machine and are working with partners to ensure these are effective and not circumvented. Russia’s war has also unleashed soaring commodity prices and a global food crisis. We are working with our partners around the globe to address this. I would like to stress once again that EU sanctions against Russia do not target food or agricultural products.

We also discussed Afghanistan. We all want a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. But things are going in the wrong direction. The people of Afghanistan are suffering. Girls’ and women’s rights are being violated and the economy is underdeveloped. Long-term stability can only be achieved through an inclusive process with the various political, ethnic and religious groups.

President Tokayev, your country is a bridge between Europe and Asia, and Central Asia is an increasingly important region in its own right. The more your countries cooperate, the stronger the region will be. Recent global events have brought the EU and Central Asia closer to each other. Our close cooperation is even more important now than ever.

I want to thank you, dear President, as well as the Prime Minister and other ministers, for your warm welcome. There is a lot of untapped potential. Let’s work together to deepen our cooperation. Thank you.