At political level, relations between France and Kazakhstan were initiated following the country’s independence, with diplomatic relations established on 25 January 1992. President Mitterrand visited Kazakhstan in September 1993.
Our relations have been spurred on by the signing of a strategic partnership in June 2008, and the creation in 2010 of a Franco-Kazakh Presidential Commission, which essentially takes the form of an annual meeting between the two Heads of State since President Nazarbayev’s visit to Paris in 2008. Increasing numbers of high-level visits have thus taken place: the President of the French Republic, François Hollande, first met his Kazakh counterpart on 21 November 2012 in Paris, then a second time on 24 March 2014 in the side-lines of the Hague Nuclear Security Summit. He made an official visit to Astana and Almaty on 5 and 6 December 2014, and received Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev during the latter’s official visit to Paris on 4-6 November 2015. The French Prime Minister received his counterpart in Paris on 11 June 2012, on 20 September 2013 and on 17 November 2014, while the French Minister of Defence visited Kazakhstan on 15 and 16 July 2012. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs made a visit to Astana on 1 March 2013, when he had consultations with his counterpart, Mr Idrissov, as well as being received by President Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov. For her part, the French Minister of Foreign Trade visited Kazakhstan on 24 May 2013, followed by the Minister Delegate for Francophonie on 17 and 18 September that year. The Minister of State responsible for Foreign Trade, Development of Tourism and French Nationals Abroad, also visited Kazakhstan on 16 and 17 October 2014. Mr Idrissov was received by Mr Fabius on 10 June 2014 in Paris.
The strategic partnership between France and Kazakhstan is essentially economic: Kazakhstan is France’s leading trading partner in Central Asia, with a volume of trade totalling €6 billion in 2014, €666 million accounted for by exports from France. With more than €4.22 billion of imports, France is Kazakhstan’s fifth-largest customer (6.4% of its sales). Our companies have made us the third-largest investor (€11 billion of French direct investment stock as of the end of September 2014 – whereas Kazakh investments in France totalled less than $3 million at that date). The Joint Economic Cooperation Commission on the one hand, and the Business Council on the other, which both meet annually, contribute to the development of our economic relations.
In October 2009, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement on rail and air transit without stopover for our military equipment returning from Afghanistan, which was supplemented in November 2012 by a protocol placing the Chymkent airfield, in the South of Kazakhstan, at France’s disposal as an air-rail platform to facilitate the withdrawal of this equipment. The use of this facility is now complete.
In 2008, France, like its European partners, transferred its Embassy from its previous location, Almaty, to the new capital, Astana. In 2010, our presence was strengthened with the transformation of our embassy office in Almaty into a Consulate-General.
Our scientific, education and cultural cooperation is based on the Treaty of Friendship, Understanding and Cooperation of September 1992 and the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Culture and the Arts of September 1993.
With a budget of €341,731 in 2014, renewed at the same level in 2015, the diplomatic post works to strengthen the cultural network (Alliances françaises) and promote the French language in order to identify new publics, including through the organization of events such as cultural days including the “Autumn Meetings” and the “Francophonie Week”. Cross-cultural seasons were held in 2013 and 2014. The French Season, organized in autumn 2013, was a great success and involved prestigious events including two concerts by the Lille National Orchestra, performances by the Preljocaj Ballet, an exhibition on Napoleon and a concert by Patricia Kaas. In autumn 2014, the Kazakh Season started with a performance by the Astana Ballet at the Palais des Congrès in Paris, followed by other prestigious events such as a concert of the Astana Opera at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the presentation of a Kazakh folk village on the Palais Royal square.
The priority granted to training the elite draws on partnerships (Bolashak Presidential Scholarship Scheme*, Soros Foundation, French businesses, Kazakh universities). A programme to train senior civil servants between the Kazakhstan Academy of Public Administration and the French National School of Public Administration (ENA) produced a joint master’s curriculum between the two establishments. The project for the “Sorbonne-Kazakhstan Institute”, promoted by Marek Halter since late 2012 and enshrined by the signing of a memorandum in September 2013 between the PRES Sorbonne Paris Cité (SPC) research and teaching unit and the Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University in Almaty, led to the creation of the Institute, offering two master’s degrees in international relations and implementing change. 50 students have been studying there since the 2014 intake, receiving French lessons and a grant from the Kazakh government. During the President of the French Republic’s visit in December 2014, which solemnly inaugurated the “Sorbonne-Kazakhstan Institute”, 21 agreements were also signed between French and Kazakh higher education establishments. On 4 November 2015, the sixth Franco-Kazakh academic forum was held in Paris, with the participation of 25 Kazakh and some 30 French establishments.
Support for decentralized cooperation (renewal of the twinning between Almaty and Rennes; forging of ties between Oksemen and Lyon and between Atyrau and Marseille; action by Nice in the area of training for the hospitality and tourism industry and by Cannes in the area of events) completes France’s support for cultural and technical cooperation.
*The “Bolashak Presidential Scholarship Scheme” was created in 1996 by President Nazarbayev and is managed by the Bolashak Foundation. It provides grants for Kazakhstan’s most brilliant students to study abroad, primarily in North America and Europe. Each year, some forty students come to study in France under this programme. They receive bachelor’s (for disciplines not provided at Nazarbayev University), master’s or PhD level education in various fields (economics and management, engineering, law, communication, arts, agronomy).