Azerbaijan, Baku, July 13 / Trend S.Agayeva /
Trend interviewed French Ambassador to Azerbaijan Gabriel Keller on the occasion of National Day of France - Bastille Day, celebrated July 14
Trend: How do you assess the present state of the relations between France and Azerbaijan?
Keller: They are excellent. During their meeting Dec.9, 2009, French and Azerbaijani Presidents have noted multiple convergences between their two countries. The prospects for cooperation are wide. And these prospects have been underlined once again by the President of France, when he accepted the credential letters of the new Ambassador of Azerbaijan to France, Mr. Elchin Amirbayov. President Nicolas Sarkozy has also expressed his intention to visit Azerbaijan in the near future.
Q.: In your view, what aspects of the French-Azerbaijani cooperation are a priority?
A.: Political cooperation is important, both for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and for getting closer to the EU. Of course, economical cooperation is also important and long running, covering the field of hydrocarbons, but that is not all. I'll come back to this issue.
In the field of culture and higher education, the links are multiple as well. We note a big interest for our language in Azerbaijan: it is taught in five faculties, in the French Cultural Center and also in numerous Azerbaijani state structures. We also have a project for the establishment of a French school in Baku.
Q.: One of the essential questions for Azerbaijan is the peaceful resolution of the Azerbaijani-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. How do you estimate the prospects of the resolution of this conflict in a near future?
A.: Since the end of last year, the negotiation has gone through difficult moments, this happened despite a year of relative optimism, during which the Presidents met six times. The Minsk Group is continuing its efforts, and Azerbaijan has demonstrated its commitment for a peaceful resolution by accepting the Madrid principles. Of course, we hope to come soon to an agreement on these principles of resolution of the conflict in order to be able to start drafting a genuine peace agreement. This agreement will take some more time, because both sides will have to accept to make compromises.
The three presidents of the Minsk group co-chair countries have recently confirmed their commitment by the Muskoka statement during the last G8 Summit of June 26. On the basis of the 6 points of this statement which both sides of the conflict accepted, the Azerbaijani and Armenian Presidents are invited to settle the outstanding points of divergence between them. This would pave the ground for of a final resolution.
Q.: What kind of contribution could France bring for the integration of Azerbaijan into the EU in the frame of the 'Eastern partnership' Program? What kind of experience could Azerbaijan learn from France in this field?
A.: At this stage, the issue under consideration is to get closer to the EU, not to integrate as a EU member state. By the way, Azerbaijan did not make a choice in this direction. Of course, France is willing to contribute to the success of the Eastern Partnership, which offers a lot for getting closer. The intensification of trade exchanges and the increase of interpersonal contacts (students, youth, researchers, and journalists meetings) are efficient means for this. There is among other acts of cooperation, twinning of programs between Azerbaijani and European administrations which aim at harmonizing their working methods. France is taking an active part in these programs and there is a dynamism that we wish to support.
Q.: Big French firms -Total and GDF SUEZ- are participating in the exploration of Azerbaijani gas fields. Does France intend to invest in the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan and in what volume?
A.: France wishes to widen economic cooperation to all sectors of the Azerbaijani economy. It is already the case, in particular, in the fields of aeronautics, environment and transport. We wish to cooperate in other areas, as the space industry or agriculture, for which we are ready to consider genuine partnerships. Even though some progress can still be achieved to improve the business environment, Azerbaijan is considered by French companies as a partner offering large opportunities. Thus their increasing interest in this country, which results in visits at the highest level : French Employer's Union (MEDEF) came to Baku in November 2009, and met all the political and economic leaders of the country. Mrs Idrac, the French State Secretary for Foreign Trade paid a visit to Baku in March 2009. High representatives of the leading French industrial groups are frequent visitors to Baku.
Q.: How had France's investment priorities changed in the context of the world financial crisis ?
A.: The World Crisis first hit the financial and banking sectors: therefore, France has concentrated its efforts first of all to reduce major dysfunctions of these sectors. Today, in the frame of the European Union, France is working towards the harmonization of economical and budgetary choices of member states, in order to bring a coherent answer to the challenges of the crisis. In the sphere of investments, France stresses sustainable development and conserving the resources of the planet: renewable energies, pollution abatement, water purification, etc. In more classic activities (for example civil engineering), France is trying to promote environment-friendly and energy saving technologies.
Q.: Which role does France give Azerbaijan in the diversification of energy supply for EU countries?
A.: In the gas sector Europe is a huge importer, who has to insure its energy independence by diversifying its providers as much as possible. France considers Azerbaijan as an essential partner for the operation of the 'Southern Corridor' and supported, officially as well as through French firms, the conclusion of the Azerbaijani-Turkish agreement which was signed last June. This Southern corridor will allow the transport of gas from the Middle East and Central Asia to Europe, with the Azerbaijani gas the first to be transported through this corridor. In the oil sector, French compay Total has been active in Azerbaijan for a long time and its participation in the BTC pipeline answers your question.
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