Brussels, 09 February 2018
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Elmar [Mammadyarov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan], I am very happy to host you here and your entire delegation for the 15th Cooperation Council between the European Union and Azerbaijan.
It has been some time - some years – that we have not met in this format. And we have resumed today these meetings as part of intensifying our engagement since last year. The meeting was extremely useful, very open, very constructive, and we discussed several issues of which I will try to give a sense in the coming minutes.
But this renewed and intensified engagement we have since last year includes the negotiations in which we have made progress towards a comprehensive new agreement between the European Union and Azerbaijan. And let me say that the visit of the President [of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev] last year represented a very important moment on this path.
I hope that these negotiations can be concluded soon, to make our partnership more relevant for the times we are living in, the challenges we face and the opportunities we have to take. We also discussed the need to have more regular exchanges, more structured exchanges in the field of foreign and security policy, and we will also follow up on these ideas.
Today we reviewed the overall state of our relations, the bilateral aspects, as well as the important agenda we have as part of the Eastern Partnership and European Neighbourhood Policy.
Azerbaijan is an important partner for the European Union, whose independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity the European Union supports fully.
Our close contacts are illustrated by the fact that the European Union is Azerbaijan's largest economic partner, representing nearly half of the trade of the country - 48.6 per cent, precisely. And the European Union is also the largest foreign direct investor in Azerbaijan. So the country has been diversifying its economy and, at the same time, we hope to see Azerbaijan accelerate its accession process to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Southern Gas Corridor is just one example of our strategic relationship in the field of energy that serves the interest of both Azerbaijan and the European Union. And the inauguration last year of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad was a step forward in transport interconnections linking the European Union, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia.
The Aviation Agreement that we are negotiating should also help connect Azerbaijan and the countries of the European Union. The more people from the European Union and Azerbaijan can travel and meet each other, share experiences and understand our societies, our histories, our cultures, the better it is for our relationship. But there is also a strategic value to these projects in terms of geopolitics that clearly connect Europe and Central Asia through this region.
Today we also addressed democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. This is part of a solid foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship. The European Union has always stressed, as we did again, that the full implementation of international obligations and commitments by Azerbaijan is vital to us. This means taking on board recommendations to bring rules on elections, on freedom of assembly, association and media in line with international standards, especially in a pre-election context that Azerbaijan has entered.
The European Union always underlines the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. We believe a vibrant civil society is crucial for democracy to exist and progress and we will continue our support in this respect.
We also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which remains a very serious challenge. The resumption of high-level dialogue in Vienna, St. Petersburg and Geneva is an important development. We would like to see the parties follow up on their agreement to intensify negotiations and reduce tensions on the Line of Contact.
The status quo, we believe, is unsustainable and the conflict does not have a military solution. It needs political settlement in accordance with international law. The European Union continues to fully support the mediation efforts and proposals of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Minsk Group Co-Chairs, including through our Special Representative, and confidence-building measures.
Finally, we looked a couple of months back to the Eastern Partnership Summit that we had here in November in Brussels and we followed up on some of its conclusions. I thanked the Minister for the very constructive contributions and the very important contributions Azerbaijan brought to the preparation and the holding of that Summit.
One of these conclusions that we were discussing today is the need to further strengthen also strategic communication, to explain what our partnership is about and what difference it makes to our citizens - for good.
To give just one small example of this cooperation, the practical impact on everyday life of our citizens through the Erasmus+ programme, the European Union has since 2015 funded more than 1,300 placements of students and staff members between Azerbaijan and the European Union countries. This is something I hope we can further expand in the future.
So Elmar, I would like thank you, your team, for being here in Brussels today, for a constructive and forward looking discussion that we will clearly follow up. Friends and partners are able to discuss issues that are both easy and more difficult to address and I am pleased that we were able to do this today. I am confident that this will continue to be the case in an open, constructive, positive manner.
Thank you very much.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I150445