Azerbaijan, Baku / 28 April Trend corr. A. Gasimova / Trend exclusive interview with the Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic, Mr. Jan Kubis.
1. What issues will be on focus during your upcoming visit to Azerbaijan at the end of March?
The aim of my visit is to discuss Slovak-Azerbaijan bilateral relations with the perspective of deepening co-operation between our countries. At the same time, from the point of view of the capacity of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, I would like to use this opportunity for evaluating the co-operation of the Republic of Azerbaijan within the framework of international organizations - Council of Europe, UN, OSCE.
2. What are your estimations of the level of co-operation between the Council of Europe and Azerbaijan? What is your opinion of Azerbaijan's fulfilment of its Council of Europe obligations?
Progress has been made by Azerbaijan in the alignment of its domestic legislation with Council of Europe standards in areas such as the functioning of the judiciary. Beyond the adoption of new laws, what is essential is to ensure their concrete implementation on a daily basis. Steps remain to be made in this field and the Council of Europe is willing to continue to assist Azerbaijan in this process.
On the other hand, there is still a number of areas for concern. In particular, I am referring to the question of freedom of the media. The Council of Europe has repeatedly called for the decriminalisation of defamation. I hope that this will be introduced soon.
Reinforcing the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption, pursuing the reform of the penitentiary system and the police towards greater protection of human rights are other areas identified by the Council of Europe where progress also remains to be made.
3. What joint steps could the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Government of Azerbaijan take in the run-up to the presidential elections? How is it necessary to make amendments to the Electoral Code of Azerbaijan?
The Presidential elections in October will be a crucial moment in the political life of the country. It is essential that they are free and fair. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has adopted an Action plan to assist the Azerbaijani authorities with the preparation of the elections. The Organisation will closely follow these preparations and expects that all candidates will be able to compete on equal terms during the electoral campaign, notably regarding access to the media and the possibility to freely organise rallies.
As far as the Electoral Code is concerned, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, together with the OSCE-ODIHR, is providing assistance in order to align the Code with international relevant standards and best practices in this field. Progress has been made in a number of areas such as rules on the settlement of electoral disputes. That said, a major issue still not resolved is the composition of electoral commissions. This is a very important matter to which the Council of Europe attaches particular importance. A way of ensuring a balanced composition of the commissions must be found.
We hope that this matter will be settled rapidly and that the revised Electoral Code will be adopted in good time before the elections, so that the necessary practical arrangements can be made on that basis for the preparation of the elections.
4. Despite numerous appeals and demands by the international organizations, including the UN Security Council, the belligerent Armenia still keeps 20% of Azerbaijan's territory under its occupation. What are your views on the ways of settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Slovakia sees the main potential for settling the conflict region in negotiations within the framework of the Minsk Group of the OSCE. In this regard, we are supporting the Finish Presidency in the OSCE. Speaking also on behalf of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, I believe that after the presidential elections in both countries, in Azerbaijan as well as in Armenia, the talks on settling this issue will be intensified.
5. How would you describe the current bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Slovakia? What are the prospects for co-operation between the two countries?
Relations between Slovakia and Azerbaijan are friendly without any open questions. Slovak Republic is interested in balanced and mutually profitable co-operation with Azerbaijan, emphasizing the areas of trade and economy. We are also interested in intensifying visits of the representatives of our countries which have been until now quite limited. We also should develop appropriate contractual basis between our countries. Besides the co-operation in the energy sector, Slovakia would appreciate Azerbaijan proposals for co-operation in other fields of economy in which Slovak businessmen could enter.
Slovak Republic supports Azerbaijan (together with the other South Caucasus countries) on the way to fulfillment of their European aspirations. Moreover, in November 2006 EU has signed Action Plans with the South Caucasus countries. Thus also Azerbaijan has been included into the European Neighborhood Policy Program. Slovakia believes that the mentioned mechanism of co-operation will significantly contribute to the Azerbaijan?s aspirations. I would like to reassure the official representatives of the Republic of Azerbaijan that Slovakia is prepared to share its experience from the accession process to the EU.
6. Azerbaijan plays an important role in ensuring European energy security. How can this factor bring Azerbaijan and Slovakia closer?
Closer bilateral cooperation with non-EU energy supply countries including Azerbaijan is fundamental part of European energy policy.
Azerbaijan with its national energy policy contributes to ensuring the security of energy transportation between the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea mainly via Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export oil pipeline and in gas sector to Erzurum gas terminal in Turkey.
Historically good relations between our countries are creating a solid base for further development of our economic relations. In this regard we are convinced, that our good relations in energy sector bring Azerbaijan and Slovakia closer also in other fields of mutual cooperation.