Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec.23
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev is one of the strong promoters of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, former president of PACE, member of the Senate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands René van der Linden said in an interview with Trend.
The situation in the Middle East shows the importance of such a dialogue, he added.
He pointed out that mutual understanding, respecting minorities belongs to the essential rules of living together in a peaceful way, which is an essential condition for stability.
Touching upon Azerbaijan's success in recent years, René van der Linden noted that the country has made remarkable progress in infrastructure, healthcare, education and water management.
Further, he said Azerbaijan's independence and sovereignty has never been at stake. The country is a member of the UN, the Council of Europe and many other international bodies, he said.
"When Azerbaijan re-gained independence in October 1991, it was a poor country," he said, adding that it had an underdeveloped private sector.
PACE president reminded that according to the World Bank's statistics, per capita income in Azerbaijan has significantly increased since the country's independence in 1991.
"The first five years after independence was the toughest, when the economy was contracting," he said, adding that however from around 1997, the average annual economic growth was around 10 percent."
To put this in comparison: over the same time, Central Europe and the Baltic Sea countries could only achieve an average annual economic growth of 3 percent, ex-PACE president said.
As a result of growth in GDP, poverty rates in the country have declined from about 49 percent of the population with incomes below the national poverty line, to the present 5 percent, said Van Der Linden.
He pointed out that international agencies have in the past complimented the country on the management of its oil revenues.
Further the former PACE president noted that the country benefited enormously from its oil.
Azerbaijan is currently a candidate country of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) - an important initiative to contribute to good governance of natural resources, he said, adding that the country has to remain committed to this.
In addition to good economic growth and macro-economic management, Azerbaijan has hosted a large number of major international events in recent years, such as Eurovision Song Contest, and the First European Games and it has chaired the Council of Europe, he said.
So, Azerbaijan's leadership has laid the foundation for the country's development and membership of the international community of nations, according to Van Der Linden.
He also said there are still challenges for Azerbaijan, such as diversification of economy, relations with Europe, further implementation of the Coe commitments, continued dependency on oil, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Speaking about the Azerbaijan-EU relations, Van Der Linden said he's fully aware of the situation.
"I think we can contribute to strengthening these relations through developing partnerships, trade, cultural and student exchange programs," he said. "I am positive that the leadership of Azerbaijan will book success in dealing with these challenges in coming years."
He also praised the Azerbaijani leadership for successfully hosting the large-scale events in the country [First European Games and other large international events].
"More and more people across the world are learning about Azerbaijan's rich and wonderful history and culture," he said.
Van Der Linden recalled his coming to Azerbaijan in 2014, as the leader of Dutch businessmen delegation. He said the delegation was very impressed with the people of Azerbaijan and the opportunities for doing business together.
Moreover, Azerbaijan's president has put much emphasis on developing education in Azerbaijan - a prerequisite for its future economic development, said former PACE president.
"For instance, I have personal experience of seeing the development of ADA University and the implementation of the first internationally accredited MBA degree in Azerbaijan (with the Maastricht School of Management)," he said.
"Being involved in education, I have met many young people from Azerbaijan - and I am continually struck by their high level of education, their ability to work hard, their dedication to their country and their determination to be successful," he said. "So I believe the future of Azerbaijan is secure."