Baku Dialogues: Latvian presidency and Azerbaijan’s role in Eastern Partnership

The core question of today’s event is what we expect from the Riga Summit. I think this Summit is very important because it allows us to highlight the importance of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). It is quite difficult to get some of these issues on the agenda when there are EU countries that think differently; these diverse perspectives are sometimes in conflict. It is also important to note the progress that has been achieved since the establishment of the EaP. Sometimes we are quite critical about what has happened within the Eastern Partnership, but if we look at what happened between two summits- Vilnius and Riga- we can see that three Association Agreements have been signed with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. In addition, these are not any agreements; these are three political agreements that entail a deep and comprehensive treaty area. Unbelievable development in terms of mobility has been achieved. Citizens of Moldova can now travel freely to the EU. I hope this opportunity will also be provided to Georgia and Ukraine, and in the future, to Azerbaijani citizens as well. I think the Riga summit will be important in terms of recognizing the differences among the six partners. We often hear criticism that EU is trying to impose a single relationship model for all states. I think the Riga Summit will make it clear that we are building individual relations with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and others.  I believe the Summit is also important in enabling partners to express their own concerns, because when you come to this region, you sense the importance of the issue of, for example Nagorno-Karabakh, for the Azerbaijani leadership and nation. The summit is another opportunity to express these opinions and to highlight their importance. The EU is a very complex institution, and the leaders of many EU states are dealing with a multi-issue agenda; in this regard, the Summit is a key opportunity for partner countries to express their opinions.
Latvia and Azerbaijan are very old friends, and from the European perspective, Azerbaijan is an important partner in the South Caucasus. Sometimes I think that we are overemphasizing the issue of the existing energy cooperation between EU and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan and EU relations are not only about energy, but also about political links. Azerbaijan is key to regional stability, especially when you consider the instability in the Middle East. Azerbaijan is a modern Islamic state that could and should be an important partner for the European Union. The country’s support for Georgia in terms of energy dependence is also very important. Thus, Azerbaijan plays a crucial regional role, and I believe this means that we need to work together. The EU and Azerbaijan must find a level of engagement that responds to the needs and interests of both parties. We must seek a new contractual relationship between the EU and Azerbaijan. When it comes to the notion of human rights, it is very difficult to avoid the fact that we have different understandings, and the issue of human rights is central to the EU. At the same time, we want to achieve a balanced relationship between the EU and Azerbaijan. However, it is obvious that when it comes to the issue of human rights this question will always be on the EU’s agenda. Looking to Azerbaijan not only from the human rights perspective, but also from the broad regional perspective, I believe the Riga Summit could mark a turning point in EU - Azerbaijan relations, putting our relationship on a more solid foundation.
Amb. Hafiz Pashayev, Rector of ADA University:
Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
I will now give the floor to Mr. Andris Sprüds, Director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs.
Dr. Andris Sprüds, Director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs:
I am always very happy to be in Baku, and this is my second time in ADA, an institution I believe demonstrates the progress achieved by Azerbaijan. I think the establishment of an institution with distinguished academics and modern facilities illustrates the strategic thinking of the policy makers in the country.
In discussing the Eastern Partnership, we can also mention things from our partners and refer to their experience. The academic community is a key component of society and it is important to reflect their views in evaluating and assessing international and regional trends. One of those trends has already been mentioned, regarding the EU’s approach to the post-Soviet space and the events in Ukraine - which some refer to as “events”, while others call it a crisis. In fact, Latvian people see this as a Russian intervention in Ukraine’s political affairs. The transformation of the post-Soviet space and the developments in Ukraine are certainly geopolitical game changers, and I think we can talk about this phenomenon as the re-emergence of a Cold War ghost in the wider European area. This has the potential to shake the foundations of security in Europe. Now we are talking about what is next, and how to proceed.
Europe also has its own challenges. The Greek case is a clear indicator, especially in terms of economic sustainability. These events demonstrate the diversity of the wider pan-European region, and it is important to note this when discussing the Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a particular geopolitical, political and economic context. The Eastern Partnership was essentially an incremental technocratic undertaking, and now the Eastern Partnership has been caught in the crossfire of geopolitics, international challenges, and the ambitions of great powers. The geopolitical changes have influenced all of us; they influenced the Baltic countries and our thinking on security and the ways we engage with our partners. It certainly influenced the South Caucasus region. We perceive it as a region, and it is a region in many ways, but there are also elements of individual development that make it relevant to speak of regional fragmentation. Unlike the Baltics, the countries in the South Caucasus have chosen different paths of political and economic development. They are also different in terms of foreign policy. Georgia has chosen integration with EU, and has signed an Association Agreement. Then we have Armenia, which has joined the Eurasian Economic Union. And then, of course, we have Azerbaijan, which is self-sufficient in many ways and remains neutral. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between two South Caucasus states further complicates the picture. Furthermore, the regional expectations with regard to the Eastern Partnership are also divergent and fragmented. Georgia would like to see prospects of EU membership and increased security emphasis. Armenia is keeping the door open; potentially it can sign an Association Agreement without the free trade component, although this is not on the agenda of the EU.. Azerbaijan has been less engaged in these activities, but of course, it is a very important partner, especially in terms of energy.
Where does the EU stand in this picture? As the regional context widens, the EU encounters a greater range of challenges.  Generally, the EU is used to a regional approach, and this individual approach is in a sense a new adjustment in a recent years. Additionally, the basis of the Eastern Partnership, the Association Agreement, the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreements, and the “take it or leave it” package have also put the EU in a difficult situation. And of course, it’s not the easiest time for the EU to think about enlargement. Does this mean there is no search for an exit strategy? Moreover, there are a lot of countries, including Latvia, that are interested first and foremost in a stable and developed neighborhood.
Regardless of the various challenges, constraints, and mutual expectations, emphasis on values, stable and accountable government, support for civil society, and respect for political freedoms play a key role in engagement with neighbors. Of course, there is a lot to build on. Azerbaijan for instance is a strategic partner in the field of energy, but not only in that sector. Azerbaijan has made great progress in terms of economic development, and has the highest income per capita among the Eastern Partnership states. It is still possible to cooperate on economic diversification, regional instability, support for IDPs, and civil society involvement. We are thinking about possible upgrades to the strategic modernization partnership as a next step.
As a conclusion, I would like to quote London mayor Boris Johnson: “there are no challenges, just opportunities”. It is important to define the understanding among the EU countries not only with regard to the Eastern Partnership, but also in terms of their willingness to move forward in more flexible ways. This new thinking is reflected in different engagement with Eastern partners as well as Central Asia countries. Proactive engagement is important, but at the same time, the Eastern Partners take decisions in terms of how far they are willing to go. Political will remains important, though it comes with challenges on both sides. Of course, Azerbaijan is a very important partner. The EU understands the diversity of the region. Latvia realizes the importance of this heterogeneity.
Amb. Hafiz Pashayev:
Thank you very much, and I want to correct both of you. As of the beginning of 2014, we are no longer an academy any more, but a university – which also has students from Latvia.
Thank you very much to both of you for your interesting presentation. We will now have a discussion, but before that I would like to pass the floor to Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Mahmud Mammadguliyev.
Mr. Mahmud Mammadguliyev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan:
Thank you very much. First, I would like to welcome all the participants of this meeting and express my gratitude to ADA University and our Latvian partners for organizing this event to discuss the situation and relations between the EU and Azerbaijan, which started more than 15 years ago when Azerbaijan regained its independence. Azerbaijan has demonstrated its political will in terms of relations with the EU, and today Azerbaijan is ready not only to maintain this partnership and cooperation, but also to raise it to higher levels. Therefore, any external or internal speculation that Azerbaijan is not interested in cooperation with the European Union has no basis.
Our strategic goal is to bring and establish the best experiences and practices of the EU to Azerbaijan. In comparison with some other participants of Eastern Partnership, which are committed to becoming EU members, we believe that we should first implement our goal of bringing the EU experience to Azerbaijan. When Azerbaijan meets all the relevant criteria, then of course we may want to join the EU, or we may aspire to another type of cooperation and partnership with the EU.
With regard to the achievements in our relationship over the period since the Vilnius Summit: first of these is energy cooperation. We believe everyone here is already familiar with the Southern Gas Corridor. There have been two major events in the recent period: the launch of the Southern Gas Corridor in September last year and just recently, two weeks ago, the first meeting of the advisory council, which aims to discuss the implementation of this project. According to our experts, the Southern Gas Corridor has the potential to deliver significant volumes of gas to the EU. Nonetheless, all the participants in this project should be prepared to respond to challenges at anytime.
I would like to mention some other issues, including visa facilitation and the readmission agreement that has already been in effect for six months. We believe that it is time to get a review from the EU on how we are implementing it. At the same time, there is a need to discuss the questions around further issues related to the visa regime with the EU.
A mobility partnership is also in effect. We have already several members who are ready to work with Azerbaijan in this sphere. We also signed an additional protocol to our partnership and cooperation agreement on Azerbaijan’s participation in EU programs. We have in some respects achieved our goal of bringing the EU’s best standards and experiences to Azerbaijan.
The second question is the opportunities and challenges to the project and partnership. First of all, we would like to mention that we appreciate the EU’s new approach. This approach is based on differentiation and it is the intention of the EU to thoroughly review the European Neighborhood Policy with close consultation with participant countries. Azerbaijan is ready to participate actively in this consultation, which we believe could reinvigorate our relationship with the EU, because it will be based on the needs of the country, on geo-economics and geopolitics. At the same time, we should work on addressing barriers to our relations with the EU. Unfortunately, the EU’s approach to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict causes big concerns in Azerbaijan. Today we have four conflicts: Armenia-Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia and finally Ukraine. As I said, there is a selective approach. In the case of three, namely, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, we see very clear, strong messages from the EU, support, respect and solution from the perspective of territorial integrity. When it comes to Azerbaijan, there is just the Minsk Group, and a “wait and see” attitude from the EU. This is unacceptable for Azerbaijan and this sometimes negatively influences our relations. We have raised this question several times, without result. We believe that EU involvement would significantly improve the status quo.
We are also unhappy with the attitude to the conflict in Crimea. Economic sanctions were immediately imposed. What is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh? We see numerous businesses from the EU countries in those occupied territories encouraging and financing the separatist regime.
I do not want to take a lot of your time, but I would like to reiterate that we believe that the EU should take measures against Armenia, because it’s unacceptable that one Eastern Partnership country is occupying the territory of another. Instead of looking for opportunities how to cooperate with Armenia, it would be more effective to impose pressure, to take measures against Armenia in order to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. Regarding human rights, as my colleague from Latvia underlined, we also believe that this is a very important question. We are a young democracy, and you know that even developed countries are not immune from violations of human rights and democratic principles, but I don’t believe that the policy of “naming and blaming” is very productive. We are ready for a bilateral dialog and we have a subcommittee within our committee of cooperation within the EU in which we discuss these questions. At the same time, we have many examples of violations of human rights and democracy in EU member states and other Western countries. But we don’t believe that naming and blaming is the best way. Human rights and democracy are continuous processes. As you know, the European Union’s special representative for Human Rights Mr. Stavros Lambridinis is in Baku today. Yesterday he was received by the President and other officials, and we have created opportunities for a successful trip to Azerbaijan. I think these questions should be settled through dialog, but not through making statements on every occasion. And these statements reflect information only from politically oriented groups. Unfortunately, nobody in the EU wants to listen to the opinion of the government. Someone says it is politically motivated, and immediately a statement is made by parliament, etc.
Finally, we should decide how to expand our relations and partnership. We decided not to go further with the Association Agreement and with modernization. We believe it is time to sign a smaller agreement on a strategic partnership. We are already strategic partners in the energy sector. We have a memorandum and we are also strategic partners in fighting against terrorism. We are also strategic partners with several EU countries. Therefore we think that we deserve the right and opportunity to create such a document. This document is currently being finalized, and will soon be submitted to the EU for consideration.
Another issue is the EU’s support regarding the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. We expect the same approach that the EU demonstrates with regard to Moldova, Georgia and now Ukraine. Finally, we believe that the Riga Summit should first of all concentrate on the issues of security, depreciation process, and review of Eastern Partnership.
Today, I would like to reiterate that we consider the EU as one of our most important partners for modernization and development, and therefore we are ready to cooperate, but at the same time the questions that I raised should be settled.
Amb. Hafiz Pashayev:
Thank you, Mr. Mammadguliyev, for your very comprehensive summary of Azerbaijan’s position on the EU. I will now give the floor to our adjunct faculty member, and political scientist Bakhtiyar Aslanbayli.
Mr. Bakhtiyar Aslanbayli, Adjunct Professor of ADA University:
It is indeed a pleasure and honor to be a part of this dialogue today. I will concentrate on the future of the EaP and discuss what has happened in the past, and what the priorities of EaP countries were. But I believe the main question is how the program could be upgraded and reformed in a way to make it effective for all members of the EaP. The signing of the Association Agreement with EaP countries was a historic moment, unfortunately overshadowed by the situation in Ukraine. The creation of the EU Energy Union is just one step towards upgrading of those relationships.  I would like to quote Mr. Barroso’s speech at the EU Association Agreement summit. Mr. Barroso said that the signing of the Association Agreements shouldn’t be seen as the end of the road, but as the beginning of a journey on which the EU and those partners were embarking together.
In order to have the best possible outcome from the Riga Summit in May, it is time for both sides, the EU and EaP countries, to generate serious thinking about the substance and future of the EP program. There should be a clear signal that the EU will take a more individualistic approach to these countries. It should be noted that not all the countries want to join the EU, and that choice should be respected. There is also a need to review the EaP dating back to 2009. There should be a more tailored approach.  From that perspective, changes can be made in four main areas. First, the EU needs to outline a new understanding of the nation state for cooperation with EaP countries. It should be based on the idea of a unified Europe that can stand together on various challenges. States should be treated as equal partners, not as the lower level states as we can see in some cases.
Second, the EU needs to support a people-to-people program. Notwithstanding the different political agendas in the various EaP countries, overall the EP citizens tend to support western development and western integration. Engaging more with European citizens, focusing on youth problems, scholarships, and support for civil society projects is of the utmost importance. This links up with visa mobilization; Brussels should encourage a bottom up approach.
Third, double standards have undermined the EU’s position as an honest actor. Mr. Deputy Minister already talked about the selective approach and I don’t want to concentrate too much on that, but obviously a consistent approach towards conflicts and protection of territorial integrity is important.
Finally, we sometimes see “now or never” language, and this is not a sustainable approach. Overall, I believe Riga the Summit is an opportunity to change and upgrade the EaP program, to focus, to differentiate and to engage.  With these points in mind, the Riga summit will definitely be successful and have a positive outcome.
Thank you.
Amb. Hafiz Pashayev:
Thank you, Mr. Aslanbeyli.
Most of the speakers mentioned that now there is a move to change the regional approach to an individualized approach. I recall from my own experience that in the West, big entities like the EU and US were working on policy papers. They would like to bring together countries and to present specific policies on that country. This happened with GUAM. The US used the example of the Baltic States to show how some small countries could achieve their goals through a unifying policy or project. Unfortunately, the Caucasus could not adopt this type of approach, because while geographically it was one area, in political terms it was very different. It’s good to know that Riga might give new impetus to this approach.
Therefore, before proceeding to discussions, I would like to give the floor to one more speaker. Mr Sahil Babayev, Deputy Minister of Industry and Economic Development.
Mr. Sahil Babayev, Deputy Minister of Economy and Industry of Azerbaijan:
Thank you, dear rector. First of all, I would like to express our gratitude to ADA University and the Latvian delegation for organizing this event and for inviting us to this discussion. Previous speakers have already mentioned different aspects of the EU and EaP, EU and Azerbaijan relations, various aspects of our cooperation, and so on. As a representative of the Ministry of Economy, I would like to highlight some points regarding the economic dimensions. H.E Mahmud Mammadguliyev already mentioned that we are strategic partners in energy. From the Azerbaijani perspective the key sector of our economy is gas and oil. Azerbaijani energy projects are directed towards European markets.  We have launched Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum and today we are discussing the Southern Gas Corridor project, which includes major components like TANAP, TAP and SCPS. From the economic perspective alone, Azerbaijan can already be a strategic partner for the EU. If we evaluate last year’s figures (2014) only 47% of our foreign trade turnover was with EU countries. Therefore, our main trade partners are EU countries. On the other hand, according to figures from the last ten years, more than 51% of total foreign investments to Azerbaijan economy have come from EU countries. In the non-oil sector the figure is more than 35%. Thus, EU countries are also key investors in the Azerbaijani economy. Therefore, energy is not the only sector where we should develop our strategic partnership; our strategic partnership should cover all aspects of the economy.
First of all, what Azerbaijan needs and wants is to bring the EU’s highest standards to the country. And from that perspective we greatly appreciate cooperation programs with EU Neighborhood Policy instruments. Azerbaijan actively participates in EaP and ENP instruments with budget support and through other projects with the EU. Azerbaijan’s pipelines include more than 35 projects, which is the biggest number for the region. Georgia and Armenia achieved much less. These projects are the key instruments for development. From this perspective we have already finalized 20 projects, and the remainder are ongoing. Azerbaijani projects have been selected among the most successful projects across all the EP countries over the past several years, demonstrating the willingness of the Azerbaijani side to cooperate with the EU and bring their best experience to Azerbaijan.
From this perspective we look forward for future cooperation and we believe that these instruments will allow us to harmonize our legislation and administrative practices with EU best practices. We have adopted a legal approximation action plan that includes more than 120 legal acts of Azerbaijan in regard to over 140 EU directives. These include all aspects of the economy, from energy to transportation, logistics, and all other fields. All these factors show Azerbaijan’s willingness to move towards EU standards. The figures that I have mentioned regarding investment and foreign trade show the extent to which Azerbaijan is willing to cooperate with the EU in the economic field.
The key projects of Azerbaijan are the Southern Gas Corridor and BTC. These are the future of Azerbaijan, because we call BTC the Contract of the Century for Azerbaijan, and the Southern Gas corridor is the contract of the 21st century for Azerbaijan. Today, the diversification of the economy is on our agenda and we have achieved numerous results in this regard. I will just mention that in 2007 more than 60% of our economy was dependent on the oil and gas sector. Today this figure has dropped to 41%. Today 60% of GDP is generated by the non-oil sector. In addition, we see major potential for cooperation with EU countries in this regard.