EU considering opportunity of direct participation in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution: EU Commissar (INTERVIEW)

EU considering opportunity of direct participation in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution: EU Commissar (INTERVIEW)

Azerbaijan, Baku, Apr. 8 / Trend corr. E.Ostapenko/

Trend European Desk exclusive interview with Štefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, on the eve of his first visit to Azerbaijan on Apr. 9 in line with his current mandate

Question: What are the main EU priorities and aims of cooperation with Azerbaijan within the new program of European Neighbourhood Policy - Eastern Partnership - for 2011 - 2013? Is it possible to expect the financing to be extended for Azerbaijan within Eastern Partnership?

Answer: The Eastern Partnership builds on the experiences of the European Neighbourhood Policy and offers a number of additional opportunities for closer ties between the EU and Eastern partners, including Azerbaijan.

We should seek to further deepen and widen our cooperation in all areas, ranging from trade and energy to political relations and also education and youth exchanges. Our new commitment to the strengthening of bilateral relations will be reflected in a new contractual relationship, the EU Azerbaijan Association Agreement. As regards trade, we want this agreement to lay the foundation for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Azerbaijan. This Free Trade Area will give our trade relations a fresh push, it will help to generate economic growth and jobs in Azerbaijan and provide access to the EU market of 500 million consumers. It should also help Azerbaijan to further diversify its economy away from gas and oil.

For negotiations on an EU-Azerbaijan Association Agreement to be able to start, we will wish to see that all relevant conditions are taken into account. One of the key conditions for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area is membership in WTO. I would therefore urge Azerbaijan to speed up the negotiations for WTO membership in order to meet this criterion.

Turning to your second question, let me say that the Commission will continue to support Azerbaijan through financial and technical assistance. Under the Eastern Partnership there is a global increase of € 350 million for all EaP partners. This amount will be distributed over a number of priorities both focusing on bilateral and multilateral cooperation. In the upcoming period of 2011-2013 the allocation for Azerbaijan will amount to € 122.5 million.

Q: Do you see progress in the facilitation of visa regime between European Union and Azerbaijan within the Eastern Partnership? What results do you wish to achieve in this regard, and in what terms?

A: We have not yet started the negotiations of visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Azerbaijan but important preparatory work is ongoing.
The Eastern Partnership has set the long term goal of making visa free travel possible between Azerbaijan and the EU. This is an ambitious prospect, to which citizens from both the EU and Azerbaijan pay a lot of attention. We will work with your country to make sure the necessary steps are taken so that one day the citizens of Azerbaijan could enjoy free travel to Europe.

Q: What is your estimation of economic situation in Azerbaijan? How resistible has Azerbaijan proved to be in the terms in world economic crisis?

A: Azerbaijan has not been affected as severely by the crisis as other countries have, primarily thanks to Azerbaijan's energy resources. It seems that the crisis affected mainly exports because energy demand has decreased as a result of the crisis. While long-term energy contracts have cushioned the negative impact, Azerbaijan in my view would benefit from a diversification of its economic activities, beyond the energy sector.

Q: Do you believe that the establishment of the position of EU Foreign Minister could increase the EU role in resolving conflicts, including the territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh? And what is your perception of the recent developments in the peace process?

A: I welcome the efforts made by all sides and in particular the personal commitments by the Presidents of Azerbaijan and of Armenia in trying to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The intensified schedule of meetings within the OSCE Minsk Group is a clear signal that the parties are trying hard to find a solution. The EU stands firmly behind all these efforts.

With the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has a clearer and more unified voice in the external relations field. Unresolved conflicts in the European Neighbourhood continue to be a major concern for us. I therefore do not exclude that we will consider getting more directly involved in settlement efforts. In this respect, the view of the parties concerned will be very important. At this stage, we are about to launch a programme supporting civil society efforts to enhance people-to-people contacts and increased understanding between communities. This programme focuses on youth, media and conflict affected groups.

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