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Azerbaijan-EU ties enter new phase: Equal co-op for mutual benefit

25 February 2022 13:10 (UTC+04:00)
Azerbaijan-EU ties enter new phase: Equal co-op for mutual benefit

By Sabina Mammadli

After the end of the 44-day Second Karabakh War, Azerbaijan's relations with the European Union (EU) entered a new phase and began to progress more quickly.

The increased frequency with which EU officials visit Azerbaijan, the recent ministerial meeting on the Southern Gas Corridor, and a variety of other factors all point to the evolution of relations.

In a January interview with local TV channels, President Ilham Aliyev stated that Azerbaijan wants closer ties with Europe, and Europe wants a stable situation on its borders.

"I believe that during meetings with EU Council President Charles Michel, we were able to develop this agenda. I am hopeful that this collaborative approach will soon allow a new agreement to be fully agreed upon, as it is currently at 90-92 percent. However, I believe that if there is a serious will on both sides, we will be able to achieve this," the head of state said.

Trade cooperation

The agenda for Azerbaijan-EU relations is primarily focused on the energy, transportation and logistics sectors.

The EU is now Azerbaijan's main trading partner, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the country's foreign trade turnover.

The EU's foreign trade turnover with Azerbaijan is expected to be $15.2 billion in 2021. In comparison, the figure for 2020 is $9.5 billion.

At the same time, the EU invested more than $21.5 billion in Azerbaijan's economy from 2012 to 2021, and over 1,700 EU companies operate in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan has signed a strategic partnership agreement with nine European Union member states.

EU, World Bank’s technical assistance

The EU and the World Bank signed a grant agreement for technical assistance to the Azerbaijani government on February 16.

The three-year grant program, with a total budget of €5.25 million, will be funded by the EU and managed by the World Bank, according to the document.

The program's goal is to provide advisory and analytical support, as well as to help the Azerbaijani government develop its potential in accordance with the document "Azerbaijan 2030: National Priorities for Social and Economic Development."

“In general, there are no serious problems between Baku and the EU today. [There is] mutual interest and quite good mutual understanding. The only thing that overshadowed relations was the EU's financial package for Azerbaijan and Armenia, but this issue has also been resolved,” the report added.

Cooperation to rebuild Karabakh

The EU is assisting in demining Azerbaijan's liberated territories and has set aside €2.5 million for this purpose.

The involvement of EU companies and financial institutions in the process of restoring and reconstructing Azerbaijan's liberated territories is currently under consideration.

According to the website, Baku also does not rule out the possibility that the EU can play an effective role in normalizing Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, including unblocking transport routes.

It added, quoting President Aliyev, who, in this regard, stated that "the community of European states, with vast political experience and powerful intellectual resources, can provide the negotiators with recommendations on a number of issues of settling bilateral relations, including the definition of borders. Azerbaijan, in any case, will welcome such steps.

Energy cooperation

The EU values Azerbaijan's energy cooperation, and the 8th ministerial meeting of the Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council held on February 4 in Baku, reaffirmed Azerbaijani-EU strategic energy partnership, which is based on shared goals for long-term energy security, supply security, and green energy transition.

In this regard, the EU-Azerbaijan energy cooperation had reached a new level and is still ongoing as part of the Southern Gas Corridor. In 2021, European countries purchased 8.2 billion cubic meters of gas, with volume expected to rise in the coming years.

It is also worth noting that Azerbaijan is the only Eastern Partnership country to have signed a separate document with the EU on energy security.

Partnership priorities

A document outlining the priorities of the Azerbaijan-EU partnership was adopted in September 2018 and it includes cooperation in strengthening institutions and good governance, economic development and market opportunities, energy efficiency, environmental and climate characteristics, and so on.

Day.az also quoted Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who stated during his visit to Baku that the EU's partnership relations with Azerbaijan are critical and must be strengthened further. He added that Azerbaijan has been allocated a €2 billion financial package as part of an economic investment plan that addresses the implementation of specific projects.

“We want to give our ties an additional, new impetus. We even want to give a strategic character to the partnership between the European Union and Azerbaijan,” EU Council President Charles Michel stated during his visit to the region last July.

On February 21, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar discussed regional security and cooperation.

Klaar stated that the EU is ready to support the region's efforts to achieve peace, security, and progress.

Strategic partnership agreement

The conclusion of a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement remains the main issue in Azerbaijan-EU relations today.

Negotiations for this agreement are currently underway, according to Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, and are expected to be completed this year.

The talks are divided into four categories: politics, security, trade and economy, and sectoral development.

The new agreement is intended to replace the partnership and cooperation agreement signed in 1996.

All of this indicates that Azerbaijan-EU relations have entered a new era. Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated its willingness to cooperate on an equal footing and confirmed its status as a reliable partner. On the European side, the current ties have a deeper sense of sincerity and understanding.

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