By Nigar Orujova
The European Union expressed hope that the agreements on visa regime simplification and readmission between the EU and Azerbaijan will come into force in summer.
The statement was made by head of the EU representative office in Azerbaijan Malena Mard at the presentation of a report on the country's progress in 2013 as part of the European Neighborhood Policy on April 2.
"The EU wants large-scale reforms," she added. "Some €15.4 billion was allocated for 2014-2020. This proceeds from the significance that the EU attaches to the Neighborhood Policy."
Azerbaijan and the EU signed a visa facilitation agreement as part of the EU summit in Vilnius in November 2013. Azerbaijan also signed a readmission agreement with the EU earlier this year.
Azerbaijan is currently preparing to sign a readmission agreement with Norway and Switzerland.
Under a new rule, a decision on issuing a visa will be made within 10 days, and two days or less in case of emergency.
The cost of the application will decrease to €35 for Azerbaijani citizens, and a list of required documents will be reduced for certain categories of the population, including relatives and members of official delegations, students, teachers, businessmen, scientists, and journalists.
The visa facilitation and readmission agreements are part of the EU Eastern Partnership program aimed at closer cooperation of the EU with six former Soviet republics - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
New rules for Schengen area
Mard said the European Commission issued new proposals for the simplification of the rules of issuing Schengen visas will benefit Azerbaijani citizens as well.
Under the proposals, it will be necessary to obtain a visa six months in advance, the period of stay in Europe will be extended from 90 days to one year, and the term of visa will increase from 1-3 years to 3 years.
Mard said the commission's proposals will be discussed by the EU Member States.
In order to simplify the visa process, the commission has made a number of proposals, including reducing the period of documents examination from 15 to 10 days, issuing multiple-entry visas valid for three years for tourists, and facilitating the issuance of visas for the visitors of major events.
An opportunity to apply for visa on the internet or at the consulates of other EU countries will also be created if there is no diplomatic representation of the destination country within easy reach.
Mard expressed regret that no progress has been achieved in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which was included into the report.
"The two presidents met in November 2013 and decided to continue these meetings," Mard said.
"The EU supports the OSCE Minsk Group's activity," she said. "One of the recommendations reflected in this report is to allow the EU representatives to visit Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding areas."
Mard also said the EU attaches great importance to Azerbaijan in energy cooperation. "The EU is not a member of the Minsk Group. We are not a negotiating party. We have been informed of the complexity of the conflict. We would like to see progress towards peace. In this process, the main parties are Azerbaijan, Armenia, and OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen."
Armenia captured Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts of Azerbaijan in a war that followed the Soviet breakup in 1991. More than 20,000 Azerbaijanis were killed and nearly 1 million were displaced as a result of the war.
Large-scale hostilities ended with a Russia-brokered ceasefire in 1994, but Armenia has continued the occupation in defiance of four UN Security Council resolutions calling for immediate and unconditional withdrawal.
Peace talks mediated by Russia, France, and the U.S. have produced no results so far.
Measures on the diversification of Azerbaijan's economy should continue and the EU is informed of the established macroeconomic stability in the country, Mard said.
"The report notes the need for continuing the measures aimed at further diversification of Azerbaijan's economy, working to join the World Trade Organization, and the necessity of adopting the code 'On competition'", she said.
Mard noted that while the EU is Azerbaijan's largest trading partner and investor, the cooperation potential is far from satiety.
She said the EU is interested in expanding work in Azerbaijan, witnessing the continuation of reforms in the country, and developing trade and other fields.
"Furthermore, the EU's commitment to the development of cooperation with Azerbaijan in the energy sector is well known. The adoption of the final investment decision on the Shah Deniz - 2 project was a significant step. We intend to develop close relations in this area," Mard added.
She also highlighted the fight against corruption as an important factor.
"The progress report recommends the continuation of applying the national program in this area. Furthermore, the EU notes the successful work of the ASAN Service [operating since January, 2013] and we are glad that we were able to play a role in this project, even a small one," Mard said.