Azerbaijan , Baku, 3 May/ Trend corr. E.Ostapenko/
2011 marks the 15th anniversary of official cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union. Indeed, 15 years ago, in 1996 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed and became the formal basis for further development and intensification of bilateral relationship.
"The signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 1996 was quite an important step, as it was the first international agreement that Azerbaijan has concluded with the European Union. Already 500 millions euros have been allocated to Azerbaijan", European Union Ambassador
Roland Kobia told Trend in an exclusive interview in the light of the mentioned event.
For the passed 15 years Azerbaijan and the EU have achieved a big progress taking the relationship from initial humanitarian aid, food aid and aid to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from Nagorno-Karabagh, to the level of multi-sectoral partnership including wide political agenda.
"It is often said that the EU has been in Azerbaijan only for its energy resources", Kobia said. "This shows it is not true as at that time we didn't think about energy resources, because Europe didn't have problems with energy security, and Azerbaijan at early 1990s was a much less important actor on energy market with less important reserves it has today".
He believes "the EU came as a real partner to sustain the newly acquired sovereignty of Azerbaijan and trying to help Azerbaijan consolidate its independence".
European Neighbourhood Policy (initiated in 2004) and Eastern Partnership (initiated in 2009) let diversify and deepen the cooperation a lot. It has been two years in May from signing of the Eastern Partnership in Prague.
Since 2007 the EU assistance is channeled through a three-fold approach namely budgetary support and technical assistance, twinning projects, thematic programmes.
44 million euros have been allocated within the budgetary support and technical assistance to support governmental reforms in the areas of energy, justice and agriculture.
During this period, 24 million euros has been allocated for the implementation of twinning-projects, Kobia said. It is a pragmatic tool to contribute to the gradual reshaping of administrative structures through the transfer of knowledge on EU legislation, standards and practices.
Twinning projects cover various spheres, for example, support for the Anti-Corruption Department, Support for the Parliament on legal approximation to the EU etc. The projects are being implemented by cooperation between relevant governmental bodies in the EU member states and the beneficiary country.
Some 6 million euros has been allocated for thematic programmes. This tool targets mostly civil society actors to finance some of their activities in various sectors. Among the supported areas are media development projects, municipalities development projects etc.
"All together, the EU has given to Azerbaijan roughly half billion euros since independence up to today with a view to help the country in recovering from its legacy of the past", Kobia said.
In 2009 Azerbaijan got a very favorable status in trade, which is GSP+ (General System of Preference), that is over 6,000 Azerbaijani products could be exported to the EU without any duties.
"This is the best framework we can give to a third country in terms of trade", Kobia said. "We are working with the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry in order to extend the status as it expires this year".
In addition to European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership, the EU cooperates with Azerbaijan in framework of
National Indicative Program for 2011-2013, which provides additional financial support.
Some 122.5 millions euros is expected to be allocated within this Program. The funds will mainly go to sectoral budget support in the areas of energy, justice, agriculture and public finance management.
"Budget support is direct money transferred from the EU accounts to the accounts of Azerbaijani government. It's quite an impressive form of cooperation which means that we have direct cooperation with the government in giving them money to be used for a certain agenda. It is an instrument based on trust, confidence and mutual obligations", Kobia said.
To enable the budget support, certain conditions have to be met. According to the Ambassador, macro-economic stability as well as reform plans are going well. What is needed is also progress in
public finance management (PFM).
"This is the issue which is still outstanding for us to go further in budget support", Kobia said. "The EU is ready to push the button to release more funds for Azerbaijan, but we need to see progress from Azerbaijan in this last condition".
Kobia said progress in public finance management is first very important for Azerbaijan itself, to enhance and maximize its own public finances. But it also has positive externalities as a transparent public finance management system will attract more donors from all over the world.
"Donors support mainly countries where they have guarantee of how their money will be used, it reassures them", he said. "We see some signals from Azerbaijan on this issue, but they are not entirely clear; we would welcome the signals to be translated into plain progress".