Is Kazakhstan’s rising star fading?

12 Mar 2018

(EUCAM) (Co-authored with Jos Boonstra) Kazakhstan’s economic prosperity and active foreign policy have given it increasing regional power status. Kazakhstan has stood out internationally as a mediator in conflicts, chair of international fora and partner to key international actors, but its ‘golden decade’ of economic growth has ended. The country faced a serious economic crisis in 2014, and registered only slightly over 1 per cent GDP growth in 2015 and 2016. Even though growth improved to approximately 3.5 per cent in 2017, due to higher oil prices and production, figures are likely to remain lower than pre-2014. In January 2017, at the initiative of ageing President Nursultan Nazarbayev, parliament approved constitutional reforms to strengthen its role, including the transfer of some presidential functions, in an effort to decentralise power. While reforms have yet to be implemented, such economic and political developments seem to point towards a change in governance (the country is preparing for presidential succession) and the creation of a new ‘social contract’ between the regime and society.

Kazakhstan is the European Union’s (EU) main partner in Central Asia. Similarly, the EU plays a critical role in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy calculations, as the country seeks to avoid Russian-Chinese dominance over the region, and interference in the country’s economy and foreign investment strategy. In 2015, Astana and Brussels signed an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA), which was ratified by the European Parliament in December 2017 and is now pending ratification by several member states before fully entering into force.1 This novelty agreement is a more sophisticated version of the standard partnership and cooperation agreements that the EU has with many countries worldwide. As such, the EU has recognised Kazakhstan as a ‘special’ partner in Central Asia, while also opening the door to providing more assistance to help boost the country’s economic, social, and governance development. 

What will be the impact of Kazakhstan’s economic slowdown on the country’s political and social fabric? Is there a window of opportunity for democratic transformation? This Policy Brief addresses the main issues faced by the Kazakh authorities – the need to diversify the economy, potential governance changes, and the design of a new social contract – and how this could influence the country’s relationship with the EU. [...]

Read More © EUCAM Policy Brief No 36, February 2018