Comprehensive ties with EU pivotal only after rigorous respect for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 8 May 2018
Comprehensive ties with EU pivotal only after rigorous respect for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity

Azerbaijan plays a crucial role in the energy policy of the European Union and contributes to its efforts to diversify its energy sources. Official Baku also strives to benefit from the give-and-take policy for comprehensive relations with the pan-European organization for further deepening of all-out ties.

No to compromise on fundamentals

However, official Baku realizes that there can be no give and take on fundamentals - one of which being the Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied by Armenia seven districts. Azerbaijan has been trying to end the occupation with the help of various means, one being through the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group, established for the purpose of hammering out agreed policies to end the occupation and the return of IDPs back to their native lands.

Also almost all the influential European and global organizations have been dissuading Azerbaijan from renewing hostilities to regain the occupied lands, pushing for negotiations, this has not yield any tangible results and with the shift of power in the occupying country, a scenario of previous years is again replayed which will drag out a solution to the protracted aggression.

In the meantime, the EU is stepping up its involvement in the South Caucasus and has already negotiated a new Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia, whose political and economic cooperation with the EU will take account of Armenia's other international commitments.

The EU is also negotiating a new Framework Agreement with Azerbaijan to better reflect its respective interests and values. On May 7-8, Baku is hosting a two-day session of the 15th meeting of the EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee to look into the current stage of the negotiations on a new Framework Agreement, political dialogue and reforms, economic cooperation, energy and transport issues.

Experts in Azerbaijan, in the meantime, believe the negotiations between the EU and Azerbaijan on a new agreement can only be described successful if the EU takes an unambiguous position on Karabakh, condemning Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan, and calls on Yerevan to pull out the occupying troops from the Azerbaijani lands and moreover, political expert Farid Aqbabali is insisting on inclusion of this into the text of agreement the parties are to sign once all the aspects meet interests.

Although other issues discussed during the talks are also important, they are nevertheless not a priority for Azerbaijan. So far, unfortunately, the EU has not voiced such a position on Karabakh though Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammadquliyev spoke about progress in the negotiations.

At the negotiations on the new agreement between the European Union (EU) and Azerbaijan, progress is being made, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammadquliyev said at the 15th meeting of the EU-Azerbaijan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in Baku on May 7.

Mammadquliyev noted that the negotiations started last year continue successfully in 2018 as well. According to him, the agreement covers three main areas - political security, trade and investment issues and various sectoral issues.

"Compliance is very important for Azerbaijan: the fact that the EU supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan gives impetus to the development of cooperation between us," Mammadquliyev said.

The deputy minister stressed that today the cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan in the energy sector is at a very high level, and therefore the non-energy sphere is of greatest interest for Baku.

On visa simplification

"One of the issues on which negotiations are currently under way is the issue of further simplifying the visa regime between the EU and Azerbaijan, this step will benefit the population of both the EU and Azerbaijan, the peoples of our countries will become closer to each other," Mammadquliyev said.

We should say that in November 2016, the Council of the European Union issued a mandate for the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to negotiate on behalf of the EU and its member states on a comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan.

The verbal recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan by Brussels, to which the deputy minister drew attention to, cannot replace the principles of the settlement of the conflict, which lead to a fair resolution of this problem. That is, Azerbaijan cannot limit itself to the statement on the recognition of territorial integrity. This recognition should imply a demand for the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

EU officials involved in the negotiations should specify their statements about supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, while at the same time, emphasizing unconditional de-occupation. This will be the progress in the negotiations.

As for the energy sphere and the visa-free regime between Azerbaijan and the EU countries, even progress in these areas cannot mean progress in the negotiations as a whole. Naturally, it is necessary to facilitate the entry of Azerbaijani citizens into the Schengen zone and vice versa. But, given the visa-free regime that was signed between Ukraine and the EU, as well as Georgia and the EU, we can conclude that the rights of Ukrainian and Georgian citizens are significantly limited.

And why do we need such a visa that will discriminate Azerbaijani citizens? These restrictions and prohibitions have caused a sharp increase in the requests of Georgian citizens for the provision of residence permits in the EU countries. Representatives of the European Union have already expressed their negative attitude to this fact. Moreover, they do not exclude that the agreement on visa-free regime can be revised.

On the one hand, all this shows that the EU can at any time refuse its signature under any agreement, and on the other hand, it demonstrates how disparagingly they in Brussels treat partners in the Eastern Partnership program. Is it worth to endure these humiliations for the sake of illusory promises to live in a pan-European family?

Mammadquliyev said that the cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan in the energy sector is at a very high level. And this is true, because Europe is interested in cheap raw materials from Azerbaijan. Ensuring the energy security of Europe through alternative to Russian gas supplies to the EU has become an obsession for Brussels.

But at the same time, energy projects are a kind of tool for the EU and the U.S. to strengthen the military-political presence in our region. We must not forget that the West considers the South Caucasus and the entire Caspian region to be a zone of its geopolitical interests. And this means that no one takes into account the interests of the regional states. Geopolitics is behind any energy and economic projects of the West.

Struggle for markets continues

And since the economy is mentioned, there is a need to touch on one more topics that is being discussed at the talks on the new agreement. It is about the benefits for the export of Azerbaijani goods to Europe. As you know, negotiations on this item of the agreement are stalled, as the EU does not want foreign producers to enter its market.

In the context of counter-sanctions imposed by Russia against the EU countries, the latter is looking for markets for their goods. Moreover, the question is, will Azerbaijan be able to export its products in two directions at once? Will it not hurt our producers, who export their products, for example, to Russia, the opening of European markets? After all, whatever you say, we talk about billions of amounts of money that help hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis live both in our country and in Russia.

Recently, revenues from exports of domestic agricultural products exceeded revenues from energy exports. In other words, before talking about progress, and even more so before signing a new agreement, it is necessary to weigh the pros and cons for compliance with the national interests of Azerbaijan. This concerns the energy, economic and geopolitical component, including a just settlement of the Karabakh conflict.

EU-Azerbaijan ties

European Union's relations with Azerbaijan date back to 1991 and are based on the EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) (in force since 1999), which provides for wide-ranging cooperation in the areas of political dialogue trade, investment, economic matters, legislation and culture.

Since then, the European Union has gradually expanded the scope of its cooperation with Azerbaijan. In July 2003 the EU appointed a Special Representative for the South Caucasus. Since 2004, Azerbaijan has been included (as a southern Caucasus country) in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), and also in the Eastern Partnership initiative since its inception in 2009. A Protocol on Azerbaijan's participation in EU Programmes and Agencies was adopted in July 2016.

On November 14, 2016, the Council adopted a mandate for the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to negotiate, on behalf of the EU and its member states, a comprehensive agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The new agreement should replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and better take account of the shared objectives and challenges the EU and Azerbaijan face today. Negotiations on the new agreement were launched on 7 February 2017, following the visit of President Ilham Aliyev to Brussels on February 6.

The new agreement will follow the principles endorsed in the 2015 review of the European neighborhood policy and offer a renewed basis for political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan.