The EU and Azerbaijan fail to agree on a new partnership agreement

81 EU «Eastern partnership»(EP) summit in videoconference format was held on June 18; however, it failed to justify hopes on agreeing a new agreement on partnership between the European Union and Azerbaijan to substitute for the previous one that expired in 2016.

In spite of the fact that a head of the EU Council, Charles Michel noted in his speech of welcome that talks on a new comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan are «on advanced stage», in reality the parties have been making no headway for, at least, a year.

A conclusion of this sort follows from a brief, yet, emotional statement of President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev: in his words «90% of the text has already been agreed».

This notwithstanding, the same 90% of the text had already been agreed in 2019 as follows from December statements of the head of the state.

It should be remembered that in February 2020 in the course of a meeting with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov in Brussels the European Trade Commissar, Phil Hogan suggested to finalize talks in the first half of the current year and initial the document in June, at the summit of heads of states-participants of «Eastern partnership» program.

However, this did not happen, and it’d be wrong to explain the lack of progress as being due to the pandemic of coronavirus only.

It should be borne in mind that the EU remains to be a major trade partner of Azerbaijan (about 50% of total foreign trade turnover of the country) where a rise in trade turnover over 2016-2019 made up 55%.

It should be recognized that EU countries have willingly been purchasing the Azerbaijani oil for the second decade (5% of all EU» black gold» purchases). Also, Azerbaijani gas is expected to be delivered in the nearest half year-year from Shah-Deniz -2 in the annual volume of 10 billion cubic meters to be redoubled in the end of the decade.

It is worth reminding that EU experts are rendering assistance to Azerbaijan in drawing up a strategy of power engineering effectiveness within the framework of country’s plans on economy diversification. Contributing to the same purpose are joint projects directed to developing small and medium business (12.500 Azerbaijani companies have received total Euro 227 million worth credits over 10 years and about 3,000 new jobs created), implementing IT projects for improvement of services quality and promotion of agriculture.

Under institutional reform for employees of 25 ministries and departments there were planned to carry out 50 twinning-projects (40 is over; 6 — on; 4- being prepared).

It is important to note that the European Union assigns an essential role to Azerbaijan in implementing a large-scale project Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) and supporting the development of the port of Baku and railway artery Baku-Tbilisi-Kars.

Acknowledging the seriousness of country’s development in 2020 due to COVID-19, the EU included Azerbaijan in the program of assistance of «Eastern partnership» member-countries worth Euro 980 million, the country will receive Euro 31, 6 million from already existing and new European funds. In particular, residents of Samukh region of Azerbaijan were supplied with protective masks.

In spite of the fact that the EU mentions «Eastern partnership» among its priorities COVID-19 issues, difficult relations with the United States, necessity of building renewed relations with Great Britain may draw back the present program.

The second half of the year can make things clear. The point is that since July 1 the European Union will be chaired by Germany, universally recognized EU leader and a major partner of Azerbaijan.

It should noted that the next Eastern partnership summit is scheduled to be held in March 2021, and should the EU and Azerbaijan express their willingness to meet each halfway, the partnership would be marked by signing a comprehensive agreement.

It is obvious that in its talks with the EU Azerbaijan has to take into account this organization’s long-term goals in the post 2020 period as follows:

-effective economy aimed at creating new jobs and new development opportunities

-structures accountable, law and order (democratic institutions, human rights, gender equality, supremacy of law)

-green transformation (EU goal till 2050in the field of energy resources and agriculture)

-digital transformation (modernization of technologies, access to high quality infrastructure services)

-fair and inclusive societies (connection with civil society)

 What gladdens, what grieves

To sum up 2019 results, Azerbaijan made public its stand on EP.

In the first turn, the country expects to get a clear and accurate EU stand on Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

It should be added that an EU declaration (- EP basis) adopted in 2009 in Prague provided commitments directed to maintaining security in the region based on principles of international law.

However, a decade passed since the creation of «Eastern partnership» but Armenia as one of 6 participants of this program goes on occupying Azerbaijani territories and preventing any efforts aimed at peace resolution to the conflict within the framework of UN Security Council.

Giving certain hopes within the EP framework in 2020 are closing of «NKR representation» in Berlin and statements of European Parliament co-reporters in Berlin on South Caucasian region – inadmissibility of laying a highway from Kafan to occupied Karabakh via Gubadly and Jabrail.

It should be added that «a decision of laying an arterial road was adopted without consent of competent bodies of Azerbaijan in defiance of standards of international law. Besides, this decision may symbolically consolidate an illegal occupation of Nagorno Karabakh and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan. Armenia should strengthen its conscientious adherence to talks on peace resolution to the conflict within the framework of internationally recognized borders of Azerbaijan», said an enthusiastically adopted statement in Baku.

On June 18 President of Azerbaijan reminded that a document titled «Priorities of partnership» between Azerbaijan and the EU was signed two years ago in Brussels. The document emphasized its adherence to the principles of independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of internationally recognized borders. It cherished hopes that this provision would be mirrored in the agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU.

As for observance of human rights, the EU and Azerbaijan take a different view on the subject. According to political experts, the given principle of democratic state is interpreted by Azerbaijan in its own manner: the authorities of this country insist on the absence of political prisoners, deny facts of persecution of opposition and free press through criminalizing the situation.

Besides, there are some uncertainties around economic issues, for example, establishment of customs tariffs in line with the World Trade Organization (WTO) standards, price policy in respect of hydrocarbons.

What is important to notice is that the EU legislation tends to switch over to «green engineering» (use of hydrogen, RES) which causes anxiety of Azerbaijan: the country is selling hydrocarbons to the EU countries in the hope of preferences; so it disagrees with EU unified approach to the matter.

«In the course of talks with the EU over the partnership agreement Azerbaijan gives preference to an individual approach. We are pragmatists and realists, and believe that the EU should contribute to the stability of the Eastern Partnership member-countries through the use of investments and trade incentives. The point is not about protectionism…but attractiveness of EP mechanisms and instruments», says Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov (he repeats this over the past half year)..

But will such a stand on the issue yield a positive result?

Beyond any doubt, the EU will weigh the pros and cons when analyzing Azerbaijan’s role for Europe.

Thus, the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) offers the European Council and Commission «to provide incentives and open additional sectors for deeper cooperation with EP member-partners who desire to cooperate, i.e. offer more to those contributing more, and less to those contributing less…».

Granting this, it will reveal those interested and prepared to follow a principle «as the call, so the echo».



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