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3 April 2017

EU Ambassador Traian Hristea evokes EU’s perspectives of Dialogue and Cooperation on Rule of Law with Kazakhstan and the Central Asian Region

  • Ambassador Traian Hristea is Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Kazakhstan. He has vast diplomatic expertise acquired while working with the European External Action Service and the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and from his membership. Traian Hristea was previously Head of European Union Delegation in Armenia. Before that he was Romania’s Ambassador in Kiev in 2005-2010; head of the Political Forecast and Planning Division at MFA Headquarters in 2010 – 2011; and Director of the Enlarged Europe and Republic of Moldova Division in 2004-2005.

Platform: Ambassador, how would you describe the progress in the relationships between the European Union and Kazakhstan over the last 25 years?

Traian Hristea: Indeed, EU-Kazakhstan relations date back to the early 1990s, shortly after Kazakhstan declared its independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union. We established official diplomatic relations in 1993 and that was also the beginning of a regular political dialogue. Ever since that day our cooperation is expanding and deepening in areas as trade, economy, energy, transport and environment among many others. It is remarkable achievement that today the European Union is Kazakhstan’s biggest foreign investor and trading partner. The EU is also investing into projects for youth, in the fields of education, scientific research, and civil society development.

In December 2015 the European Union and Kazakhstan signed in Astana a unique agreement called Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA). So, recently this is the main document framing the EU’s relations with Kazakhstan. The EPCA is provisionally implemented since 1 May 2016 and provides significant boost to economic and political ties between the EU and Kazakhstan and also enhance concrete cooperation in 29 key policy areas, including in the sectors of economic and financial cooperation, energy, transport, environment and climate change, employment and social affairs, culture, education and research.

Platform: The launch of the negotiations for a new enhanced agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan took place on 27 June 2011 in Brussels and on 21 December 2015 the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed in Astana. This marks an important milestone in the strengthening of relations and cooperation between the EU and its Member States and Kazakhstan. What specific ambitions do the EU, its Member States and Kazakhstan have resulting from the signing of the EPCA?

Traian Hristea: The EPCA reflects the changes that have happened both in Kazakhstan and the European Union and provides a more stable legal groundwork for a more mature relationship, a more equal partnership. The new agreement – which builds on 20 years of partnership between the EU and Kazakhstan- covers 29 sectoral areas of cooperation and already entered into force under provisional application since last May 1, 2016. The Trade and business chapters will ensure in particular better regulatory environment for European and Kazakh economic operators in areas such as trade in services, establishment and operation of companies, capital movements, raw materials and energy, government procurement and intellectual property rights, going beyond Kazakhstan’s WTO commitments in several areas. The Agreement is thus meant to substantially upgrade the opportunities for economic relations and increase the flow of trade, services and investment between the parties. It also includes sectors that were not present in the previous cooperation agreement. It is ambitious and forward-looking.

The ECPA provides a reinforced and updated legal framework for the further development of bilateral relations at political, economic, social, cultural and people to people exchange level.

Kazakhstan is demonstrating its transformation into an important partner of the EU, and one the EU can cooperate with in new ways to promote joint engagement in Central Asia. Kazakhstan can draw on the experience we have within the EU as the major donor in the world of official development assistance, and we can cooperate together with Kazakhstan in the future and provide assistance throughout the region together, shifting a little bit the focus from bilateral assistance to regionally oriented assistance.

Platform: The EU programmes in the region aim at supporting the set-up of a long-lasting dialogue and cooperation between Central Asian countries. What particular areas of dialogue within the Platform’s broad agenda do you consider more critical to advance the EU’s objectives?

Traian Hristea: The EU is indeed present in the region with three platforms which aim to ensure a policy dialogue and exchange of knowledge and expertise among EU Member States and Central Asian countries. These are: the EU-Central Asia Platform on Education, the Platform on Environment and Water and the Rule of Law Platform. With regard to the latter, all partner countries have expressed their interest in reinforcing cooperation with the EU in order to further develop their legal systems, including the transformation experience of the new EU Member States. Since the countries’ independence, different reforms of the legal and judiciary systems have been launched. Although their speed and intensity differ in each country, the pace of modernisation continues to be slow and considerable work remains to be done in order to achieve adequate protection of fundamental rights, real implementation of legislation, and improved access to justice and legal aid. The Central Asian countries aim at meeting international standards by implementing common principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers and the protection of human rights.

Since the start of its first phase, the Platform concentrated on supporting dialogue and prepare for adoption of reforms in a broad range of fields tackling horizontal issues such as: independence of judges and lawyers, training of judges and civil servants, uniform implementation of legislations, integration of international laws into national legal systems. Although this approach has been instrumental to start a reform process in all five countries this is not enough. Our experience with the Platform, which has been in place now for over 5 years, suggests that it is time to concentrate our efforts on providing more direct support to the reform agenda towards a sustainable and inclusive growth. We wish to direct our future support on aspect of the rule of law including mainly: administrative and commercial law and economic governance. This approach is in line with the outcome of the EU-Central Asia Foreign Affairs Ministerial Conference which took place in Astana in 2016. On this occasion, CA partners requested more support and expertise to sustain growth, investments and job creation in Central Asia. The same priorities were also endorsed by Central Asian participants in the Senior Experts Meeting which took place in Astana on March 27, 2017.

Platform: In Kazakhstan, two on-going projects are tasked with supporting justice and the rule of law notably through institutional capacity-building and increasing state accountability. How can the Platform best complement the role of mainstream projects in this country?

Traian Hristea: Contrary to most bilateral projects, the Rule of Law Platform proposes a multi-purpose approach using different type of activities such as fora for dialogue and exchange; trainings; donor mapping; support in developing legislation and practices; communication/networking actions; and a studies facility. Its regional dimension empowers the Rule of Law Platform to assist in structuring the process of dialogue and exchange of best practices between Central Asian and European Union countries and between Central Asian countries themselves. It has the ability to foster regional cooperation regarding the state of legal and judicial reform and government actions and the activities of other donors. It has and will continue to provide training to judges, lawyers and civil servants and to contribute to higher legal awareness amongst citizens. It addresses pertinent issues such as uniform implementation of legislation, independence of the judiciary and legal professions and reform of the public prosecution, at regional level.

Platform: Following a Platform seminar in Astana, Kazakhstan demonstrated an increasingly active interest in participating in the work of the Hague Conference and presented a request to become a Member of the Hague Conference. This happened at the end of 2016. This is just an example of Kazakhstan’s interest to adopt best international standards and practices in the area of the rule of law. What other directions would you recommend for the country to adhere to international laws and Conventions?

Traian Hristea: The EU through the Rule of Law Platform is accompanying  Kazakhstan in its efforts to comply with its commitments to the WTO and Title III (Trade and Business part) of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. In particular, in the framework of the Intellectual Property Rights, we contributed to the organisation of a round-table on the new draft law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Intellectual Property Rights at the Mejilis of Kazakhstan on 9 December 2016. Also, the Platform supports the country’s accession to International Conventions, notably, those created in the framework of the Council of Europe, and membership of the Venice Commission.

Platform: The Fourth Conference of the Ministers of Justice of the European Union and Central Asia took place in Astana in October 2014. In the second half of 2017, the Platform will organise the Fifth Ministerial meeting of the European Rule of Law Initiative for Central Asia. What do you expect from this important event?

Traian Hristea: The next Ministerial Conference shall take place in the second half of 2017 in Brussels, under the Estonian Presidency of the European Council. It will steer the process of dialogue and will take stock of the Rule of Law Initiative activities on the regional and national levels. The European Commission, the EEAS, the Estonian Presidency of the EU Council, the coordinators of the Initiative France and Germany, the Initiative EU partners Finland and Latvia and the Platform have already started good preparatory work for the Ministerial Conference. I have big expectations towards this Ministerial Conference which will bring about high level representatives of Central Asian countries and EU Member States. I believe this will be an important occasion to confirm our aspiration to move towards those themes of the rule of law which can be instrumental to prepare the ground to attract further investments in the region thus stimulating its economic growth and the creation of an open society.

Thank you, Ambassador, for this interview.