Azerbaijani Politics 10 august — 14:00

Difficulties in negotiations between Azerbaijan and EU: Agreement unlikely for now

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BY ZAUR RASULZADEH, POLITICS SECTION

Apparently, the negotiation process regarding a new partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and the European Union has again slowed down. As it became known to Azeri Daily from sources in the European Commission, there are still many questions, on which the parties cannot yet agree, and therefore this document is unlikely to be signed this year, as previously announced.

Meanwhile, back in the spring, the European Commission enthusiastically declared that the negotiations were almost completed. The representatives of Azerbaijan also agreed with this. During the visit to Brussels, the Foreign Minister of the country, Elmar Mammadyarov spoke of agreeing '90 per cent of the text of the agreement.' But soon difficulties and contradictions reappeared, for a number of problems there was even a return to the original positions.

In any case, Denis Daniilidis, Adviser to the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, does not hide the fact that negotiations on trade issues are indeed very difficult.

'But I would not say that they don't move forward at all. Negotiations are ongoing, but there are difficult issues that the parties are discussing now,' he told Azeri Daily. However, he found it difficult to state the specific dates for signing the agreement, but expressed confidence that the parties could come to an agreement.

One of the conditions put forward by the European Union to Azerbaijan is the timing of the country's accession to the WTO, which must be specifically indicated. One must say that from other countries of the Eastern Partnership (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia), the EU required compulsory membership in the Trade Organisation even before the signing of agreements on associative relations, as well as of the comprehensive partnership agreement with Armenia. And an exception was made for Azerbaijan, that is, they are ready to sign a new partnership agreement with it before becoming a WTO member, but the Azerbaijani government must present a 'road map' of measures of compliance with the organisation's requirements and indicate the terms of entry into the organisation. However, Baku is still slow even with an approximate date.

The EU and Azerbaijan are not able to agree on the Open Skies agreement too, which also, according to European sources, is delayed by Baku.

At the same time, Baku also has complaints for the EU. First of all, this is the ambiguous position of the Europeans on the Karabakh conflict. Despite support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the draft agreement does not specifically note that Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of the republic.

The positions of the parties also differ on visa issues. Brussels expects Azerbaijan to unilaterally abolish the visa regime for EU citizens. So far, in addition to Azerbaijan, only the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan retain the visa regime for citizens from EU countries. Thus, Baku insists on the principles of reciprocity, and the EU proposes to first cancel them only for entry into Azerbaijan, as was the case with other republics of the former USSR, and only then the issue of free entry for Azerbaijani citizens to Europe will be considered. However, Baku believes that visa procedures for EU citizens are already significantly liberalised - they can get permission to enter via the electronic system within three days, or even three hours for an additional fee.

A number of other issues have stalled as well, on which differences of opinion remain between the parties. Thus, the signing of a new partnership agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU is postponed indefinitely. In addition, after the May elections to the European Parliament in the EU structures there is actually a process of change. The new composition of the European Commission will only begin work in October, and then it will take some time for the new people to determine the EU's foreign policy and its approaches to the Eastern Partnership to get into the loop and form their own teams. And only after that the negotiation process around the partnership agreement with Azerbaijan will be restarted.

It is possible, however, that Baku will seek to return to its original position, when the emphasis in the proposed new agreement was on partnership in the energy sector.

Alexander Karavaev, a researcher at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also draws attention to the fact that the process of discussing a new agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU is being delayed. 'The process of coordinating the positions of the new partnership agreement has been going on since February 2017. But we see some slowdown in this process, apparently due to the fact that Baku, defending its national interests, is seeking coordination of some important positions for itself. It is about regulating the energy industry, about creating structures that should perform supervisory functions within the country. The question arises that a number of positions related to tariffs, investments, internal regulation are quite scrupulous for Baku,' the expert believes.

Apparently, in the near future, negotiations will return to the mainstream of the sluggish process, but the matter will not come to a complete cessation of dialogue, since this contradicts the mutual interests of the parties. For Azerbaijan, the EU is the largest market for gas and oil, which accounts for 40 per cent of the country's exports. In addition, Azerbaijan uses partnership with the EU to contain potential pressure from other world and regional centres of power.

Congratulating the newly elected EU leaders, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressed confidence that cooperation between Azerbaijan and the European Union will continue to develop successfully for the benefit of the interests of both parties.

'I hope that we will make joint efforts aimed at further expanding ties between Azerbaijan and the European Union, comprehensive development and deepening of our cooperation,' the head of state emphasised.

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