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The European Union and Azerbaijan have renewed their engagement and dialogue, including through the launch of negotiations on a comprehensive new agreement to modernise and revitalise the EU-Azerbaijan partnership. Azerbaijan has also embarked on an important process to diversify its economy.
The details of this process are highlighted in a Joint Report on Azerbaijan, released today by the European External Action Service and the European Commission, ahead of the EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council, which will be held in Brussels on 9 February 2018. Covering a three-year period, from January 2015 to the present, the report is the first of its kind regarding Azerbaijan under the revised European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), focusing on key developments and reform efforts, particularly in jointly agreed priority areas in the context of Azerbaijan's participation in the Eastern Partnership.
“Since the European Union and Azerbaijan signed our last bilateral agreement - the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement – in 1996, a lot has changed. It is long overdue that the relationship we have on paper reflects the depth and strength of our partnership in reality, as well as giving us a good basis to develop our relationship further in the future", said the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini. "We are making good progress in negotiations for a new agreement. Together we will look for more opportunities for young people to meet and to travel, possibilities for businesses to grow, to protect human rights and to facilitate energy relations, bringing real benefits to our respective citizens."
"We see Azerbaijan's efforts to enhance its resilience, in particular to diversify its economy, and we stand ready to support the emergence of new economic and social actors to help create a diverse, strong and inclusive society in Azerbaijan. We will continue our support for reforms in areas such as public administration and justice – which will strengthen rule of law making Azerbaijan more attractive to investors; and education - crucial for the development of the necessary skills to face the challenges of tomorrow", said Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn.
Azerbaijan in 2015 presented a draft proposal for a new framework agreement that would build on the existing PCA and aim to broaden the scope of cooperation, taking account of the ENP Review as well as new global political and economic challenges. On 14 November 2016 the Council adopted a mandate for the European Commission and the High Representative to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan on behalf of the EU and its Member States. Negotiations were launched on 7 February 2017 following a visit by President Aliyev visit to Brussels.
The report assesses that the launch of these negotiations in February 2017 has given new impetus to the cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan. New areas of cooperation are being explored as the existing structured dialogue under the PCA has been reactivated. Azerbaijan's efforts to diversify its economy also provide a good basis for further cooperation in view of sustainable socio-economic development. World Trade Organisation membership would represent a considerable step forward in this regard.
The EU stands ready to cooperate with and support Azerbaijan in all areas of mutual interest, in full respect of values and commitments. The ambitious Southern Gas Corridor project is just one example of this cooperation in the interest of both Azerbaijan and the EU. Ongoing negotiations on an EU-Azerbaijan common civil aviation area agreement should also lead to a further significant step being taken in improving connectivity between Azerbaijan and the countries of the EU. The Partnership Priorities under discussion between the two sides also aim at providing focus for the broad cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan and will guide the programming of EU financial assistance.
The Declaration adopted at the Brussels Eastern Partnership Summit on 24 November 2017 reconfirmed the clear continued commitment by both the EU and the six partner countries to the Eastern Partnership. The Summit endorsed 20 deliverables for 2020, which will help focus the cooperation on tangible results entailing benefits to the people, supported by a revised multilateral structure of the Eastern Partnership.
Azerbaijan is an important partner for the European Union, whose independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity the EU supports. The EU is Azerbaijan's single largest economic partner representing 48.6% of its total trade and providing the largest share of foreign direct investment.
The report notes that Azerbaijan has remained committed to the promotion of multiculturalism and religious tolerance. Longer-term stability, security and prosperity in Azerbaijan will also depend on ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, where significant challenges remain including on freedom of expression and association and space for civil society to operate. The EU has continued to call for Azerbaijan to comply with judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.
The EU has also continued to fully support the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs and confidence/peace building and conflict prevention activities in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, where casualties in 2016 reached their highest level since the 1994 ceasefire agreement.
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and its Review in November 2015 give the EU and its neighbours a clear political framework for the coming years with an overall objective of stabilisation. The principles of the revised policy are: enhanced differentiation between partners, a greater focus on objectives agreed with partners, increased flexibility to improve the EU's capacity to respond to crisis situations and a greater ownership by Member States and partner countries.