German Ambassador to Azerbaijan: “We fully support the Southern Corridor as an essential project for the diversification of our energy supply” – INTERVIEW

German Ambassador to Azerbaijan:  “We fully support the Southern Corridor as an essential project for the diversification of our energy supply” – <font color=red>INTERVIEW</font>
# 10 October 2011 11:01 (UTC +04:00)
Baku. Habil Suleymanzadeh – APA. Interview with ambassador of Germany to Azerbaijan Herbert Quelle

-Mr. Ambassador, October 3 is the German Reunification Day. Nearly 20 years on what it means for Germans now? How do you find this day currently?

-The Day of German Unity is a day of great joy and celebration. 21 years ago the division of Germany ended. Since then, the entire country has been a respected member of the European Union and the United Nations, to name only the most important organizations to which Germany belongs.
German unity as a reason for joy coincides this year with a sad anniversary, namely the building of the Berlin Wall 50 years ago on 13 August 1961. Far more than 100 people who tried to escape from the GDR were killed by East German border troops in Berlin alone during the 28 years that the wall existed. And people who lost close relatives and friends are understandably still very affected emotionally.
With regard to the so-called “wall in the heads” of Germans, meaning the difficulty of Wessis (citizens of West-Germany) and Ossis (citizens of the GDR) to understand each other we have made a lot of progress. This year’s popularity of official festivities in Bonn, the former capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, has shown that Germans identify very much with their national day.

- Germany is seen as a real driver of the European economy. But some say that Azerbaijan is failing to boost new German investments here, as other European nations are much more active commercially in Azerbaijan. What should be done by Azerbaijan in terms of business environment to attract more direct German investments?

-I agree with your differentiation of investments and trade performance. Indeed, I would like to see more direct investments from Germany in Azerbaijan, but one has to understand the structure of German business. Small and medium enterprises are the backbone of our economy. Their competitiveness sometimes stems from narrow margins. So they cannot afford big legal departments. They are not very risk-minded and prefer to invest in countries where the legal system is reliable and similar to Germany and where corruption is low. The more successful the ongoing fight against corruption is in Azerbaijan and the more a rules-based system is established, the higher will be the attractiveness of your country for German investors. Concerning trade I would like to point out that with an export volume of 700 million Euro last year Germany is in the top group of suppliers of goods to Azerbaijan. We sell a range of products, notably cars but also machines, machine tools, medical equipment and even, what always surprises me, tobacco. On the other hand Germany imported for 1300 million EUR from Azerbaijan, mostly oil.

- It seems there is a strong demand among Azeris for a travel to Germany. How many visas do you grant approximately each year?

-We are happy that Germany enjoys such a good reputation as a travel destination. We issued last year 12.000 visas. I believe it is very positive that the EU commission finally has a mandate to negotiate visa facilitation with Azerbaijan and I hope for rapid progress. With growing hotel bed capacity not only in Baku but also in other regions of Azerbaijan I would on the other hand like to point out that it is up to Azerbaijan to lift its visa requirements for Germans, Europeans in general or anybody they want to exempt. I am convinced this would contribute to a substantial rise in travel to your country.

-Germany is a member of OSCE Minsk Group which has been dealing with the Karabakh solution for nearly 15 years. But there is an increasing disappointment in Azerbaijani society over a lack of progress, as the sides are spending huge sums for military preparations. How do you find the latest developments in the Karabakh problem?

-I can understand the disappointment about the lack of progress. And I can agree that military spending is discomforting. But fortunately I do not see - despite occasional official remarks that might well be misinterpreted - any serious sign that the path of negotiations will be left. The more I observe and read about the Karabakh problem, the more I am reminded of one certain aspect of German postwar history. It took us 20 years after the Federal Republic was founded to find a new approach to solving the German question. And I am convinced it was Willy Brandt’s far-sighted new ostpolitik embedded in the Helsinki process that 40 years after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic in 1949 led to the fall of the wall. So a lesson I draw from German history is patience and a forward looking political approach. If one only looks back one loses the future.

-What’s the German stance on “The Southern Corridor”?

-We fully support the Southern Corridor as an essential project for the diversification of our energy supply. We hope that the decision on the concrete pipeline will be taken soon, because investors need clarity.

- Germany became a special country for Azerbaijan in terms of Eurovision victory. Germany hosted the last contest where Azerbaijan claimed a victory, as one from the Azeri duo was the Germany–educated guy. Taking into account Eurovision and other relevant cultural stories some say that currently Azerbaijan getting closer to Europe culturally, than politically. What’s your point of view? What do you feel?

-I am very, very happy that Ell and Nikki won for Azerbaijan in Dusseldorf and I look forward to a great event in Baku next year. I have had the pleasure to meet Ell a few times and he is an excellent representative of an open, tolerant, Western-orientated Azerbaijan. Although the Eurovision Song Contest is “only” a musical event, of course, the political decision makers in Baku play a major role in its eventual success. The reference group of the ESC has made absolutely clear what they expect from the host country with regard to visas for foreign visitors, press freedom and other civil liberties. Let me be quite frank: We currently witness a form of criminalization of people who have only exercised their constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression which is putting a big question mark about the readiness to implement the goals H.E. President I. Aliyev announced on 27 May. I quote “Democratic principles should be established in all spheres of life in Azerbaijan. Construction of legal state is going on in the country, and further steps are expected in this direction. This is a will of people and demand of time."