EU Am­bas­sador Roland Ko­bia: Azer­bai­jan seen as in­spi­ra­tion in bring­ing civ­i­liza­tions to­gether

Azeri Observer - - Azeri Observer Interview - BY ARSLAN AB­BASOV AZ­ERI OB­SERVER ED­I­TOR

“…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.

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