A new report on the progress in relations between the EU and Azerbaijan makes recommendations for a new “comprehensive bilateral agreement”.
The report, published on Friday by the EU ahead of the EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council due to take place on 4 April, praises the development of economic and political cooperation between the two powers in the year since the last Cooperation Council meeting. It highlighted the implementation of Partnership Priorities; the establishment of high-level dialogues on security and transport; and the EU’s ongoing encouragement of improved human rights provision in Azerbaijan.
Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said: “The European Union is providing strong support to Azerbaijan’s economic diversification and reform efforts, including in the key sectors of education, agriculture and rural development. The Partnership Priorities and the Eastern Partnership 20 deliverables for 2020 are guiding our future cooperation, including stronger people-to-people contacts and support to stronger connectivity, governance and economy in Azerbaijan. The EU will continue engaging with the authorities to support an enabling environment for civil society and the improvement of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The report noted that there was still substantial room for improvement on human rights in Azerbaijan, particularly in terms of the country’s restrictive freedom of expression laws and legislation around its Bar Association. On 16 March Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, issued pardons to over 400 prisoners – including opposition politicians, journalists, bloggers and NGO representatives – in celebration of Novruz, the Persian New Year. Maja Kocijancic, the EU External Action Service’s Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, described the move as “a welcome step”, adding: “The European Union expects that further similar steps will follow in future in line with Azerbaijan’s international commitments.”
Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, said: “We have stepped up our cooperation with Azerbaijan, which is a key partner in our neighbourhood. The negotiations on a comprehensive new EU-Azerbaijan agreement are entering a decisive phase and we will keep working hard to achieve a modern agreement that addresses all aspects of our relationship, and that benefits citizens from both the European Union and Azerbaijan.”
As part of its ongoing “Gender Equality and Media Freedom in Azerbaijan” project, the Council of Europe held information sessions last week to draw the attention of Azerbaijani journalists to Council reporting standards on gender equality and freedom of the media. The official professional ethics code for reporters in Azerbaijan were recently revised to take into account the reporting and promotion of gender equality measures in the region; and the Council’s information sessions – arranged with the cooperation of the Azerbaijan Press Council and Ombudsman Office – were designed to update journalists on the changes to the code.