EU eyes cooperation with Azerbaijan in energy, regional security

By Aynur Karimova

The European Union has expressed a clear interest to work with Azerbaijan on energy, regional security, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.

“Our European Union and Azerbaijan share a clear interest in deepening our relationship,” Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Trend on February 27 before her visit to Baku to join the second Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Meeting on February 29.

“We aim at a broad and comprehensive agreement, and I believe that the past few months have signaled a turning point in our discussions: some difficulties remain, but we are much closer now on the need to have economic and political cooperation going hand in hand,” she stated.

Mogherini also said the preparatory consultations for new partnership of the EU and Azerbaijan are progressing well.

“I believe that we will soon have a discussion with the EU Member States on the launch of negotiations,” she noted.

Azerbaijan expects to receive the EU Council's mandate to negotiate on a new agreement on strategic modernization partnership, which will determine the format of the future cooperation with the EU.

The Azerbaijani government submitted a draft agreement to the EU in May 2015 as part of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammadguliyev said earlier adding that we are expecting now to obtain a mandate from the highest political body of the EU to start the negotiation process.

Currently, the bilateral relations between the EU and Azerbaijan are regulated on the basis of agreement on partnership and cooperation, which was signed in 1996. A new agreement envisages the adjustment of Azerbaijan’s legislation and procedures to the EU’s most important international and trade norms and standards, which should lead to an improvement in the access of Azerbaijani goods to the EU markets.

SGC

Speaking about the EU energy security, Mogherini said that the Southern Gas Corridor is vital to energy security strategy of the union, adding that it brings further diversification to the EU networks, and also offers a possibility to deepen political, economic and social ties with a number of partners in the region of the union.

Azerbaijan-initiated Southern Gas Corridor project envisages the transportation of the gas extracted at the giant Shah Deniz field in the Azerbaijani sector of the Caspian Sea. Shah Deniz Stage 2 gas will make a 3,500 kilometer journey from the Caspian Sea into Europe. This requires upgrading the existing infrastructure and the development of a chain of new pipelines.

The existing South Caucasus Pipeline will be expanded with a new parallel pipeline across Azerbaijan and Georgia, while the Trans-Anatolian pipeline will transport Shah Deniz gas across Turkey to meet the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which will take gas through Greece and Albania into Italy.

The Southern Gas Corridor is set to change the energy map of the entire region, connecting gas supplies in the Caspian to markets in Europe for the very first time.

The first gas supplies through the corridor to Georgia and Turkey are given a target date of late 2018. Gas deliveries to Europe are expected just over a year after the first gas is produced offshore in Azerbaijan.

Mogherini believes that the signing of the 'Ashgabat Declaration' in May 2015 was an important step to ensure additional gas supplies from the Caspian region in the future.

“Further progress is being made in this regard: an active working group at vice-ministerial level has met in the course of 2015 and again just a few days ago,” she noted.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Speaking about the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Mogherini said a peaceful solution to the conflict, in accordance with international law, remains a top EU priority.

The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992 Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.

Mogherini said the OSCE Minsk Group is a format accepted by all sides, and endorsed by the UN Security Council.

“The co-chairs have launched new mediation efforts: our support to this process, including through the EU Special Representative Herbert Salber, has been, and will continue to be, unwavering,” she added.

The EU will also keep supporting peace-building activities and people-to-people contacts.

"There is no contradiction between these activities and the efforts of the Minsk Group; both are important for long-term reconciliation," she stated.

Mogherini also expressed her solidarity with all the people affected by this conflict.

“An entire generation has grown up without knowing the true meaning of the word "peace",” she said. “It is no secret that the current status quo is unsustainable. Over the past year we have witnessed an escalation of violence along the line of contact: no one can afford to keep going down this path.”

The EU representative also believes that a central part of the talks within the Minsk Group is to find agreement on practical steps towards a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.

“Only a few months ago, in December 2015, both President Aliyev and President Sargsyan confirmed they will keep engaging on current proposals,” Mogherini said. “This is vital: ultimately, it is up to your countries' leaders to show courage and move towards peace.”

Everyone has a duty to refrain from provocative statements and to work to de-escalate the situation on the ground, Mogherini believes.

“Over the past year heavy weapons were used, civilians were targeted,” she said. “The current instability has huge costs for both sides. Peace, on the other hand, would allow for the opening of borders, facilitate trade and communications. Peace could make your region a prosperous gateway between Europe and Asia.”

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Aynur Karimova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Aynur_Karimova

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