By Sara Rajabova
Azerbaijan, a powerful country of the South Caucasus, aims to develop its relations with the European Union.
Mahmud Mammadguliyev, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister told reporters "Azerbaijan is ready to raise relations with the EU to a higher level."
“Azerbaijan's strategic goal is to apply the EU experience at the highest level in the country,” he said at an event at the ADA University in Baku dedicated to Latvia's presidency in the EU Council on February 25.
The EU and Azerbaijan have maintained good relations under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in 1996 and came into force in 1999.Since then, the PCA has provided the legal framework for all EU-Azerbaijan bilateral relations in the areas of political dialogue, trade, investment, economic, legislative and cultural cooperation.
Azerbaijan is also included in the EU program on "Eastern Partnership", which envisages significant increase in the level of political interaction, large integration of former Soviet republics into EU economy, increasing the volume of financial aid allocated to them and the strengthening of energy security.
Mammadguliyev confirmed the protocol on Azerbaijan's participation in EU projects has been already ratified.
The official however expressed his regrets that such protocol has not yet been ratified by other EU member-states.
“It is time to prepare a legal document. The strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the EU will be based on this document,” Mammadguliyev said.
He noted that Azerbaijan is ready for this next step, stressing that the preparation of the document is in its final stage. He added afterwards that the document will be sent to the EU Commission for discussion.
Mammadguliyev further voiced Azerbaijan’s concern about the weak participation of the EU in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which emerged in 1988 over Armenia’s territorial claims against Azerbaijan.
He said to be dissatisfied with the EU "selective" approach of conflict resolution in the region, referring directly to EU member-states reticence to address Armenia's armed aggression against Azerbaijan.
“Sanctions were imposed immediately during the conflict in Crimea, while a number of projects are implemented in Nagorno-Karabakh and the separatist regime is supported there,” Mammadguliyev stressed.
He also added that the EU should take steep measures to push Armenia to withdraw from Azerbaijan’s occupied territories.
Armenia occupied over 20 percent of Azerbaijan's internationally recognized territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions, after laying territorial claims against its South Caucasus neighbor that caused a brutal war in the early 1990s. Long-standing efforts by U.S, Russian and French mediators have been largely fruitless so far.
Mammadguliyev further said the EU should support the settlement of conflicts and contribute to their settlement within states' territorial integrity and internationally recognized borders.
He added that Azerbaijan has repeatedly raised this issue, but so far to no avail.
“If the EU deeply studied the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and showed interest in this issue, today we likely would not have witnessed a conflict in Ukraine,” he declared.
In 2013, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which confirmed that Armenian troops have indeed occupied Azerbaijani territories. It urged all parties to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of the UN Security Council resolutions and the L'Aquila statement of the mediating countries' leaders in 2009.
According to changes to the resolution, the European Parliament recalled its position that the occupation of territory of an Eastern Partnership member by another member state violates the fundamental principles and objectives of the EU program.