Belgian ambassador: “The EU and Azerbaijan have a strong relationship in the field of energy, we see the advantage of dealing with each other” - INTERVIEW

Belgian ambassador: “The EU and Azerbaijan have a strong relationship in the field of energy, we see the advantage of dealing with each other”  - <span style="color: red;">INTERVIEW
# 20 December 2012 09:32 (UTC +04:00)

Baku. Anakhanim Hidayatova – APA. APA’s interview with Ambassador of Belgium to Azerbaijan Luc Truyens.

- Recently we have marked 20 years of diplomatic relationships between Azerbaijan and Belgium, how would you estimate the results of mutual cooperation?

- Belgium and Azerbaijan can look back on a fructuous development of our relationship. Since Belgium is a small country but an important trading nation, I would like to focus on our economic links.

As a small introduction, a historical note is interesting. As Belgium is the oldest industrialized nation on the European continent, already before the period of the Soviet Union economic relations between Azerbaijan and Belgium were well developed a century ago. Belgium was the largest foreign investor in the tsarist empire and also in this part of that empire our presence was obvious. Indeed, specifically in the Caucasus, Belgium was, among the larger European industrial nations of that time, among the top three in terms of foreign investments.

Since the independence of Azerbaijan, our economic compatibility became clear again. Azerbaijan became known in the world for its impressive economic growth. It was looking for quality goods and quality companies for realizing its goals. Belgium, as a country where high productivity and high quality in industrial output is the norm, could offer its expertise to further contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan. I take the example of the construction sector, the dynamics of which can be seen by everybody. In this sector, Belgian expertise contributed to the realization of some of the most prestigious buildings. At this moment, the Belgian company Besix is responsible for the building of the new headquarters of SOFAZ.

The fact that Azerbaijan and Belgium can work well together is not a coincidence to me. Our countries have the same size. Moreover, we are traditionally open to others. This is a result from the fact that both of us live at the intersection of different cultures and we are both influenced from different sides. Belgium is at the crossroads of Germanic, Anglo-Saxon and Latin cultures and Azerbaijan’s history includes a mix of Turkic, Russian and Persian elements. Therefore, we are able to understand the outside world and have easily contacts with it.

- As an active EU member how would you characterize the partnership of Azerbaijan and EU in the frames of eastern partnership?

- Indeed, Belgium is an active EU member. We are one of the six founding members of the European Communities. Belgium has also always seen the advantages of European integration. Bringing together the coordination of the management of some economic sectors was a first aim and slowly we could see how more integration in other fields (such as visa policy, certain aspects of monetary and foreign policy) brought bigger benefits. Indeed, take the example of liberty of movement for people in the EU. It gives us the opportunity to travel freely within the EU without passport controls. Or common customs documents. Or the Euro. These facilitate greatly trade with our trade partners. All this is extremely important for a country that is among the most open economies in the world. This openness of our economy makes us also a supporter of the competence of the EU to negotiate as one EU at the fora of the World Trade Organization.Progress of the WTO accession process of Azerbaijan is key for stepping up the EU-Azerbaijan relations as envisaged in the Eastern Partnership. The EU is stronger than Belgium alone. We saw also the potential in enhancing political cooperation in the foreign policy field and now we are advocates of strong European capabilities to fight the Euro-crisis. These are just some examples of the benefits that the EU brought to us. Belgium sees the advantages of the EU. Therefore, it is a great supporter of the EU.

The Eastern partnership, in fact the whole EU policy, is designed to bring the neighbors of the EU and the European Union closer to each other. This goes beyond cooperation, it goes towards gradual economic integration and a deepening of political co-operation. Thus, also Azerbaijan can benefit from the EU. The closer countries are, the easier contacts become. E.g. when product requirements/standards are similar, trade becomes easier. Or when security measures for documents are similar, travelling to each other becomes easier. Therefore, I am happy that Azerbaijan and the EU found each other. Their cooperation is based on different agreements and programs.

The EU-Azerbaijan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement promotes respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as well as market economy reforms, trade liberalisation and cooperation in a wide number of sectors. The European Neighbourhood Policy offers an increasingly close relationship with the EU, involving a significant degree of economic integration and a deepening of political cooperation in an approach founded on partnership, joint ownership and differentiation. The work of the EU with each country is tailor-made to its interests and capacities.

You are right to mention specifically the Eastern Partnership. Indeed, in May 2009, a further step was taken with the participation of Azerbaijan in the Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership seeks to bring our partners closer to the EU and promote stability, good governance and economic development. Key element of our partnership with Azerbaijan in the framework of the Eastern Partnership is the fundamental freedoms. It is important to see progress in the area of democratic reform and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This initiative is based on shared values such as democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and basic freedoms, market economy and sustainable development.

The Eastern Partnership proposes to engage in new contractual relations, ultimately aiming at the establishment of an Association Agreement with the EU. The partnership will further promote gradual integration into the EU economy eventually leading to the establishment of a deep and comprehensive free trade area. Another objective is to facilitate travelling to the EU with a long term goal of full visa liberalization. The approach also includes cooperation on energy security, through a closer interconnection and stronger integration of energy markets. The Eastern Partnership proposes a new forum to present EU legislations and standards, to share experiences on reforms and exchange best practices.

As you see, the cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU is carefully tought about and it is now to all of us to develop it as good as possible.

- How do you see further bilateral cooperation for energy development?

- The EU and Azerbaijan have a strategic partnership in the field of energy. Both of us see the advantage of dealing with each other. The EU is looking for a stable provider for oil and gas. Azerbaijan is looking for a stable and trustworthy client for its resources. Azerbaijan knows that the EU is ready and able to pay a good price. This is a win-win situation.

We hope that this situation can be developed further in the future. New pipelines are to be developed. I am sure that the many partners in these projects, from the public and private sector, can find mutually beneficial solutions for what is ahead of us: a pipeline to the EU, The Trans-Caspian etc.

- EU has been very active in the problem of Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement how would you comment no visible results on this issue for this year?

- The Nagorno-Karabakh issue is followed by us with a lot of attention. We understand the horrors of the dossier. It is a complicated, tragic story and after being here for almost two years, I see also that progress is not easy.

This does not mean that we have to lose hope and diminish our efforts. To the contrary, we have to strengthen our diplomatic efforts. Indeed, it must be diplomatic efforts. Another solution, violence, is something absolutely to be avoided. I am happy that not only the Minsk Group is very serious about bringing a solution closer to us. The EU is ready to step up engagement in this area, namely in the framework of the activities of the EU SR for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia, Ambassador Ph. Lefort, and to promote steps that contribute to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in support of and in full complementarity with the Minsk Group. And I am confident that a solution will be reached.

- In what spheres Azerbaijan and Belgium have perspectives of deepening its cooperation?

- Our relations can further be strengthened and from both sides, from the Belgian side and from the side of Azerbaijan, there is work done in that direction.

I see two spheres:

The first sphere is our participation in the EU programs. The EU is developing many programs to bring the EU and Azerbaijan closer to each other. Belgium is a partner in these programs.

The second sphere is enhanced economic cooperation. This is certainly one of the strengths of my country. The fact that at the highest level our people are in contact with each other to promote trade, shows the potential of this.

I just give some fields where Azerbaijan and Belgium can come together, explore new possibilities and develop further links. I already mentioned the construction sector and the development of infrastructure. E.g. Belgium has enormous know how in large scale waterconstruction works (such as harbours). Both Azerbaijan and Belgium have huge petrochemical interests. For Azerbaijan this is obvious. But also for us. Indeed the Belgian port of Antwerp has the largest concentration of petrochemical industry in Europe. Furthermore, both our countries are very well known for their horticulture. There are even more fields. Since the disposable income in Azerbaijan is developing very well and my country is very keen to explore markets, I am sure that our countries have indeed great perspectives for deepening our cooperation.

- What steps should Azerbaijan take in order to more integrate into EU?

- “Should” could be replaced by “can”: “What steps Azerbaijan can take” is maybe better. Indeed, the EU is not obliging countries to integrate more with the EU. Each country is free to see for itself how much it wants to integrate. Once it has a clear objective and this is translated into contracts, the EU hopes that these contracts are implemented. However, the sovereignty of Azerbaijan to set its goals a priori is important.

In the framework of the actual agreements, both the EU and Azerbaijan are implementing the dialogue that is foreseen and are e.g. negotiating on an Association Agreement and visa facilitation/readmission Agreements. The negotiations on the Association Agreement have gained strength in the last months even though we would like to accelerate the pace in the future. Since Azerbaijan is not a member of the World Trade Organisation, negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement could not be started yet. The EU hopes that also on such an agreement negotiations can start. Ultimately, this is to foster our relation, in order to give our peoples the benefit to come closer together.