Ilham Aliyev and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso held a joint press conference
21 june 2013, 23:05
A joint press conference of President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has been held in Brussels.
First, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and President Ilham Aliyev made statements for the press.
Statement by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
- Hello, ladies and gentlemen!
I am very glad to welcome President Ilham Aliyev to Brussels. Today, President Aliyev and I, in continuation of a fruitful exchange of views and reciprocal visits we have had in recent years, held a very open, constructive and friendly discussion. We have met a few times. This also includes my visit to Baku.
Today the focus was on energy issues. At the same time, we have reviewed the developments in Azerbaijan and the European Union.
Azerbaijan is a very important partner for us. We have established a reliable cooperation in the energy sphere.
Governed by this, we have embarked on a long-term cooperation based on democracy and shared values, in particular human rights and fundamental freedoms. I have reaffirmed my support for Azerbaijan along this way.
I would like to say a few words about the strategic energy cooperation. Of course, we have discussed in detail the Southern Gas Corridor. We are both very pleased with the development of the Southern Gas Corridor achieved over the period since the signing of the joint declaration in 2011. We have worked hard to implement this project of strategic importance for both Azerbaijan and Europe. I want to express my gratitude to President Aliyev for his strong and sustained commitment. I very well remember the discussions we held during our meeting in Baku. Azerbaijan is fulfilling all the obligations undertaken over this period, and I am proud with the fact that this development is underpinned by the declaration we signed with President Aliyev.
President Ilham Aliyev has assured me that, as planned, the "Shah Deniz-2" consortium will decide on the very important European branch of the corridor next week and will choose one of the two options: "Nabucco West" or the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline.
In essence, this is a commercial solution for the consortium. But I would like to emphasize that both "Nabucco West" and the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline represent strategic importance to the European energy market in terms of diversification of gas supplies. Therefore, I am sure that both lines can be built. We can accomplish this by expanding the Southern gas corridor with additional resources of gas existing at the present time. This may become a fully viable option.
An important message of this day may be as follows: the Southern gas corridor is not some theoretical project on the agenda. This is a project that is close to being materialized. It will be implemented for the benefit of all parties involved. At the initial phase, it will transport 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe until 2019.
But we will not be content with that. In the medium term, the corridor can meet 10 per cent of the annual needs of Europe, thus contributing to our energy security, price stability, development and creation of new jobs. This, as we agreed with President Ilham Aliyev in 2011, is our common view. We will work on this to strengthen our mutual security of supplies.
We believe that is in the interests of Europe and Azerbaijan.
Ladies and gentlemen!
As I mentioned earlier, we have had discussions on a wide range of issues. Azerbaijan is an important partner with which we work closely in a number of regional and global matters. We have also considered the issue of Azerbaijan's chairmanship of the Council of Europe in the coming year. We have shared views on important domestic issues in Azerbaijan. The main place in the list belongs to the presidential election. We have expressed hope that the election will be held in accordance with the highest standards and with the support of international observers, including the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is high on our agenda. We have openly discussed these issues and I availed myself of this opportunity to note that stability and peace can continue in the long term only in the conditions of the rule of law, the existence of democratic institutions and, of course, a vibrant civil society.
At the same time, we have discussed the development of our relations in the context of the "Eastern Partnership". I share the commitment of President Ilham Aliyev to expand our relations in this context.
We have also discussed economic issues. These include Azerbaijan’s development plan and progress on the issue of the country’s membership in the World Trade Organization. We are in favor of deepening our trade ties through the creation of a deep and meaningful bilateral free trade zone. And to do this, membership in the World Trade Organization is very important.
Finally, we have discussed the situation in the region. We know that complete realization of their potential requires countries of the region to ensure security and peace with their neighbors. At the same time, we call for a just settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in accordance with the agreed principles. The European Union supports the international mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group and stands ready to play a role in the search for a lasting settlement.
2013 is the year of great opportunities for the relations between the European Union and Azerbaijan. I am an advocate of the energy cooperation with your state, which has become a great starting point. I have great respect for your country and am in favor of broader and deeper relations underpinned by common values.
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Statement by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
- Mr. President, thank you very much for your comments! Let me express my gratitude for the invitation to pay a visit to Brussels. This is my fifth visit to the European Commission. This fact is evidence of our extensive and close relationship.
We highly value our relationship. As Mr. President has said, they are based on common interests and values. We, as friends, have discussed issues of our cooperation, as well as matters of regional importance. I want to thank you personally, Mr. President, and your Commission for the sustained support you have given to Azerbaijan in issues of democratic development, protection of human rights and political reforms. Your suggestions and advice, as well as the contacts between us, are extremely important. They contribute to changes in Azerbaijan. The process of change is ongoing very rapidly. This process covers political and, of course, economic reforms. Both directions complement each other. We have also established economic cooperation. The European Union is our major trading partner. Our trade with member-states is growing. In addition, the "Eastern Partnership" program provides us with the opportunity to support the initiatives being put forward. We greatly appreciate these initiatives. I believe that the involvement on the part of European institutions of the former Soviet republics with this cooperation was an important step. Azerbaijan is an active member of the "Eastern Partnership" group. We are currently working on a new format of cooperation between the European Union and Azerbaijan. We have a broad agenda which covers many areas. Azerbaijan is already beginning to invest in European countries. If we look at the structure of our investments, we will see that they are related not only to the energy sector. There are also other areas of mutual interest.
Europe has also been investing heavily in our country for many years. This investment helps us to diversify our economy and modernize our country.
As Mr. President has stressed, we have discussed issues relating to the settlement of the conflict, and from this point of view we appreciate the efforts of the European Union. Azerbaijan is the country most interested in this process, because our lands are under occupation. Not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also seven districts around it have been under Armenian occupation for more than 20 years. We must put an end to this.
We are very encouraged by the statement made by the presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries in Northern Ireland recently. It was noted that the settlement of the issue should be based on the Helsinki Final Act. Both sides should refrain from actions that could jeopardize the negotiation process. Azerbaijan wants the speediest settlement of the conflict on the basis of the principles of international law and four UN Security Council resolutions demanding an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces of Armenia from the internationally recognized territory of Azerbaijan.
Of course, energy cooperation is one of the most important components of our relations. I am glad that after the signing, together with President Barroso, of the Declaration on strategic cooperation in the energy sector in Baku at the beginning of 2011, we are currently seeing its practical results. This declaration has played a major role in the implementation of the gas corridor. I would like to thank President Barroso and his team for their very active participation in this process and coordination. This project will create stronger relations between Europe and Azerbaijan. This will be a win-win situation for all the parties involved. Azerbaijan will find a predictable and stable market in Europe, while Europe will obtain an alternative source of gas supplies from Azerbaijan.
We do hope that gas exports from Azerbaijan to Europe will not be limited to the "Shah Deniz-2" project. After all, we have more than 2 trillion cubic meters of proven gas reserves. As I said, Europe will become an important market for Azerbaijani gas. The Southern Gas Corridor is a project that serves energy security. This project will change the energy map of Europe and open up additional opportunities for our country and countries of the region to benefit from economic cooperation. I think that the issues we have identified explicitly show how substantive our agenda is: regional cooperation, security, political reform, democratic process and energy cooperation. All these elements form the basis for raising our relations to a higher level. Azerbaijan is interested in that. We want to be as close to Europe as possible. We are very glad to see a similar approach on the part of Europe.
Mr. President, thank you very much again for your invitation and for the hospitality!
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Thank you very much. Now let’s move on to questions. Please.
Correspondent of Radio "Free Europe" Richard Jozviak: My question is to Mr. Aliyev. How can you be sure that the election due in October of this year will be free, fair and transparent if we consider that one of your political opponents, Mr. Mammadov, is under arrest?
My other question is to Mr. Barroso. If we consider the situation with democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan, do you think it is right to sign the Association Agreement between this country and the European Union?
President Ilham Aliyev: First of all, let me say that none of my political opponents is under arrest. This is completely wrong information. I would also like to note that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan. If you carefully read the comments made by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which in January refused to adopt a report on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, you will realize that this topic is closed. No-one is arrested for political reasons in Azerbaijan. The freedom of assembly is fully guaranteed, and the same holds true for the freedom of the media. We have free Internet. In Azerbaijan, the number of Internet users exceeds 70 per cent of the population. There is no censorship.
All political parties operate openly and freely. Azerbaijan has been a member of the Council of Europe for more than 10 years. As Mr. President said, next year we will preside over this important organization. We fully comply with all our commitments to democratic development, human rights and freedoms. Therefore, the assessment contained in your question is based on wrong information, a negative opinion or an erroneous view about our country, which has been created in you artificially. Azerbaijan is a democratic and rapidly developing country which carries out political reform, works closely with the Council of Europe and the European Union. As for the presidential election, there is still a lot of time left for it.
The election campaign has not yet begun. Azerbaijan will invite international observers from Europe and European institutions. All candidates will enjoy the necessary conditions to introduce themselves and their programs to the Azerbaijani people. I am confident that these elections will fully reflect the will of the Azerbaijani people. To do this, the state will do everything possible.
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Jose Manuel Barroso: Thank you. The issue of democracy and human rights is key in the relations between the EU and all international partners. We have discussed this issue very frankly and openly. We do this with all countries of the world.
We are well aware that democracy is an issue that is always on our agenda. By the way, this applies to us, to Europe, too. In many cases, as I told our international partners, Europe is also imperfect. We must be careful in ensuring the highest standards in all member states and partner countries. These values are a major part of the European policy and the "Eastern Partnership" program. As President Aliyev said, Azerbaijan is actively involved in the "Eastern Partnership".
These values have been adopted by all partners in their policies and are part of the "Eastern Partnership" program adopted at the Prague Summit. Therefore, we believe that countries should respect these values. In fact, we are discussing this issue with our partners, including Azerbaijan. As I said, President Aliyev and I have had an open discussion on this issue today.
It is very important for the deepening of our relationship within the framework of the "Eastern Partnership". I would also like to add the following to this comment. A few years ago, Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, where there was a totalitarian regime. There was no freedom at all at the time.
Thus, if you look at the situation in Azerbaijan today, an independent and sovereign country I have great respect for, you will see the road Azerbaijan has covered over the years. And we must recognize the tremendous progress achieved. But this does not mean that all the standards have been met the way we expected, and from this point of view we have had a very useful exchange of views with President Aliyev. Of course, Azerbaijan is our partner. I truly believe that an open discussion involving all possible means is the best way to resolve the issues. Of course, it is necessary to support all democratic reforms. I personally believe, this is my personal opinion, that President Aliyev as the head of sovereign Azerbaijan is very committed to the modernization of the country. He pays special attention to the image and credibility of this country.
The country has indeed made very significant progress. I believe that without the development of civil society it is impossible to achieve modernization. This is part of an ongoing dialogue we maintain with Azerbaijan and other partners. You can see that each country has a specific position in terms of history, geography and the challenges it faces. There are many reasons. From this point of view, I think that the partnership we have with Azerbaijan is the right partnership, including, among other things, the concerns noted in your question. This worries us too. This is a topic that is in the forefront of the priority issues we are discussing with our friends in Azerbaijan and with President Aliyev today.
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Correspondent of 1news Rahman Hajiyev: As His Excellency noted, no-one is perfect and flawless. We see this also in Europe from time to time. In Europe too peaceful demonstrations are brutally suppressed by the police. This has happened in two places - in Frankfurt and London, and before that in Greece and several other countries. My question is this: how would you comment on such selective resolutions and declarations of European institutions and officials adopted on the basis of double standards? I would like to add that when it occurs outside of Europe, the reaction follows immediately and without delay. But when this happens in Europe, these persons remain silent. Thank you.
Jose Manuel Barroso: You have made a very peculiar statement. In fact, it looks more like a statement than a question. I can say the following. Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, I can say that the European Commission is trying to be as objective as possible when it comes to issues of human rights and the rule of law. We are paying special attention to our reputation in this area. We are trying to be objective. We have been doing this work in recent years, including within the European Union. I am talking about the rule of law in some member states. The European Commission has very clearly and explicitly expressed its concern. In some cases, when the laws of the Union are broken, we sue the member state. Frankly speaking, you can’t accuse the European Commission of double standards.
As far as your impressions and the experiences of people like you in the media and in the public opinion are concerned, I can partly understand that. The reality is that stereotypes exist. This is the case all over the world - not only in Europe but throughout the world. Such stereotypes must be eliminated. You know that. As for the idea that some societies are superior to others and that some states are more important than others, you know, for me all countries of the world are the same.
Let's return to democracy and the rule of law. You have named some countries. Frankly speaking, we have high standards in providing the fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in Europe and the European Union. I believe that no-one has any doubts about that. There are some problems here and in other places. No-one is perfect. But we are proud to note that the European Union has a proper form of democracy. I say this with full confidence. I was born in a country where there was no democracy.
When I was 18, I witnessed the fall of an authoritarian regime that had existed for more than 48 years.
Then we began to build democracy. Absolute democracy was established in my country. In Spain and other countries, as well as in Central and Eastern Europe, there is democracy. Previously, there was no democracy there. They were under Soviet influence. And now there is democracy. Let's be honest, human rights and democracy in the countries of Europe and the European Union are provided at a high level. But this does not mean that when a problem arises, we should not be careful. As for our partners, I think that these are global values which are reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and important international conventions. We must openly discuss this issue. I am absolutely sure that it is not people who should serve the state, but the state should serve the people, everyone - man, woman and child.
It is important to remember that. This is not an ideology. You can be "leftist", "rightist" or a centrist. It is important that you need to serve the people - men, women and children. The state should serve their interests. We are engaged in these discussions with our partners, and I am glad that Azerbaijan is committed to political reform, democracy and the rule of law, and President Aliyev has just noted that in his speech.