In Pursuit Of Economic Benefits, EU Still Fails To See Eye To Eye With Azerbaijan On Karabakh

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 14 June 2019
In Pursuit Of Economic Benefits, EU Still Fails To See Eye To Eye With Azerbaijan On Karabakh

Negotiations on a strategic agreement between the European Union (EU) and Azerbaijan have been dragging on for several years though tangible progress on general points of view on different political and economic problems, but the parties have again failed to agree on a final agreement.

However, the failure does not prevent the EU and Azerbaijan to continue cooperation within the framework of business forums and energy projects and the June 13 visit of Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, to Azerbaijan to participate in a bilateral business forum is a proof that the key economic partners are determined to deepen the economic relations despite differences on the draft strategic deal in the pipeline.

Along with Johannes Hahn, Economy Minister Sahin Mustafayev addressed the opening ceremony of the business forum in Baku where the business climate in Azerbaijan was a key topic. Along with the key speakers, Education Minister Ceyhun Bayramov, Taxes Minister Mikayil Cabbarov, Justice Minister Fikrat Mammadov, and Head of the State Customs Committee Safar Mehdiyev spoke at the forum.

Today the bilateral relations between the EU and Azerbaijan are regulated on the basis of a partnership and cooperation agreement from 1999. The draft of the new agreement, the Azerbaijani government presented the EU back in May 2015 within the framework of the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit, is still under review.

Azerbaijan put forward the initiative to conclude an agreement on strategic modernization partnership with the EU instead of an association agreement. This is not a legal document; it is rather a program, an action plan aimed at taking the cooperation with the EU beyond the framework of energy ties only.

The new document provides for the approximation of the laws and procedures of Azerbaijan to the most important international and trade norms and standards of the EU, which should lead to improved access of Azerbaijani products to EU markets. Since 2009, Azerbaijan has joined the European integration program Eastern Partnership, initiated by Poland and Sweden for closer approximation of the EU with the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Currently, a new agreement is being considered by the parties. In other words, by signing these papers, the European Union wants to demonstrate de facto and de jure that the Eastern Partnership is alive, which means that the geopolitical interests of the EU in the post-Soviet space will always be taken into account. But how it will be with the interests of Azerbaijan, representatives of Europe are not at all worried.

If the European Union was at least a little concerned about the violation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, inviting Armenia to participate in this geopolitical project together with Azerbaijan, Brussels would have set forth conditions for the liberation of the occupied Azerbaijani lands in exchange for participation in this program and economic preferences from the EU.

However, these steps were not taken and all because the European Union does not make any difference between the occupier and its victim. For Europe, Azerbaijan is important primarily as an energy partner, and all other problems are not at all of interest to it.

Whether it is Karabakh or the development of civil society, the European Union does not put conditions binding on Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan will not sign any cooperation agreements that run against its national interests. Therefore, negotiations on this document are so delayed.

Where Azerbaijan and the EU are ready to rely on some kind of basis, this is stipulated in the terms of the treaty. This is a more in-depth form of interaction, further rapprochement, but this document does not provide for any forms of practical integration of Azerbaijan into EU structures.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, has announced his readiness to support Azerbaijan in diversifying its economy.

“We want to further support Azerbaijan’s efforts to diversify the economy. I think that Azerbaijan has taken the right course in this area. We will support efforts and development in the areas in which this is possible,” Khan told reporters in Baku on Thursday.

He expressed the hope that the new agreement on strategic partnership between the EU and Azerbaijan will be signed soon. “This agreement is one of the EU’s priorities. It will be another and clear proof of the intensification of the Azerbaijani-EU cooperation. Azerbaijan is one of the main partners of the EU,” he added.

Khan also hopes for the signing of an agreement on "open skies" between the EU and Azerbaijan in 2019. “The cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU in recent years has become noticeably intense. I hope that this year we will sign an agreement on aviation,” Khan said at the Azerbaijan-EU business forum on July 13 in Baku.

According to him, over the past 10 years, the EU has provided Azerbaijan with financial resources in the amount of 207m euros, which have improved the welfare of 11,000 people. He noted that these funds were directed to the development of small and medium-sized businesses in Azerbaijan.

“We will continue to support the development of small and medium businesses in the future,” he added. In addition, as Khan noted, Azerbaijan and the EU have identified priorities in the transport sector. “Some 2.6bn euros will be spent on six projects in the transport sector. These projects will allow Azerbaijan to expand transport opportunities,” the European Commissioner stressed.

The essence of the agreement on open skies is to simplify air links between Azerbaijan and the EU countries - both passenger traffic and cargo. In 2016, Azerbaijan signed a similar agreement with the United States.

Last summer, the parties have already initialed a document entitled Partnership Priorities. They identified four main areas of cooperation. They stipulate strengthening of institutions and good governance, which includes the fight against corruption, the reform of public administration and the capacity building to fight crime and terrorism.

The second priority is economic development and market opportunities, which include measures to sustainably diversify the economy, support World Trade Organization (WTO) membership and improve the business and investment environment.

The third key areas of cooperation are energy efficiency, environment and climate, which include support for Azerbaijan’s ability to function as a trade, logistics and transport hub, taking into account the implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor.

The main priorities also included the topic of mobility and people-to-person contacts, covering issues of supporting education and human capital.
A few years ago, relations between Baku and Brussels were, to put it mildly, cool, if not strained. Negatively, the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU were also affected by the fact that, unlike the conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, in the case of the Karabakh problem, European diplomacy did not express unequivocal support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

Over the recent 2-3 years, the EU has made adjustments to its policy. This was mainly due to events in Ukraine. The desire to engage Ukraine into the orbit of the West at any cost, ignoring the geopolitical realities of the post-Soviet space led to a war in Donbas, a sharp deterioration of the EU’s relations with Moscow and in fact the return of relations between the West and the Russian Federation to the atmosphere of the Cold War times.

After that, the EU revised the concept of the neighborhood and decided to abandon the forced "expansion". A tactic was chosen to determine the degree of partnership at the level to which the partners themselves are ready.

Approaches to Azerbaijan have changed. In relations with Baku, attention was focused on energy security, development of transport corridors, trade and economic relations, and cultural and humanitarian ties. Khan mentioned everything, but not Karabakh. As one can see, double standards are back in action.

Concerning the agreement between Baku and Brussels, there are many questions, too. It is not worth expecting that after the signing of this agreement, the European Union will change its position on Karabakh. Brussels will not make a difference between the aggressor and its victim.