Azerbaijan-Europe cooperation: Towards a deeper dialogue
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev visited Belgium at the invitation of the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. During his stay he participated in discussions with EU officials, the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker, President Tusk, the High Representative of the European Union and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini, European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic, as well as with King Philippe of Belgium and the former president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Rene van der Linden.
The High Representative of the European Union and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini stressed the importance of the visit of President Aliyev to Brussels in terms of strengthening the bilateral cooperation. She noted the significance of the Azerbaijani President`s meetings in discussing prospects for greater cooperation. Saying that the European Union attached a great importance to cooperation with Azerbaijan, Federica Mogherini noted that the Southern Gas Corridor project is of great significance to the European Union. Federica Mogherini hailed the role of this project in ensuring Europe’s energy security and diversifying gas supplies, adding that the European Union will continue to support its implementation.
President Aliyev said bilateral ties between his country and the EU had developed since High Representative Mogherini`s visit to Azerbaijan. The President noted that the expansion of cooperation with the EU is a good message both for Azerbaijan and the wider region, and described the EU as a reliable friend and partner for Azerbaijan. Both hailed mutual trust between Azerbaijan and the European Union.
In the meeting with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, President Aliyev discussed the new agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU that replaces the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which signals a new impetus in the development of relations. The PCA was signed by the European Union and Azerbaijan, as well as Georgia and Armenia, on April 22nd 1996. The document included provisions promoting the creation of a dialogue for the development of political relations between the republics of the South Caucasus, the development of democracy and economic growth in these states, as well as EU`s support in accomplishment the process of transition to market economies, and so on.
Last year the European Council provided the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy a mandate to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan on behalf of the EU. The agreement will follow the principles endorsed in the 2015 review of the European Neighborhood Policy and offer a renewed foundation for political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan.
The President of the European Council Donald Tusk mentioned in Brussels that the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU go beyond energy and trade: “We want to upgrade our relationship and develop its full potential through a new bilateral agreement. I am very happy to announce that tomorrow, the negotiations on a new EU-Azerbaijan agreement will be launched. This new agreement will broaden the scope of our relations, taking into account the new global, political and economic interests we share and challenges we want to face together.”
Notably, Azerbaijan has a good record of cooperation with the EU member-states, which is enshrined in adopted strategic partnership agreements. As President Aliyev said in the joint press statements in Brussels, “this is a good basis for future agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan, and today it’s a remarkable day in the history of our cooperation, because we are opening a new chapter in our cooperation”.
The parties discussed the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The EU recognises the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan that was once again expressed by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.
The major priorities of the EU in the South Caucasus include sustain stability and produce conductive environment for the successful realization of energy, transport and humanitarian projects. In order to follow up through these goals, a regional approach is a key condition. In fact, the regional cooperation in South Caucasus is problematic because of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which constitutes the key threat to peace and security in the region, as well as the main obstacle for a durable cooperation in the South Caucasus. Moreover, to exert pressure on Armenia to withdraw from the occupied territories, Azerbaijan intends to procced a policy of Armenian exclusion from regional projects. Thus, for the successful development of regional cooperation in the South Caucasus, the EU should actively demonstrate its political will and make efforts to resolve the conflict within the framework of universally recognised norms and principles of international law. Only then will cooperation between Azerbaijan and Armenia be possible.
Najiba Mustafayeva, PhD, is a research fellow at Baku-based Center for Strategic Studies. She is a specialist in international law, human rights and conflict resolution.