Trend news agency’s exclusive interview with Ambassador of Germany to Azerbaijan Dr. Wolfgang Manig on the occasion of Germany’s presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
Question: Which goals has Germany set for its Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and how is the country going to achieve them?
Answer: Germany will strengthen the Council of Europe by focusing on initiatives enabling a better protection of the citizens of the Member States of the Council of Europe. Germany shares Azerbaijan’s view that only a rule based international order can contain dangerous developments. The observation of international law is the precondition of peace and trust among people. With our shared commitment to multilateralism, the Council of Europe continues to be a unique tool for stabilization of international relations, offering also direct advantages for the citizens living in our Member States.
My government will actively seek the dialogue with all the other Member States. We intend to strengthen the rule of law and democracy by reviewing the international legal instruments to combat hate speech on one hand and to protect the freedom of expression on the other hand. Germany contributes to the Human Rights Trust Fund. With the ECHR Special Account, Germany enables Member States to make progress and improve their record. Bilaterally, I am in a dialogue with the Azerbaijani Minister of Justice and with the Delegation of the Council of Europe in Baku to continue our cooperation in the reform of the judiciary particularly for this purpose. And, last but not least, the young generation needs answers to the challenges of the 21st century. With our program: “You are Europe!”, the German government will foster the exchange of the younger generation by using the European Youth Foundation. We appreciate Azerbaijan’s policy towards minorities. This example is not followed everywhere in Europe; we want to change it and particularly in the time of the CoViD-19-pandemic, the protection of minorities is crucial. Finally, we have to make progress in the fight against domestic violence and the protection of children as stipulated in the Council of Europe Conventions.
Q.: In which ways will Germany strengthen Europe’s relations with its Eastern neighbors, especially with Azerbaijan during this period?
A.: Germany and Azerbaijan are already connected in the Eastern Partnership of the EU. Apart of this Partnership, Germany has the intention to create a common European area of equal rights and mutual respect. Our cooperation with the Partnership countries does not exclude others. On the contrary: Within the Council of Europe, we invite all Member States to work together in order to achieve the highest level of protection of our citizens and to become resilient against the viruses of racism, domestic violence, violence against children, discrimination of minorities, human trafficking and exploitation of workers. I am convinced that this approach will also assist Azerbaijan and its Western neighbor Armenia to join hands to create a prosperous and peaceful South Caucasus together with their common partner Georgia.
Q.: Statistical data shows that Germany is among TOP-5 trading partners of Azerbaijan in the period from January through October 2020. What kind of tasks have the two countries set for further boosting the existing trade turnover in the years to come?
A.: For Germany, Azerbaijan is the most important trade partner in South Caucasus. The Azerbaijani-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry AHK is a unique instrument to offer business opportunities for German companies in Azerbaijan and for Azerbaijani companies in Germany. With the completion of TAP, natural gas from Azerbaijan can be channeled to Germany much easier. Apart from figures, German direct investment in Azerbaijan needs a reliable legal system. With our Chairmanship of the Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe, Germany has already begun the dialogue with the Azerbaijani Ministry of Justice to continue our cooperation in the reform of the judiciary. Furthermore, AHK cooperates with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economy to strengthen the vocational training.
Q.: Which spheres in Azerbaijan are prioritized by Germany investors at the moment?
A.: German investments currently focus on the oil and gas sector, on finance and consulting. Trade is still more important. I hope that continued reforms, particularly regarding state owned enterprises, will make investment in other sectors more attractive.
Q.: Azerbaijan is going to launch the Southern Gas Corridor, which will for the first time bring gas from the Caspian Sea basin to Europe. How does Germany assess the contribution of this project to Europe’s energy security and diversification strategy?
A.: For Germany, the Southern Gas Corridor plays an important role in the diversification of our energy supply. As it is well known – despite other rumors distributed in the past - , Germany does not depend on one single provider alone. Although there are long-lasting energy relations with a big supplier, who also invested in the German energy infrastructure, Germany always had a variety of suppliers. The Southern Gas Corridor will even broaden this diversity.
Q.: How do Germany and Azerbaijan cooperate in the energy sphere? How do you see the prospects for cooperation in the alternative energy field?
A.: A special dialogue had been established between the Ministry of Energy in Azerbaijan and the German Energy Agency DENA, owned by the Federal Government. Between the two partners, several projects and fora on renewable energy had been established, focusing on the supply of renewable energy sources to municipalities; the City of Baku was one of the participants. Between March and November 2020, DENA and the Ministry of Energy identified areas of future cooperation in the field of renewables including practical business models. Azerbaijan offers a huge variety of renewable energy sources. Together, Germany and Azerbaijan can find creative solutions for a modern, environmental friendly and sustainable energy policy.
Q.: Which opportunities do you see for bilateral cooperation in the sphere of agriculture?
A.: Only recently, I had the pleasure to discuss with the Minister of Agriculture the prospects of cooperation in this important sector. The ratio between the employment in the rural sector and its contribution to GDP is still unsatisfactory. Modern agriculture offers an interesting field of investment and employment. It is related to high technology – without copying the mistakes of oversized agro-industrial enterprises but learning from negative developments in other parts of Europe. Germany supports the government of Azerbaijan in the economic diversification. A modern agriculture protects environment, guarantees biodiversity and provides healthy food for local and foreign customers. Even here, the German Chairmanship of the Ministers Committee of the Council of Europe will play a role: In order to invite the citizens of the Council of Europe Member States to engage for their societies and to act responsible, civil society organizations can act as link between government policy and the well-being both of farmers and consumers. I appreciate, therefore, that the Presidency has already started a dialogue with NGOs, including those who take care of environment, health, empowerment of women – the last is of special importance in the rural area.
Q.: After almost 30 years of occupation, Azerbaijan liberated its lands, which are very rich with natural resources and have plenty of investment opportunities. Would Germany be interested in taking part in the development of those regions in the short or long term?
Germany welcomes the tripartite statement signed on November 9, 2020, between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. The statement will among others open the way to humanitarian assistance. Germany has granted an amount of EUR 2 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross for the assistance of those in need in the conflict. However, we also note that the mandate of the Minsk Group of the OSCE is not yet exhausted: The Minsk Group and its Co-Chairs have the task to facilitate the negotiations for a lasting, sustainable solution of the conflict, including a regulation of the rights and duties of the people living in conflict area. This will certainly take some time, including the return of those who had to leave their homes decades or only weeks ago. Demining has to be done in the seven regions which had been under occupation in the last decades. Therefore, it is too early to evaluate the situation and to give an advice to companies about an engagement. I would like to emphasize that it will not be the German government but the private companies to see and decide whether and how to take part in this endeavor.
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