BAKU: Azeri pundits split on prospects for European integration

Turan news agency, Azerbaijan
Feb 28 2014

Azeri pundits split on prospects for European integration

Baku, 28 February: There is no alternative to European integration for
Azerbaijan. This was the leitmotif of the debates the National Council
of Democratic Forces organized in the media centre on Friday [28
February].

Members of opposition parties, experts and civil society activists
attended the discussion. Developments in Ukraine make topical public
debates on signing with the EU an association agreement, which
Azerbaijan refrains from.

Association agreement with EU

“Soon Georgia and Moldova will sign an association agreement with the
EU, while the rejection of this agreement by the former Ukrainian
government caused a revolution in Ukraine. Hence, Azerbaijan too must
sign an association agreement,” Gultakin Hacibayli, member of the
National Council of Democratic Forces, said.

The debaters criticized the Azerbaijani government for delaying
membership of the World Trade Organization. This happens because
bringing the customs system in line with international standards and
liberalizing the domestic [market] does not suit interests of state
officials.

“Azerbaijan wishes to sign a strategic partnership agreement. But an
associative agreement is in line with national interests. It envisages
full integration of Azerbaijan into Europe,” expert Leyla Aliyeva
said.

Energy and democracy

During the debates it was pointed out that over the past 20 years
Azerbaijan has moved further from European values towards
authoritarianism. The EU in its relations with Azerbaijan relied more
on energy resources, rather than on democratic values. The EU also
displayed double standards when admitting Cyprus and rejecting
Turkey’s membership bid. Armenia has practically become a part of
Russia, but the EU still does not change its treatment of this
country. Influence of the EU on settling conflicts in Georgia and
Azerbaijan is not felt. Therefore, Azerbaijani voters doubt that EU
membership will facilitate a fair solution to the Karabakh conflict,
head of the REAL movement’s board, Erkin Qadirli, said.

“The money of the corrupted regime and bribe-taking state officials
are not kept in Russian banks, but in those of Europe and the USA.
Then they channel these funds to Azerbaijan in the form of foreign
investments,” lawyer Aslan Ismayilov said.

Regional integration

During discussions it was said that the European integration process
will only expand. Soon the interests of the European Union and the
Azerbaijani authorities may clash and this can happen as early as in
the 2015 parliamentary election. The Azerbaijani regime may face the
pressure that was put on [Ukrainian President] Yanukovych. The events
of 2008 in Georgia also showed this. The EU and NATO show no interest
in integrating states individually. Therefore, integration must be
conducted on the regional level. The South Caucasus countries may
integrate between themselves, further within the post-Soviet state and
later within the framework of the European Union. European integration
is necessary and geographic borders of Europe are turning into
political borders.

Azerbaijan falls short of European standards

The head of the National Council of Democratic Forces, Camil Hasanli,
believes that Azerbaijan is moving away from European integration.
There can be no talk of European standards in a country where 600,000
families, or 2m people, receive targeted social welfare and half of
the population has left [the country] to earn money. According to
Hasanli, [Azerbaijani President] Ilham Aliyev explains the rejection
of WTO membership by caring about the domestic market. However, in
reality the authorities pursue their own monopolist interests. The
course of the incumbent Azerbaijani regime runs counter to interests
of the people and European values, Hasanli said. He also reproached
European countries for weak support for democracy in Azerbaijan. The
EU and OSCE countries should not have recognized the [2013]
presidential election outcome, he said.

[Translated from Russian]

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