The EUROBAK Talk online event, which has already become traditional and regular, pleased with an excellent opportunity to communicate and ask all your questions to His Excellency Ambassador of the European Union to Kazakhstan – Kestutis Jankauskas.
World Monitor: It’s our honor and a pleasure to welcome to EUROBAK Talk His Excellency Ambassador Kestutis Jankauskas, Ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Kazakhstan. Your Excellency, good afternoon.
Good afternoon, Julie. Good afternoon to our listeners and readers. I also want to thank EUROBAK for having me.
World Monitor: Your Excellency, let me congratulate you with the official presentation of your credentials. We are honored to be one of the first to have an interview with you. Could you please share with us your first impressions of Kazakhstan?
Yes, of course. Well, indeed, I’m a newcomer to Kazakhstan – it’s the end of my second month here. Since at the moment we are expecting the first snow, my first impression is that Kazakhstan is a cold country of the warm people. Actually, it’s not that cold as I was told and threatened. I heard that in Kazakhstan and especially in Nur-Sultan you can only judge after you have survived your first winter, I am not there yet. However, Kazakhstan is not a completely new country to me. Yes, it is my first posting and my first visit here, but I’ve heard about the country since a long time. From my Kazakh friends in Vilnius in the Embassy, in my other postings, especially the last one, we had very good Kazakh colleagues in Baku, at the Embassy, and leading the TRACECA there. Also, I met in my own home country, Lithuania, so many people who worked in Kazakhstan for some time. I came full of good impressions. We definitely heard of Kazakhstan because of its OSCE chairmanship, of the Expo. It is an important partner for Europe, for Lithuania as well, in terms of trade, transport, and connectivity.
In the course of first two months, I tried also to explore the country as much as I could. I visited Almaty, and we had a nice meeting with the board of EUROBAK there. We went with a group of European ambassadors to Aktau, visited the port and attended a conference on connectivity. I also visited Burabay during the weekend. Beautiful, really beautiful place, and I know that there are so many others; so, I look forward to that. We have several years here to explore the country and to develop our relations. However, I think what I detect, and that’s very good news, is this warmness of the people, hospitality, openness for Europe and interest in developing cooperation, and that’s a really positive thing.
World Monitor: Absolutely, and I ditto that. Over the years, we have witnessed the same, which you just described, as an association. For over 20 years, you have served in Europe, in the United Nations, for the first time you came to Georgia, becoming the head of the mission in Tbilisi. Then there was Baku and now Central Asia, Kazakhstan. What does this appointment mean to you?
The postings that you have mentioned are only a part of my diplomatic career, but I guess people hearing that would say that I have a trajectory of moving East. Well, true to some extent. Let me go 30 years back. Speaking of “30” – let me congratulate people of Kazakhstan who are going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of independence! For me, this is also my 30 years in a way working in the Lithuanian diplomatic service. I started in November 1991. I was last year history student at the Vilnius University; at a time when Lithuania was re-establishing its own independence. I remember our Foreign Minister being on TV calling for young people who spoke foreign languages and want to work “unlimited hours” to come and join the newly re-established Foreign Ministry. It was really an honor and privilege to work there from the very beginning!
During those 30 years, I’ve been posted to several countries, first to Sweden, then the United States. There was always coming back to Vilnius in-between the postings. The key at that time was to strengthen our independence, to join the institutions in Europe, in the transatlantic space, EU and NATO, which we considered in Lithuania as part of our identity, where we belong, and where we saw our future. We succeeded joining both in 2004.
Then I completed two tours in Brussels, one being the ambassador to the Political and Security Committee of the European Union, and after that ambassador to NATO. Later I was seconded to the European External Action Service (EEAS), which just marked its 10th anniversary. During these 10 years used the experience of diplomats from the Member States. So, it is temporary. I’m looking forward to returning to my own service in a couple of years. Georgia and Tbilisi was the first EU posting: the EU has a civilian monitoring mission there, EUMM, which was launched after the war in 2008: 200 Europeans, 100 local Georgians – we were trying to first of all monitor and sustain the peace there and assist in resolving the frozen conflicts there.
The last four years I was in Azerbaijan, I had a similar job as the Head of the EU Delegation in Baku. Very similar, yet very different. I think Azerbaijan is a very important partner in the Eastern neighborhood of the European Union. Now, yes, I am in Kazakhstan. The distances here we need still to grasp, but I think what matters, once again returning to your first question, is that trust in our relationship. I think it’s the trust of European institutions and European leaders – it is an honor to represent the European Union and represent it in such an important partner country as Kazakhstan, which is a global player on its own and a crucial leader in Central Asia, and the biggest trade partner of the European Union in the region. Therefore, the job here is interesting and challenging, I look forward to maintaining and developing our relations.
World Monitor: In 2021, 9 countries appointed new ambassadors, who started their missions around September 1. Is there any specific reason for that, or what was behind this decision, this situation in the world or the general policy of the EU, which slightly changed the direction of cooperation with these countries? What is it about?
Well, it depends on how you are looking at it. I think that this year in September when I came, I was not the only one new. There were several other colleagues. If I’m not mistaken there were seven ambassadors from EU Member States who arrived around the beginning of September. Actually, we are very grateful for the President here, for the Kazakh authorities, who enabled us very quickly to present our appointment letters and start our full-fledged work. It is about one-third of the 21 EU Member States embassies, which are present in Nur-Sultan. Strong presence shows how important Kazakhstan is as a partner to the European Union and its Member States. If you calculate that the normal term of the ambassador is three or four years, then changing one-third or one-fourth of it is a natural rotation. We all do that, it is part of our diplomatic life. We take it as an inevitable part of our service that we need to move with our households and families.
The main part of our work is communications and networking, knowing people, meeting people, establishing relations. Pandemic has restricted us all in doing that. Everything became more difficult: work, traveling, contacts. Our appointment coincided with exiting from the lockdown, and it helps. We work as a team, Team Europe, and therefore it is so good to have 21 ambassadors (out of 27 EU member states) present here. We have experience, energy and motivation in our Team Europe. We are all set now to move our relations forward.
World Monitor: How do you assess the potential of Kazakhstan as one of the leading states in Central Asia and how will the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, which entered into force in March 2020, affect relations between Kazakhstan and the EU? What are the changes that this agreement has brought, and is it expected to bring even more to Kazakhstan? In addition, in your opinion, what horizons does it open and what opportunities does it provide?
First of all, it is very difficult to underestimate the potential of Kazakhstan. A hugely important, developed country with capable people and a lot of resources. We are not speaking of just one specific area definitely, there are many of them; and probably every aspect of the modern life, economy, and connectivity applies to Kazakhstan as well as to the relations between the EU and Kazakhstan. What is the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement? First and foremost, it has provided us with the new, modern legal base for our relationship for decades to come. If you look back in the mid-1990s, we had simple, kind of 1.0 Partnership and Cooperation Agreements – nothing wrong with them – but looking 20 years back into the different developments of our countries and our own lives, we understand how much has changed. As life moved on, the updates were inevitably needed. You can compare a 20-year old agreement with a 20-year old car – it may still run, but an upgrade would be definitely desirable.
Jokes aside, this new agreement covers political, sectorial, and trade areas. Altogether, it covers 29 most important areas of our life. It opens new possibilities. It sets the framework for the political dialogue in all areas, on all levels. I hope it would enable and push for more possibilities in our trade. Unfortunately, the pandemic coincided with its entering into force, so not all the potential was utilized yet. Nevertheless, even during pandemic EU and Kazakhstan maintained their positions in trade. Without a pandemic we would’ve moved further. Now that we exit the lockdowns, we will look for ways of fully enacting the potential of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Summing up, it is the new legal base for developing our relations, setting up the political dialogue framework, and focusing the attention of the EU: it is the first agreement of this type in Central Asia. No surprise that it was signed with Kazakhstan. It gives Kazakhstan access to more of the EU programs, and attracts more attention, which nowadays is not so easy in Brussels. Thus, it is a legal platform, political and practical toolkit for enhancement of our relations.
World Monitor: What sectors of the economy will receive more attention now with the framework of a closer strategic program of a partnership between the EU and Kazakhstan?
Once again, all sectors are important and quite developed. The EU is Kazakhstan’s main trade partner. The EU is the largest investor in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is our main trading partner in the region of Central Asia. To maintain that is already a big task, and we will definitely try to do so, maintain it and try to build on it and expand it. Historically, oil and gas have dominated our trade. Then our energy cooperation broadened, it started expanding into other areas, and now a lot will be determined by the implementation of the “Green Deal”. That’s the new reality in the world, and especially in the European Union. To advance our fight against the climate change, to change the way we live, the way we structure our economies, we need partners. We need partners because we cannot win alone. We need partners like Kazakhstan.
We encourage partners to go for their own commitments for the greenhouse gas emissions, for CO2, for methane emissions. It is in line not only with our interests, but also with interest of the people in Kazakhstan. Switching away from coal is good for air quality, it is good for health, it is good for the availability of water, which is getting more scarce in the whole region.
The EU not only encourages partners, but also has a lot to offer. First of all, technologies of the renewables, solar, wind and geothermal energy, carbon capture, energy efficiency technologies, production of green hydrogen, sustainability of the electrical grids, legislation enabling balancing and sustainability of grids, and much more. Besides technologies, we offer experiences in dealing with social consequences of switching from mining coal and coal-heavy industries to creating more SMEs, more jobs. As you can see, it’s the whole package. This will be in the center of our attention for quite some time.
The second area, which I would mention is connectivity. It encompasses all modes of transport, digital and people-to-people connectivity. We underline the importance of the Middle Corridor, which is connecting Europe and Asia, EU-Central Asia, EU-Kazakhstan. Choices and alternatives are always welcome, and healthy competition is good for business. Digital connectivity, internet, is also important. It is crucial that we get people traveling again.
Another important sector would be agriculture and forestry, and the water management. We spoke about it during our most recent EU-Kazakhstan Business Platform meeting with the Prime Minister.
Last but not least, I would like to mention minerals. During the pandemic we all saw how affected we were by the lack of some raw materials, the disruption of some chains of supply. Kazakhstan has a lot to offer. EU is interested and ready to offer green and sustainable mining and processing technologies.
We spoke about economy and technologies, but we can’t forget the society as such, the development of the human capital, because none of this would be possible without investments into the human capital, without addressing key areas of education, health, open and democratic and civil society. These are the prerequisites of building a modern society.
World Monitor: Yes. Thank you for that. Ambassador, you have mentioned in the beginning that we had the opportunity, the board of directors of EUROBAK had the opportunity to meet with you. In your opinion, being an honorary member of EUROBAK board of directors, and speaking from the perspective of diplomatic missions, as well as given the structural development of business associations around the world, how closely does the association in Kazakhstan cooperate with the government agencies, and how quickly and efficiently are the issues of member companies being resolved? Also, it would be interesting to know how your participation in the association’s activities might support the dialogue between the business and government, what do you think?
First, it is a privilege to be an honorary member of the EUROBAK Board of Directors. Our first meeting was extremely interesting. I was more in the listening mode because for me as for a newcomer it is important not to rush offering solutions, but first to listen and to understand what are the problems, priorities and opportunities. I thank you very much first for your willingness to cooperate, for your openness and trust. From my side, I look forward to working together with you. Business associations are created in order to have a stronger impact. When you are in a team like Team Europe, you are stronger and more visible, and your impact is definitely bigger. Same with EUROBAK: it was invited to observe an EU-Kazakhstan Business Platform, it can bring up issues, ask questions, and I hope to see you at the future platforms as well. What matters is not only that one hour which we spend in the room or online, but also the preparatory process. We have some accomplishments already. I noted the openness of the governmental institutions for the dialogue with the private sector. I clearly remember the President saying in his remarks a couple of weeks ago that Kazakhstan needs partners and investments.
You need latest technologies and financial tools to compete in the global market. The EU is the biggest investor and the biggest trade partner. There is always a room for improvement, in terms of the business climate, in terms of the rule of law. We hope for more connectivity, return of travel, ending of the pandemic. There will always be a competition, especially with the neighboring countries. These countries are not only competitors, but they offer their various advantages. The more cooperation there is, something the EU has always been encouraging, the better it is for all. We need cooperation in shared water management, we cannot advance connectivity alone, and we need to work together in many areas.
It would be interesting to make a business climate report. We have had good examples in some countries that really worked fine, so we may use that example here. When you monitor changes over several years, it gives you much better perspective of the trends and developments. EU-Central Asia Business Forum in Bishkek, which involesthe Executive Vice President of the European Commission as well as several Prime Ministers, including the Kazakhstan Prime Minister, is an excellent opportunity to think about it. It is also an opportunity to learn about different issues and jointly look for solutions. I see EUROBAK and its businesses represented as our fellow players on the “Team Europe”.
World Monitor: Yes. We very much appreciate your involvement and being there in dialogue with the businesses. We firmly believe that it is extremely important to have diplomatic support in whatever the business has to say and especially the support in engaging in the dialogue with the government of Kazakhstan. It’s been a great honor for us as an association to work jointly with the Delegation over the years, ever since we have been supportedby the Delegation in 1999. Ambassador, just to wrap up, our editorial team and the secretariat of EUROBAK are always keen to talk to ambassadors and business leaders and decision makers in the country and to touch a little bit on a personal note. So, to say to put a human face to a name, an official name, to an official title. That’s why we wrap up our interviews on how you make your career or know who you are, you know. You mentioned that you started your career almost 30 years ago in November, right?
Yes, it is 30 years for me in the diplomatic service in November this year.
World Monitor: Could you tell us about the life of EU Ambassador? What is behind the scenes? What kind of literature do you like to read? What do you recommend those who are viewing or reading this to read? How do you like to spend your free time? What is important to you and why? These kind of questions, if you could elaborate on that?
This is a very extensive question. I think there is a humble human being behind the ambassador title in most of the cases. There is much less mystery, drama, glamour, or whatever people may imagine. The main task of the ambassador is to maintain and develop relations between countries and organizations, between people. There is a lot of work involved in that, including a lot of the managerial tasks and official duties. Probably quite similar to a leader in a business company.
Many may imagine that diplomats get paid for talking, however, diplomats are earning their living by listening. We are trying to be good listeners. That’s important because we need to understand the country of our posting. We are interpreters of what’s going on and why, and what the ways forward are. Skills of cooperation are also essential. The EU today adopts “Team Europe” approach. It is very dear for me personally because I grew up playing basketball, which is a team sport. Speaking of sports, I also like tennis, volleyball, and now I moved to golf and can combine both team and individual aspects in sport. I like biking and hiking, and I already did it in Nur-Sultan. In Burabay I already climbed on top of the mountain and enjoyed a splendid view! When you spend hours in the office, sport is an excellent and much needed way of spending your free time, to keep some balance and breathe fresh air.
I need to say that behind every successful ambassador, in most of the cases, there is a supportive spouse, and there is one in my case to whom I’m very grateful for going with me to different postings and taking a huge burden of everything that needs to be done at home, at the Residence, which enables me to dedicate more time to work. It is important that diplomats maintain the relationship not only with the government institutions, but explore the country as wide and deep as possible, and that means traveling, talking to a variety of people, businesses of course but also the artists, civil society, students and so on. We often measure the volumes of trade, but the number of exchange students, of tourists, art exhibitions is also valuable. The world is getting smaller, and while the pandemic kicked us off track for a while, but we need to restart the tourism. It is important for knowing each other’s countries and people; it helps the development of small business and regions.
In terms of reading, I think many of us wish there was more time for books. Every day starts with news of the country, of the region, of back home, of Brussels, of institutions, and a lot of papers to be looked at. I like reading a good science fiction, but more science than fiction. I would highly recommend one book, which is still with me, it’s always traveling with me, called Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku. I keep following how much of his predictions are proving valid.
It is very important to keep consistency, in business, and in daily life. In the EU we play by rules, we try our best, and that need to be part of our everyday life, all through. This mean respecting values and principles. I want the people to know that the doors of the EU Delegation here, and my doors are always open. We greet everybody with open mind and open heart to listen, to learn, to understand, and make friends. That’s essential for moving relations forward.
World Monitor: Ambassador, thank you so much. This has been an extremely valuable time and we really appreciate your answers. It’s great to understand what a true diplomat is. And when you were describing it, I think this is what ambassador actually means, right? Translating the values of the country or a brand or whatever you are representing as an ambassador. It never struck me this way that an ambassador is actually someone who translates values of the European Union to the country where you are posted. That’s kind of like an insight I just got, so thank you very much for that. Thank you for the recommendation of the book. I’m curious what it says about our future, like 2022. I do hope and believe that we go back to tourism and that means getting to travel again, getting to explore other countries and to meet each other in person and have our life back. I hope that comes from The Physics of the Future book.
Our lives have been affected by so many crises, be it 9/11 or the financial crisis ten years ago, they changed many aspects of our life. Yet we managed. I hope for the same with this pandemic. We need to learn, adjust and move on. I think there is no other way than doing it together.
World Monitor: True. Thank you very much, Ambassador. A great honor and a true pleasure to have been speaking with you. We look forward to cooperating and working with you for your short-term posting as you said. Only short term, I’m disappointed. . .
We never know, but it cannot be forever. Short is good because it encourages you to do things fast.
World Monitor: True. Thank you very much, Ambassador. Have a good day.
Thanks, you too, Julie. All the best to your colleagues in EUROBAK. Thank you!Related Topics