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European Union seeks to cooperate with Azerbaijan beyond EaP

The Council of the European Union has adopted a mandate for the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to negotiate, on behalf of the EU and its member states, a comprehensive agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan, according to the Council’s website. The new agreement should replace the 1996 partnership and cooperation agreement and should better take account of the shared objectives and challenges the EU and Azerbaijan face today. It will follow the principles endorsed in the 2015 review of the European neighborhood policy and offer a renewed basis for political dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan, says the statement.

The new agreement looks to bring the legislation and procedures in Azerbaijan maximum closer to the most important international and trade regulations and standards of the EU, which will help improve the access of the Azerbaijani products to the EU markets.

Baku has supported the new initiative of the EU. “We welcome the issuance of a mandate by the European Union for the preparation of an agreement for comprehensive cooperation with Azerbaijan,” Spokesperson of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry Hikmet Hajiyev said.

According to him, on sidelines of the Fourth Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga last May, Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov met with Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations and informed him of the draft agreement of strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and EU. The Azerbaijani minister said then Azerbaijan is ready to develop relations with the EU in the given field. “We believe that the signing of a new agreement will create a legal framework and will raise the strategic cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan to a new level,” Hajiyev said.

The question arises as to whether the new agreements with the crisis-ridden Europe will be beneficial for Azerbaijan. Maybe, Azerbaijan needs to refuse from the agreement with the EU, if some Western politicians question its benefit. What held them from successfully implementing the agreement signed between Baku and EU in 1996? After all, then Europe was in a more favorable situation both economically and politically.

The first option of the Eastern Partnership Project (EaP) weighed democratic reform in the partner countries, expansion of ties, but has eventually turned into an anti-Russian platform. The project initiators- EU and U.S. – made all their further steps taking into account their geopolitical and energy ambitions.

The Association Agreements (AA) have triggered centrifugal processes inside that project. Europe is now demanding the countries to sign AA. In particular, an attempt to postpone the signing of the AA by the EaP member Ukraine ended in a coup d’état that was supported by the Western world. One cannot say that the new strategic agreement with the EU will compare favorably with the AA. In both documents, they could write one thing on paper and pursue quite different goals when implementing it, since nothing has actually changed in the policy of the EU and U.S. towards the EaP states, despite the events in Ukraine.

Commenting on the essence of the new agreement, Director of Turan News Agency Mehman Aliyev told EADaily that the given decision by the EU is a standard for all countries. “The draft document was submitted to Baku yet in 2015, but so far there are no mechanisms to implement it. Neither Baku nor Brussels seek to speed up that process. There is Russia’s factor too, and Baku has to reckon with it. Recently, the EU has invited Russia to join the project. Perhaps, there will be some breakthroughs in the process, if this happens,” Aliyev said.

Political analyst Fikret Sadykhov says Azerbaijan does not seek to join the EU unlike Georgia and Ukraine. “It would be wrong to say that our relations with the EU resemble the Georgian-European relations, because the countries have different foreign policy priorities. Tbilisi has set a priority to join the EU, NATO, while we pursue no such goals at least for the near future. Azerbaijan speaks about this openly,” Sadykhov says.

In addition, he says, Baku is distancing itself from any military and political unions that may bind its hands and impose additional obligations on it, taking into account a range of circumstance and events in the South Caucasus.

The problem is that EU’s intents and stance have little changed. As before, the major goal of the agreement is to increase the geopolitical presence of the West in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea region, in particular, in Azerbaijan. In other words, Washington and Brussel seek to achieve their geopolitical goals through economy, energy and various projects.

Recently, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan Malena Mard said explicitly that EU considers Azerbaijan from the viewpoint of Europe’s energy interest and energy security. It appears that the EU officials forgot about the threadbare statements in support and democracy and human rights, though all that was included in the regulations of the European Neighborhood Project and the Eastern Partnership Project.

On the other hand, it should be noted that only transnational, petroleum producing and other companies may favor from that agreement. As their share in economy and business of Azerbaijan is high. The new agreement will make them even stronger in the country. These companies will become richer due to Azerbaijani energy resources.

Will Azerbaijan’s economy grow and will the living standards improve in the country that is the question. Brussels has promised much in exchange for Azerbaijan’s involvement in the ENP and EaP. However, this has brought no success to either side. These projects did not help either the member-countries or the EU. At least, look at the results of the presidential election in Moldova. The people in Moldova do not live better despite its aspiration for Europe. The reason is that the West sets its geopolitical interests above the economic and political interest of the partner states.

Maksud Talibli (Baku) for EADaily

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