By Nigar Orujova
Azerbaijan and the European Union signed an agreement to expand cooperation on June 14.
The agreement was signed as part of a visit of President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso to Azerbaijan.
The document was signed by Head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan Malena Mard, Greek ambassador to Azerbaijan Dimitrios Tsoungas - on behalf of Greece as the president of EU Commission- and Head of Azerbaijan's delegation to the EU Fuad Isgandarov.
Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev met with Barroso behind closed door. He noted that relations between Azerbaijan and the EU had been developing successfully in the fields of politics and economy.
The parties said there were good prospects for even further expansion of energy cooperation.
The sides stressed the importance of Jose Manuel Barros's visit to Azerbaijan in terms of two sides' ties.
During the meeting, the parties exchanged views on the current state and prospects of relations between Azerbaijan and the European Union.
At another meeting attended by two sides' delegations, Azerbaijan's president said: "Expanding relations with European Union is among our main priorities. I am very glad that these relations are developing successfully. With your help, we have made headway in the right direction. Our relations cover a number of fields - political, economic, energy, security."
He expressed hope that the cooperation will expand further after the visit of EU delegation and will cover even more areas.
President of the European Commission said he is very pleased to come to Baku again after his last visit in 2011during which the Joint Declaration on the Southern Gas Corridor was signed. He noted that the city has changed for the better since his last visit.
After the meeting, Aliyev and Barroso held a joint press conference.
Azerbaijan's president praised the strong and positive political relations between the sides saying the relations have a bright future.
"I do hope that in the coming months, we will be actively working on a new format for our cooperation. Today we have had a detailed discussion on the potential cooperation format," he said.
The president said the sides discussed the political reforms and the process of democratization in Azerbaijan. "Provision of fundamental freedoms is one of the main priorities of our government because we associate modernization of our country with the modernization of all spheres of life."
"Today all fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in Azerbaijan. There are free media and free internet. As I have informed Mr. President, 70 per cent of Azerbaijan's population is active users of internet. The freedom of assembly is fully guaranteed in our country. The freedom of religion is also fully provided in our country," he said.
President Aliyev also said the EU accounts for 80 percent of Azerbaijan's exports and the economic cooperation between the two sides are based on a solid ground. "In particular, various important agreements worth billions of dollars have recently been signed with European manufacturers, covering energy and non-energy sectors."
"The process of negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia was another topic discussed by two sides," the president said. "Unfortunately, despite the fact that negotiations have been under way for 20 years, no progress has been made yet. The main reason for that is Armenia's reluctance to achieve peace with Azerbaijan."
"The fast settlement of the conflict within the norms and principles of international law and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is an important issue for our region. The settlement of this conflict will create a new environment in the South Caucasus region, an atmosphere of peace and cooperation," he said.
Speaking about issues connected to the energy cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, the president noted that the recent energy agreements between the two sides will pave the way for export of Azerbaijani gas to European markets.
After the press conference, President Aliyev and President Barroso made a tour of Sangachal oil terminal and reviewed the Caspian Energy Centre.
The centre, which fully reflects the history of Azerbaijan's oil and gas industry, widely promotes the country's role in the world`s oil and gas industry. The Caspian Energy Centre was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by President Aliyev, senior officials from the USA, the UK, Georgia and Kazakhstan in 2005.
The delegation was also briefed on the landmarks of Azerbaijan's oil history. It was noted that one of the major goals of the centre is to show the world that the 150-year history of Azerbaijan's oil and gas industry is not important solely for its economic achievements but it is also important as a source of national pride.
While touring the terminal, the presidents were informed that the Sangachal Terminal is considered "the beating heart" of Azerbaijan's oil and gas industry. It is the oil and gas terminal where crude oil and gas produced from Azerbaijani fields in the Caspian Sea are received, processed, stored and exported.
The terminal, considered one of the largest and profitable oil and gas terminals around the world, covers an area of more than 550 hectares. Its daily processing capacity is more than 1.2 billion barrels of crude oil and over 40 billion cubic meters of gas. The facility stores 3.2 million barrels of crude oil. The terminal also receives oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
In addition, the Sangachal terminal can receive more than 40 million cubic meters of gas from the Shah-Deniz platform. As part of the Shah-Deniz-2 project, expansion work will be carried out at the Sangachal Terminal, which will enable it to process an additional 16 billion cubic meters of gas per annum, three times more than the current volumes, and will further enhance the importance of Azerbaijan's oil and gas industry.
The presidents also visited the renovated Highland Park, made a tour of the Heydar Aliyev Center and finally had a dinner together.