Kazakhstan has indicated it intends to put forward its candidacy for the 2009 OSCE chairmanship. The chairmanship rotates among OSCE members on an annual basis.
Michael Leigh is a senior external relations official at the European Commission. After meeting with Kazakh officials including the country's deputy prime minister, Leigh said significant political reforms are still needed in Astana.
"We're giving the very clear message that an application for OSCE presidency implies behavior in accordance with OSCE principles and we do think that this does provide additional pressure and additional leverage on them to behave in accordance with OSCE rules and that point was made extremely clearly," Leigh said.
According to an EU source speaking to RFE/RL, the EU told the Kazakh delegation that it is "not clear to the EU" that the country remains committed to democratic reforms and other OSCE standards.
Among other issues, the EU told Kazakhstan recent developments "do not point in the right direction" when it comes to election laws, tolerating political opposition, ensuring compliance with human rights standards, media freedom, and the rule of law in general.
In particular, the EU side regretted the continuing harassment of independent media in Kazakhstan, and the recent closing down of several opposition newspapers, on questionable legal grounds.
The EU will also be watching the conduct of the 2006 presidential election as an important test of Kazakhstan's commitment to democratic reforms.
Leigh said the Kazakh side indicated it understands the EU position, but he added that the measures Astana has already taken and those it is planning are still not enough.
"On the whole, they gave the reply that they were forthcoming, they mentioned a number of innovations that they had introduced -- an ombudsman and other such steps. So I mean, they gave the impression that they had got the message, but at the same time we delivered a very firm message indeed that there is a lot more that still needs to be done," Leigh said.
The EU side in particular condemned recent violence against opposition members, urging the Kazakh government to thoroughly investigate attacks last spring against Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, an opposition candidate for president in the 2006 elections.
The two sides also discussed the violent crackdown on demonstrators by government forces in Uzbekistan in May.
British Europe Minister Douglas Alexander, who represented the current EU presidency, said the EU had sought to focus on the need to develop the rule of law and democratic reforms in the region. He suggested that in the light of its application for the OSCE chairmanship, Kazakhstan is expected to show regional leadership in the field.
Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov said his country attributes the causes of recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to poverty and unemployment.
"For us it is very important to follow events in out neighboring countries, Kazakhstan considers this very important. We've already spoken about this before, that the problems that arise there are caused by unemployment and the low income levels among the population. These are the same events that took place in Kyrgyzstan, with which we have had neighborly relations for a long time, just like with Uzbekistan, there's a lot that our nations have in common. All of these events, we would want that they lead to a good outcome," Yesimov said.
Yesimov indicated he does not think that political upheavals were a desired outcome.
The two sides also discussed a range of economic issues. They signed an agreement on steel quotas for Kazakh exports to the EU from the end of 2006 onwards.
The EU and Kazakhstan also reviewed the latter's preparations for World Trade Organization (WTO) membership.
Commission representative Leigh said that the attempts at regional economic integration, spearheaded by Russia, must comply with WTO rules.
"We have no objection to regional economic cooperation within the area of the former Soviet Union, provided its voluntary and provided its compatible with the participants' other commitments. In the case of WTO accession, clearly, any undertakings they enter into must be fully compatible with that. If they go beyond a free trade area in order to negotiate a customs union, we'd have to look in great detail at the individual specifications to see that it's compatible with WTO," Leigh said.
The EU also told Kazakhstan the curbs it operates against Western civil aviation companies -- among them a requirement to limit their service to Astana -- violate WTO rules and must be dropped before Kazakhstan can join the trade body.