Interview of Trend with Arif Mammadov, the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Azerbaijan in the Benelux countries and the European Union
Question: How do you estimate the current level and perspectives for the development of relationships between Azerbaijan and Belgium?
Answer: The relationships between Azerbaijan and Belgium differ for their friendly character, there are broad opportunities, particularly, economic capacities for further development of bilateral relationships and we try to utilize every opportunity for consolidation of the relationships. The establishment of diplomatic bonds between the two countries dates to 17 June 1992, while the diplomatic representation of Azerbaijan in Belgium has been functioning since 1995.
Despite comparably short period of establishment of diplomatic relationships, it was possible through joint efforts to familiarize an ordinary citizen of Belgium with Azerbaijan, its ancient history, rich culture, huge economic potential. Today one can listen to Azerbaijani music on Belgium Radio in the performance of our [Azerbaijani] composers, read familiarity articles about Azerbaijan in the magazines, while some Azerbaijani musical instruments, including tar and saz, are displayed in the Royal Museum of musical instruments, the biggest in Europe. Moreover, a monument dedicated Dada Gorgud epos was erected in the Center of Brussels.
The top-level political contacts are developed intensively. During the last visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Belgium in May 2004 the two sides signed bilateral documents promoting the development of economic relationships. The parliamentary bonds continue successfully. Last year the chairman of the Chamber of Representatives of Belgium paid an official visit to Baku.
This year the chairman of the Senate of Belgium is expected to pay an official visit to Azerbaijan. Next year it is planned to open an embassy of Belgium in Baku, which will undoubtedly intensify the bilateral relationships. Our plans also include the establishment of the Belgium-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce, which would play a major coordinating role for Belgium entrepreneurs in the search of partners in Azerbaijan. Active cooperation is carried out in the sphere of military cooperation. There was reached an agreement on signing of a Memorandum on mutual understanding in the military sphere and the sides had exchange of texts of the draft Memorandums.
Proximity in the relationships between Azerbaijan and Belgium are real base for broad and productive dialogue in all levels. It is necessary to note that in connection with chairmanship at the OSCE this year, Belgiums interests in the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict have increased. The Foreign Minister of Belgium paid one of his first visits to Baku as an OSCE chair and mulled both multilateral and bilateral issues.
Question: What efforts are taken in the issue of development of interstate relationships with Luxemburg?
Answer: On 15 March 2005 I presented my credentials to Great Herzog. Though Luxembourg is a small country, the amount of per capita incomes is higher than the EU. The banking system is very much developed in Luxembourg. With this consideration talks have been held with the Agency for Transition of Financial Technologies, ATTF, on rendering assistance to Azerbaijan in the training of banking specialists. Under the project it is planned to organize short-term and long-term courses for the improvement of the banking system both in Baku and in Luxembourg.
The improvement of the legal agreement base of the relationships continues. Draft text of an agreement on cooperation in the sphere of culture, education and science has been submitted to the consideration of Luxembourg. An agreement on avoiding dual taxation, which is scheduled for signing in the near future, has been initialed. Close contacts have been established with different state bodies of the country. The cooperation within the framework of international organizations, including UNESCO and ECOSOS, go on successfully.
Question: In what stage are the mutual relationships with the Netherlands?
Answer: The Azerbaijani embassy received an accreditation in the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 26 January 2005. Last year a number of meetings were held at the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands with respect to discuss issues of development and strengthening of the Azerbaijani-Dutch cooperation in different spheres both in bilateral format and in the international organizations. Close relationships have been set up with many state bodies and public organizations. They conduct constant work with the governmental international organizations in Hague, such as the International Tribunal, the International criminal Court, and EuroPol. Work over the achievement of an agreement with the Dutch organization on education, attraction of Azerbaijani students to different universities of the Netherlands is also being cared out.
Positive tendency in the relationships between Azerbaijan and the Netherlands also reflects on the strengthening of economic relationships. Increase which has been observed in the goods turnover between the two countries over the past few years testifies for it.
Work over the development and improvement of the legal-agreement base not only in the political and humanitarian, but also economic sphere, is underway. The discussions on inclusion of Azerbaijan into different economic, humanitarian programs, which are implemented by the Netherlands, continue.
Question: In what stage is the issue on coordination and adoption of an Action Plan under the European Neighborhood Plan?
Answer: The Action Plan is an important program instrument of the European Neighborhood Policy. It is intended to reflect major milestones of strategic cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU. Azerbaijan implemented substantial work with regard to hold talks on the Action Plan with European partners. The official opening and the first round of talks were held last December. The second round of consultations was conducted in Brussels on 7 March 2006. Summarizing the results of the talks I want to say that we succeeded to achieve agreement on a number of questions. However, there are some items still to be coordinated. So, there is necessity in one more meeting.
In general, I cant say that the Action Plan should be ready by autumn meeting of the EU-Azerbaijan Council of Cooperation, which is expected to adopt this document. But for the time being both the EU and Azerbaijan are carrying out painstaking work over the text of the document to meet the deadline.
Question: What about the resolution of an issue on opening of the European Commissions diplomatic mission in Azerbaijan?
Answer: A resolution on the opening of a representation of the European Commission in Baku has been already taken it is to open and set up activities in 2007. At present a special representative of the EC on Azerbaijan, Alan Waddams, represents the organization.
From 2003 to February 2006 Heikki Talvitie, a Finnish diplomat, had been the EU special envoy on South Caucasus. From February 2006 a Swiss diplomat, Peter Semnebi, replaced him in this post. Along with different tasks, he is also in charge of assisting the resolution of existing conflicts in the region.
Question: What work is being carrier out for unifying the efforts of the Azerbaijani Diaspora in the EU countries, including Belgium?
Answer: Several organizations representing the Azerbaijani Diaspora function in Belgium, but, unfortunately, there is no unity among them. The Diaspora mainly includes ethnic Azerbaijanis, citizens of Turkey and Iran. There is also small Diaspora comprised of Azerbaijani citizens.
Our embassy tries to unite common efforts in the name of Motherland. At present the key task of the work with the Diaspora is assistance in the establishment of a unified, strong, efficient body, which could unify all Azerbaijanis. It is necessary to maintain or install national originality, culture, language. We try to render comprehensive assistance to our Diaspora in the organization of different culture events, political actions. The embassy permanently carries out joint meetings with the participation of representatives of Diaspora, marks Novruz Bayram, the Independence Day of Azerbaijan, and Solidarity of World Azerbaijanis. It all target unification of uncoordinated organizations, representing the Azerbaijani community in order to enable them to state Azerbaijans stance from the tribunes in accessible for diplomats.
It is very important to establish and strengthen the youth, the student organizations in Europe. They could be base for lobby activities in the international organizations.
Work experience in Europe testifies that the practice of conduct of pickets and demonstration by the Diaspora is less efficient. It is necessary to carry out painstaking work on the level of student organizations, as the results can be achieved only at the expense of the high intellectual level.
Question: What are the perspectives for Euro-integration of Azerbaijan? What is the most difficult in this process?
Answer: Perspectives for the development of relationships are of course very good and the talks on Action Plan testify for it. The EU is interested in the cooperation with Azerbaijan and considers it as a country which plays important role in ensuring the energy security of the EU. However, the Euro-integration requires tremendous efforts and close interaction between different bodies of the EU and Azerbaijan on the expert level.
Due to some problems, we could not achieve the adoption of European standards, establishment of necessary legislative basis and sanitary. With huge capacities of export of agriculture products and fish, unfortunately, we are unable to realize it. Even import of Greece nuts from Azerbaijan was ceased due to high-toxic substance aflotoxine - in connection with non-observation of technical norms while collection and preservation of the product.
Frequently, people without knowledge of foreign languages come to Europe for different important events, where no interpretation is provided. As a result, there is no benefit of their participation and additionally, it damages the countrys image.
Concerned on the above-mentioned it is necessary to carry out a set of actions on the improvement of personnel working in the direction of Euro-integration. It is also necessary to give incentives to the attraction of highly educated specialists to the state service. The state service should become more attractive than the work in the foreign companies.