Vol. 2, No. 13 (July 01, 2009)

Azerbaijan-EU: Partnership in progress

Emin Eyubov, Amb.
Head of Mission
Mission of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the EU
Integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions has been at the top of Azerbaijan’s foreign policy agenda ever since our country re-gained its independence and state sovereignty in early 1990s.  Azerbaijan views the European Union as a good model of a successful development in political, economic, social and humanitarian fields.  The cooperation with the EU and its institutions is not an end in itself, but rather means to raise the living standards for the citizens of Azerbaijan, develop the economy, improve public administration and judiciary, and, in the words of President Ilham Aliyev, “to modernize all spheres of life in our country”. 

The legal foundation of relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union was laid by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed on April 22, 1996.  The agreement which entered into force on July 1, 1999, provides an appropriate framework for the political dialogue between the parties allowing the development of political relations, supports Azerbaijan's efforts to consolidate its democracy, to develop its economy and complete the transition into a market economy and promotes trade and investment, as well as harmonious economic, social, financial, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation.

The work of this and other Azerbaijani-European Union institutions was strengthened in June 2005 when President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree establishing the State Commission on European Integration of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  This Commission serves as the main body of the Government, which provides coordination and oversight of activities of all governmental agencies in framework of relations with the EU, implementation of the Azerbaijan-EU ENP Action Plan, preparation of the National Progress Report of Azerbaijan and other relevant measures.

Among the most important of these partnership relationships are those involving the EU’s special representative for the South Caucasus, the TACIS program which promotes infrastructure development, private sector expansion and human resources growth, EU support of refugee and IDP programs, energy and transportation programs, the rehabilitation of areas that have been impacted by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

The ENPI, which replaced TACIS and which is scheduled to last through 2013, provides support to democratic development and good governance programs, socio-economic reforms, and reforms in other areas, including transportation, energy and the environment.  And this program has been supplemented by “twinning” projects in which a current EU member state has been “twinned” with Azerbaijan in particular areas.  Of particular importance to Azerbaijan have been the EU’s Rehabilitation Program which has helped to repair war-damaged infrastructure in the Fizuli, Agdam and Agjabedi districts and European support for the development of the TRACECA transportation corridor.
Azerbaijan has been an active participant in the European Neighborhood Policy since the Azerbaijan-EU ENP Action Plan was adopted on 14 November 2006.  Baku has its own national action plan intended to help Azerbaijan make the kind of reforms that will allow it to more fully integrate into European institutions by promoting improved coordination within the established political dialogue formats and possible involvement of partner countries in aspects of Common Foreign and Security Policy and European Defense and Security Policy, the exchange of information, joint training and exercises and possible participation in the EU-led crisis management operations.  This program also envisages the gradual opening of certain Community programs, based on mutual interests and available resources.  Areas to be explored include education, training, education, youth, research, environment, as well as culture. 

The Azerbaijan-EU Action Plan identifies ten priority areas for cooperation.  These include joint efforts to:                         
Contribute to a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and OSCE documents and decisions;
Strengthen democracy in the country, including through fair and transparent electoral process, in line with international requirements;
Strengthen the protection of human rights and of fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, in compliance with international commitments of Azerbaijan (PCA, CoE, OSCE, UN); 
Improve the business and investment climate, particularly by strengthening the fight against corruption;  
Improve functioning of customs; 
Support balanced and sustained economic development, with a particular focus on diversification of economic activities, development of rural areas, poverty reduction and social/territorial cohesion; promote sustainable development including the protection of the environment; 
Bring into line economic legislation and administrative practices;
Strengthen EU-Azerbaijan energy bilateral cooperation and energy and transport regional cooperation, in order to achieve the objectives of the November 2004 Baku Ministerial Conferences;  
Enhance cooperation in the field of Justice, Freedom and Security, including in the field of border management; and
Strengthen regional cooperation.
Azerbaijan is now an active partner in the Eastern Partnership initiative.  This program, put forward by Poland and Sweden a year ago and approved by the European Council in March 2009, calls for the development of deeper bilateral relations between the EU, on the one hand, and Azerbaijan and five other countries in the region, on the other, through the conclusion of new association agreements, improved economic integration, and increased mobility via visa facilitation.  President Ilham Aliyev attended the Eastern Partnership Summit held in Prague on May 7, 2009, where the Joint Declaration creating this partnership was adopted. 

One measure of growing ties between Azerbaijan and the European Union is trade.  At present, the EU is the main trading partner of Azerbaijan, responsible for 55 percent of its external trade, with Azerbaijan exporting oil and gas and the European Union exporting manufactured goods such as machinery and transportation equipment.  Another measure is the growing cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU at the parliamentary level, cooperation that has led to the creation of the Azerbaijan-EU Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.

But perhaps the most important evidence of cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union has been the latter’s unwavering support for Azerbaijan’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Although the EU is not directly involved in the settlement process of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it has frequently spoken in support of the principle of territorial integrity of states as being the foundation of any resolution.

Given these shared values and principles, Azerbaijan looks forward to growing integration with the European Union, confident that both the people of Azerbaijan and the peoples of the EU will benefit in the future just as they have in the past.