Baku expects EU to unequivocally condemn Armenia for occupation of territories to deepen all-out ties

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 18 July 2018
Baku expects EU to unequivocally condemn Armenia for occupation of territories to deepen all-out ties

Hopes for Azerbaijan and the European Union to sign a comprehensive partnership agreement in 2018 have failed and now indications are for 2019 to add a new stimulus to the relations. Time will tell whether or not the parties live up to the tentative period. Anyway, at this stage, the most important issue is why the parties have not signed such an agreement and what hinders them to give the go-ahead for the development of the all-out relations.

In the meantime, officials from both sides regularly come together to review progress to build on it and go forward, and the Cooperation Council between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan held its fifteenth meeting on 9 February 2018 to this end. It took place in the context of an intensification of EU-Azerbaijan relations, which includes the launch of negotiations of last year on a new bilateral agreement.

The Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. The Azerbaijani delegation was led by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Mr Elmar Mammadyarov.

The Cooperation Council reviewed the state of EU-Azerbaijan relations in the framework of the Eastern Partnership and the European Neighborhood Policy and followed up on the 2017 Eastern Partnership Summit. As stated in the Summit Declaration, the European Union remains committed in its support to the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all its partners, according to a press release.

The Cooperation Council also touched upon the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and regional issues. Following the escalation of violence in April 2016, the resumption of high-level dialogue in Vienna, St. Petersburg and Geneva was welcomed by the EU. The parties now need to follow up on their agreement to intensify the negotiation process and reduce tensions on the line of contact and to finalize the expansion of the existing office of the personal representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office as well as to implement other decisions reached during recent Summits.

Well, therein lies the rub!!! The EU’s hesitation or attempts to equate between the occupier and the victim remain the major stumbling block between the pan-European organization and Azerbaijan, the leading nation of the South Caucasus with its pivotal role in diversification of Europe’s energy supplies.

What official Baku wants to put an end to the occupation of its lands and the pull-out of the Armenian occupying troops from Azerbaijani territory. On the one hand, the EU calls and is ready to apply certain mechanisms against official Baku if it decides to use the military forces to end the occupation; on the other hand, Brussels signs a comprehensive agreement with the Armenian occupying regime and encourages it to illicit moves and fails to denounce the ongoing occupation of Azerbaijani lands in the XXI century and resorts to all methods to discourage Azerbaijan from a military action.

Pay attention to this claim by the EU: “The EU reaffirmed that the status quo is unsustainable and that the conflict does not have a military solution and needs an early political settlement in accordance with international law”. Let’s call a spade a spade. If Brussels rules out a military solution, then it has to offer a viable option instead of just quoting an adage that “a bad peace is better than a good war”.

Azerbaijan does not want the occupation of lands remain forever since the world has a bad example of Palestine and we have no moral right to hand this problem over to generations to come since they are not responsible for the occupation and they can be responsible once they are in control of the liberated lands.

Although the EU expresses its continued full support to the mediation efforts and proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, including through the EU Special Representative Toivo Klaar, as well as through civil society confidence-building measures, no progress has been made so far and one of the reasons for is that Armenia’s aggression has not been condemned.

Both Baku and Brussels welcomed the launch of negotiations on a new bilateral agreement as well as on the Partnership Priorities and agreed on the need to conclude them swiftly. The importance of accelerating Azerbaijan’s accession to the WTO was discussed, as it is particularly relevant for its economic reform process and for the growth and diversification of its economy.

The EU and Azerbaijan addressed at their latest meeting challenges to democracy, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including on the freedom of expression and association. The EU underlined the importance of strengthening of the rule of law, fundamental rights and democratic institutions as well as of engaging meaningfully with the civil society, as these are crucial for the development of an independent, stable and prosperous country. The EU reaffirmed its readiness to continue its support for the further development of democratic institutions in Azerbaijan.

The Cooperation Council also discussed trade and sectoral cooperation. Both sides exchanged views on cooperation in the energy sector and stressed the strategic importance of the Southern Gas Corridor.

Cooperation in the field of transport was also addressed, including the on-going negotiations of a Common Aviation Area Agreement, for which both sides hoped for a swift conclusion. The Cooperation Council noted that the inauguration last year of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad was a major step in transport interconnections linking the European Union, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia. Other areas such as the justice system, education, climate action and environment, including cooperation in the regional context of the Eastern Partnership, were also addressed.

The Cooperation Council also underlined the importance of promoting mobility by considering in due course, if conditions allow, the opening of a visa liberalization dialogue with Azerbaijan, provided that conditions for a well-managed and secure mobility are in place, including the effective implementation of visa facilitation and readmission agreements between the parties.

In the meantime, the summit of the Eastern Partnership in November 2017 marked a deadlock in the EU's relations with partner countries, though EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini speaks about progress which sounds strange.

The EU states progress in its work with all six member countries of the Eastern Partnership and talks are scheduled at the ministerial level for October, according to Federica Mogherini.

"With all six countries of the Eastern Partnership, we have moved forward, each in its own way, but I would say that there is progress and the work that we are doing is extremely important not only for them but for us,” she said. According to her, the EU intends to prepare a meeting at the level of the foreign ministers of the member countries of the Eastern Partnership in October.

"So, we will have a discussion about our support of partners who are extremely important, key friends for us," F. Mogherini said before the beginning of the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU.

We should be note that the Eastern Partnership program is aimed at bringing the EU closer to its six eastern neighbors of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, and it was launched in 2009 at the Prague summit. It was initiated by Poland and Sweden. It should be noted that at the mentioned summit the EU signed an agreement with Armenia on a comprehensive partnership. Thus, Brussels predetermined the meaninglessness of such agreements from the point of view of the collective partnership of the six nations.

A similar agreement can be signed with Azerbaijan in 2019. But what it will give to the parties is still unknown. The European Union is trying to maintain an equidistant position in relations with Baku and Yerevan on the Karabakh issue. Brussels pretends that nothing happens between these countries, and therefore, they say, "we are building an even relationship with the two states." But is it? And does the EU have a moral right to think so?

Azerbaijan and Armenia are at war and the EU officials are well aware of this. Moreover, everyone knows that Armenians have occupied 20% of the Azerbaijani lands, refusing to release them peacefully. One cannot but consider all these facts when signing agreements with the parties.

In other words, when signing the agreement with Armenia, Brussels should have addressed the issue of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories and called for their release. Such a move would have facilitated an early signing of an agreement with Azerbaijan, since official Baku would appreciate this gesture of Brussels.

As we have repeatedly reported, the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia's occupation of the territories of our country should be the focus of the negotiations between Brussels and Baku. Let's be clear: Baku must sign an agreement with the EU proceeding from its stance on Karabakh. Brussels should not and cannot bury its head in the sand, closing its eyes to the Karabakh problem, demanding that Azerbaijan and Armenia should remain loyal to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Double standards from the EU in assessing territorial conflicts are unacceptable. Inviting the two countries of the South Caucasus to cooperate within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, it was necessary to take into account the unsettledness of the Karabakh issue.

Yes, the OSCE Minsk Group mediates in the settlement. However, this does not mean that the EU should not focus on the occupation of the territories of another member of the project by one member of the Eastern Partnership. After all, this circumstance from within undermines the foundations of the Eastern Partnership.

As for the economic component of the agreement, then everything here is vague. Providing benefits for the export of goods from partner countries to the EU market remains a pipe dream. In turn, visa-free travel regime raises more questions than answers.

On the other hand, the geopolitical subtext of the Eastern Partnership program hampers cooperation in the economy and energy, in particular between Azerbaijan and the EU. Brussels and its patron - Washington - proceed on this issue solely from their own geopolitical interests. At the same time, they do not want to take into account the geopolitical interests of the partner countries. Incidentally, due to this, distrust is in place to each other among the partner countries, on the one hand, and Brussels, on the other - is growing. This was especially evident after the Ukrainian events, to which Brussels and Washington had their hands. No wonder that for a long time after this the Eastern Partnership program was on the verge of collapse.