By Aynur Jafarova
Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan Roland Kobia has assessed 2012 as a very active year in terms of the political dialogue between the European Union and Azerbaijan.
"That shows the EU's willingness to [hold] dialogue and work with Azerbaijan," Kobia said at a press conference on Wednesday, adding that the EU wants comprehensive dialogue with the country.
Speaking about the main points of the 2012 report on implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy in Azerbaijan, Kobia said that the report contains information on the strong and weak sides of the country as well as recommendations for Azerbaijan.
Among the positive aspects Kobia cited macroeconomic indicators, which remain largely positive.
Kobia also stressed that Azerbaijan has started implementation of the human rights action plan and welcomed the continued judiciary reform.
The EU Delegation head also mentioned the progress of Azerbaijan in combating money laundering and human trafficking.
According to Kobia, significant progress was made in the strategic partnership in the energy sector as well.
Touching on the ratification of the agreement on the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) by the Azerbaijani and Turkish parliaments, Kobia stated that this was an important step towards enhancing mutually beneficial partnership between Azerbaijan and the EU.
Kobia said, however, that there are some areas where more progress is needed, citing the negotiations on the Association Agreement.
According to Kobia, 2012 was not a very active year in this regard, as some gaps were observed. But he added that a lot of work has been done during the past four years on this issue.
"We want to continue these negotiations and believe that this is a wonderful opportunity for both parties to work together," Kobia said.
Kobia also said that the EU is ready to assist in effective implementation of all EU recommendations for its partners.
Visa regime facilitation
Speaking about the talks on visa regime facilitation, Kobia did not rule out that the agreement on visa regime facilitation and readmission will be signed between Azerbaijan and the EU in 2013.
The latest round of negotiations between the EU and Azerbaijan on visa facilitation, which was held in mid-March in Brussels, suggests that the parties will be able to sign the agreement soon, Kobia said. However, he added that more work still needs to be done.
According to Kobia, a plenary meeting of EU and Azerbaijani representatives on the association agreement will be held in Brussels on April 9-10.
In February, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammadguliyev said that the negotiations on visa regime facilitation and readmission with Azerbaijan are expected to be completed by late 2013.
Mammadguliyev said that the negotiations are progressing well, adding: "Several issues such as readmission and the facilitation of visa procedures must be addressed."
Azerbaijan and the EU launched official negotiations on visa facilitation in March 2012 in Baku.
An agreement on the simplification of visa entry for citizens of Azerbaijan provides for a reduction of the list of documents submitted along with the visa application and the possibility of issuing multiple entry visas with a longer validity period, thus reducing the cost of visas or even making them free for particular categories, and envisions time limits for processing an application.
The agreement on readmission will develop a mechanism for repatriation of those residing in the EU and Azerbaijan without permission.
The EU and Azerbaijan are maintaining relations under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in 1996 and came into force in 1999. In 2009, the EU passed a decision to sanction negotiations on the conclusion of bilateral association agreements of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia with the organization. These agreements will be a new practical instrument to replace the bilateral action plans.
Azerbaijan is also included in the EU's Eastern Partnership program, adopted at the initiative of Poland and Sweden and approved at the EU summit in Brussels in 2008. The Eastern Partnership is aimed at political and economic rapprochement of six post-Soviet states with the EU.