More details of the initial concept for the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) have emerged ahead of the signing of a treaty to transform the Russia-led Customs Union in 2015, with a senior Kazakh official claiming the EEU was first envisaged as a political bloc.
Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Samat Ordabayev said in Astana on May 26 that Astana has insisted on keeping the bloc purely economic, as critics claim the country's membership in the EEU will eventually lead to a loss of political independence. Kazakh negotiators have resisted the inclusion of political provisions in the treaty, which is due to be signed in Astana on May 29, he said.
These include political integration, common citizenship, migration and visa policy and security.
"Precisely thanks to Kazakhstan's consistent positions, such issues as common citizenship, foreign policy, interparliamentary cooperation, the passport and visa sphere, joint protection of borders and so on have been excluded," Ordabayev said, according to news agency Kazinform. He added that the draft treaty took into account all Kazakhstan's national interests.
"All these issues are regulated by multilateral documents and there is no legislative vacuum," the official continued. "Taking into account the interests of our state, it was decided that supranational bodies would regulate only economic issues. There will be no politics."
He noted that the treaty had initially had almost 2,000 pages, more than three times as many as the 600-page document due to be signed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are on track to join the union as earl as January, or soon after. Both Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and Kyrgyzstan's Almazbek Atambayev are expected to attend the signing at an Astana summit.
Not one iota
Echoing accusations in the West, Kazakh critics claim President Putin is using the EEU to pursue an ambition to re-create the Soviet Union in all but name. Astana has repeatedly insisted the project is not political. Nazarbayev has stressed Kazakhstan's independence is "constant" and that he won't cede "one iota" of it to the EEU.
Instead, Astana is busy extolling the economic benefits of the Customs Union, in an attempt to reverse the fall in public support for Eurasian integration. Support for the Customs Union dropped from 80% in 2012 to 73% last year, according to the Eurasian Development Bank's Centre for Integration Studies. Support for the EEU is even lower, with just 49.3% in favor.
However, only 3% say they oppose the wider union, with 47.7% unsure of their stance, according to a nationwide study by the Astana-based Public Opinion Research Institute. Director Botagoz Rakisheva says the discrepancy in support for the Customs Union and EEU is due to the fact that the Customs Union is already functioning. "The population doesn't know about the EEU," she told bne.
Activist Zhanbolat Mamay argues that some economic sovereignty will inevitably be ceded to the bloc's supranational bodies. "The president has adopted the principle 'first economy, then politics', which means if we lose economic sovereignty now, we will definitely face a danger of losing political independence in future," he told bne in April. Mamay and other opponents of the EEU vow to continue to oppose the integration with an "isolated" and "rogue" Russia even after the creation of the EEU, Mamay told a press conference in Almaty on May 26.