EU’s Eastern initiative ‘not adequate’ for Azerbaijan

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Araz Azimov, deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan, said yesterday (2 November) that the Eastern Partnership, the EU's initiative for developing relations with its Eastern neigbours, was not adequate to address geopolitical challenges in the Caucasus.

"The Eastern Partnership, speaking frankly, is not adequate," Azimov said, speaking to a small number of journalists in Brussels.

The deputy foreign minister called for "additional tracks" to be built into the EU's Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative (see 'Background'), citing common transit systems for energy and transport and a common trade area as possible areas of cooperation.

These, he said, should go "far beyond" the current framework of the EaP.

Azimov also touted his country's role in developing "inter-civilisational contacts and dialogue" between Europe and Asia, arguing that Azerbaijan is a viable economy with a European culture "belonging at the same time to the Eastern dimension".

Azerbaijan could also provide "new ideology" in relations with Muslim countries, he said.

According to Azimov, one of the weaknesses of the EaP is that the six countries concerned cannot be treated with a "one-size-fits-all" approach. He hinted that the EU saw a perspective for full membership in the longer term for some of those countries, but not for Azerbaijan.

Disappointment with NATO

Azimov was also critical of his country's relations with NATO, which are framed in a Partnership for Peace (PfP), as the format does not offer the perspective of full membership of the alliance.

"PfP is no more adequate," Azimov said, adding that his country was disappointed by the process of downsizing NATO's expenses and resources.

The official stressed his country's role in countering human trafficking and the traffic of narcotics from Afghanistan, mostly at its border with Iran. In this perspective, he said NATO could offer Azerbaijan "security assurances".

Azimov recognised that in the absence of the prospect of full membership of the alliance, security guarantees under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty could not be envisaged. But he called for a formula allowing NATO to "stand ready" should his country face a security threat.

Asked where possible threats could come from, the diplomat replied that in the event of a crisis in Iran, his country's oil and gas facilities would be a "vulnerable target".

'I cannot say Nabucco is dead'

Asked by EURACTIV about Azerbaijan's intention to supply the EU's planned Nabucco pipeline or other competing projects led by Moscow, Azimov argued that his country was selling gas on a purely commercial basis.

"The national authority of Azerbaijan, SOCAR, decides what to do with its gas […] Some gas has been sold now to Turkey, some to Russia, that's normal business."

"With Iran we have a swap of gas, because we cannot supply directly gas to Nakhichivan [an enclave of Azerbaijan between Armenia and Iran]. Therefore we supply the Iranian North and they supply the 350,000 population of Nakhichivan."

Azimov said the amount of uncontracted Azeri gas available for sale was eight billion cubic metres (bcm). In comparison, the capacity of Nabucco is 31 bcm.

But he added that his country was developing new gas fields. "Today we have eight bcm, tomorrow we may have 80 bcm," he said.

"There are projects for Nabucco, there are projects for ITGI, for TAP, for AGRI [see Southern Corridor LinksDossier], all these are possibilities," Azimov said. "Therefore, I cannot say that Nabucco is dead, or is over, but Azerbaijan should not be the single one country fighting for Nabucco," he said.

The diplomat insisted that Azerbaijan was not only a source country, but also a transit country for gas from Turkmenistan, the country across the Caspian Sea with the largest gas reserves in the region.

The construction of a gas pipeline across the water from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan is not possible for the time being due to disputes over the delimitation of territorial waters in the Caspian Sea, Azimov acknowledged. The biggest obstacle to solving the problem is Iran, he said.

However, Azimov saw a future in a project to develop transportation of compressed gas by boat from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, after which it would be shipped to Turkey.

The Eastern Partnership was initially a Polish-Swedish initiative, but was officially taken over by the European Commission in December 2008 and endorsed by the European Council in March 2009, under the Czech EU Presidency.

It aims to complete the EU's foreign policy towards Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus by developing a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The countries concerned are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Significantly, the initiative is called 'Eastern Partnership' or EaP, and not the 'East European Partnership' as the countries of the region would have liked. This is because the Commission wanted to distance itself from European Association Agreements (EAAs) with Central and East European countries, which contained the prospect of EU membership (read more).

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