EU Ambassador Roland Kobia: Azerbaijan seen as inspiration in bringing civilizations together
“…I tend to see it more like a European country… Being European means that you share the fundamental values on which Europe was built.”
Q. Recently we have been observing the strengthening of the EU-Azerbaijan cooperation. Do you see Azerbaijan as a future member of the European family or an important partner?
A. I agree with you. The level of the cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union has been increasing from year to year. It has both widened and deepened. We consider Azerbaijan as an important partner, and our relations have enormous potential. Now, we are cooperating with Azerbaijan in many areas – political, economic, social, energy, security, judiciary, education, agriculture, culture, etc. Our cooperation in the energy area has even reached the level of a strategic partnership.
Of course, we see Azerbaijan as a part of the European family. Azerbaijan is a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE; two sister organisations that have their roots in European values. Azerbaijan is also a part of the Eastern Partnership, a format especially designated to create closer links between the EU and the countries of our neighbourhood in the Eastern part of Europe. Regarding a possible EU- membership it is a question that Azerbaijan has to answer first. It is a free, independent and sovereign choice that Azerbaijan has to make. The EU will never oblige
anyone to join the EU, this is a free choice. The EU is ready to consider any requests from Azerbaijan in the medium or long term. But let me add here that membership is not the only option for closer interaction. The EU is offering many forms and levels of integration which Azerbaijan can make use of. First of all I would like to reiterate the Eastern Partnership that is especially designed to help the countries in the Eastern Neighbourhood to move closer to EU standards in all sectors. The most comprehensive and important offer from the EU that is on the table in this context is to conclude an “Association Agreement”. Some of the Eastern Partnership countries have already progressed a long way to finalizing their Association Agreements and possibly we will see some of them already signed during the November 2013 Eastern partnership Summit in Vilnius. I would like to remind that this was exactly the way the Eastern European countries ( Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary…), which are now members of the EU, went when embarking on their path of accession.
Q. How do you evaluate the role of Azerbaijan in energy security of the European countries?
A. The EU-Azerbaijan energy cooperation is a model of good cooperation and continues to develop fast. We have mutual interests in this area, a reason why it is so successful. Azerbaijan has a team of high professionals in the energy sector. We welcome Azerbaijan’s efforts to provide energy security of Europe, just as I believe Azerbaijan values to have a partner that offers a market of 500 millions consumers, which is rulebased, predictable and secure. A number of important documents have been signed up to now – Memorandum of Understanding in the field of energy that created a solid basis for a cooperation, Joint Declaration on the Southern Gas Corridor between the EU and Azerbaijan, intergovernmental agreement on Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) between Azerbaijan and Turkey on delivery of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe through Turkey. We are now very close to the decision on the European route of the Southern Gas Corridor that is scheduled to be publicly announced by the end of June this year. This ambitious project will connect the Caspian region, en- dowed with one of the world's largest gas reserves, with Europe, one of the largest and best consumer markets for gas. Energy must also be seen a driver in our relations to deepen our common political agenda, bring our vision and values closer.
Q. What do you think about considering Azerbaijan as a model for Islamic countries in the Eastern-Western dialogue and the integration process of these two polars?
A. Azerbaijan is a secular state with Islamic values. The religious tolerance demonstrated here is appreciated by all international actors. Azerbaijan is active in promoting this intercultural dialogue. We support the fact that Azerbaijan is regarded by a large part of the world community as an inspiration in bringing civilizations together. So learning from the Azerbaijani experience is definitely a useful element when trying to reconcile religions and cultures in this world and to promote a peaceful dialogue between them.
Regarding the East-West dialogue I do not like to see the starting positions in this exchange as being bipolar. We have much more in common than what separates us. Bridging the differences is sometimes difficult, but it is worth it. By the way, not all differences should be regarded as negative. Cultural differences, like the ones we see in Europe, do enrich life. Difference, diversity should be promoted. Countries like Azerbaijan that have been placed at the crossroads of civilisations can contribute with valuable experiences here and help facilitate dialogue between those who do not yet talk and act in that way.
Q. Even if the Republic of Azerbaijan is located in Europe, its roots are in the Ancient East. Do you consider Azerbaijan as the East or West?
A. Of course, Azerbaijan being on the edge of East and West has both features in itself. Maybe historically it is more rooted in the East but when it comes to modern times I tend to see it more like a European country. But Europe is not a geographical concept only. Being European means that you share the fundamental values on which Europe was built. And these are: the democratic values, the non relative respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, the separation of powers, and a free market economy.
Q. How do you see the perspectives of BakuTbilisi- Kars railways, which will connect Europe
with Central and Eastern Asian countries? Do you see yourself among tourists, who will buy ticket in Brussels and visit Baku and other South Caucasian countries, as well as Medium and Eastern Asian countries?
A. When it comes to travelling from Brussels to Baku I would still prefer the plane over the train for reasons of convenience. This is a reason why I would wish to see a direct flight connection between Baku and Brussels, something that might happen when we finish the negotiations on an Aviation Agreement with Azerbaijan. But I do not want to rule out the possibility of making the railway trip if time allows. For the EU, any project that facilitates people to people contacts is considered as valuable. I reckon that the real potential of the Baku Tbilisi Kars railway lies in the development of trade, especially in heavy goods like commodities or machinery. I do not doubt that there is a sound commercial basis for this project. Without being a direct stakeholder I can say that this kind of projects leads to increased economic activity along its path as well as general stability and that is in line with EU positions and objectives. The EU funded TRACECA project is also a good example of that. The TRACECA promotes the development of regional transport dialogue and ensures the efficient and reliable Euro-Asian transport links, promoting the regional economy on the whole.
Q. The negotiations process on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has weakened over the last two years. In Azerbaijan, OSCE Minsk Group is accused in inactivity, and people do not believe in its success. Is it expected that EU will increase its efforts to solve the conflict in the East of Europe this year?
A. The Nagorno Karabakh conflict is a difficult and painful protracted conflict. Europe has suffered for centuries of wars, so we fully understand and feel compassion for countries that still have a conflict to deal with. Conflict first means human suffering.
The EU is considerably enhancing its support to the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process. We welcome all the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group, and while supporting the latter's work, which is the only format accepted by Azerbaijan and Armenia so far, the EU tries to complement its work in reaching a peace agreement as outlined in the Madrid Principles. In support of efforts towards peace, the EU conducts regular political dialogue with both countries, and has also appointed the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Ambassador Phillipe Lefort.
Last year the EU has come up with concrete ideas and proposals to help the overall process, in implementation of confidencebuilding measures, in particular, general demilitarization, the withdrawal of snipers from the line of contact, the withdrawal of the Armenian forces from occupied territories surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh and a mechanism for active incident- prevention and the investigation of the ceasefire violations along the line of contact as well as confidence-building projects aimed at increasing the peoples' support for mutual concessions and spread of ideas of peace, reconciliation and trust. The EU intensively holds active dialogue with Azerbaijan and Armenia to take the above-mentioned proposals to the implementation stage but unfortunately the proposals of the EU have not met with a positive response from either side as yet.