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Euro-integration Despite the Will of the President?

Meydan TV recently reported that spokesman of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Hikmet Hajiyev spoke about the possibility of abolishing the visa regime between Azerbaijan and the European Union.

The visa question, he said, would be raised in the context of a new partnership agreement that is due to be signed between Azerbaijan and the EU later in April.

However, back in July of 2015, President Ilham Aliyev said that Azerbaijan does not need to integrate into Europe and to take on European values.

He made this statement in the period shortly following the European Games, to which many European leaders had declined an invitation to the opening ceremony.

"Sometimes I hear … that we should consider European integration. Think about what you say. First, know the position of the president. Second, how will you integrate? Do you need to? In what capacity would Azerbaijan be accepted there? As a secondary member, associate member or … what? We do not need such a format. We can integrate where necessary...I think if today we had to make a choice in view of this [current] situation, we would not have joined the Council of Europe. How much can one offend Azerbaijan? How long can you try to humiliate us? [...] We can live well without the Council of Europe”, President Aliyev said at the time.

A similar position was recently confirmed during an interview between Aliyev and Russian TV host Vladimir Solovyov.

Solovyov said that during his interview with Aliyev on April 7, the President colored his appointment of his wife Mehriban Aliyeva to the position of First Vice President as proof that “Azerbaijan is not Europe and is moving in a different direction”.

Despite Aliyev’s statements, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov went to Brussels on May 23, 2016 to attend the Eastern Partnership Summit, from where a stream of statements emanated which directly contradicted the President’s thoughts on Europe and integration.

To examine this paradox more closely, Meydan TV reached out to several politicians in the country for clarification.

Deputy Chairman of ReAL Movement (“The Republican Alternative”), political expert Azer Qasimli had to say the following:

"Azerbaijan, as you know, decline to sign an association agreement with the EU in 2015. Since that time, there has been little activity within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. It was only at the end of last year that the EU proposed to develop a new document to replace the agreement on partnership and cooperation from 1996. The EU also said that the new document would better reflect the common goals and tasks facing the EU and Azerbaijan”.

Qasimli says the prospect of abolishing the visa regime between the two countries is highly unlikely.

“To discuss any issue is easy – but to agree and to write the desired text of the document is much more difficult. I doubt that the EU will accept the arguments of the Azerbaijani side and agree to immediately abolish visas for Azerbaijani citizens without significant concessions from the Azerbaijani side. The Azerbaijani side will have to assume new obligations, which most likely it will not fulfill. New obligations in this case are, as they say, well-forgotten old ones. That is, first of all, reforms to democratize the political system.

Personally, I doubt this will happen. You do not need to be a special visionary to understand that a new strategic partnership agreement will suffer the fate of previous agreements”, concluded Azer Qasimli.

Deputy Chairman of Musavat (Az. equality) Party and historian Yadigar Sadiqov said that

"this information, expressed by the head of the press service of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, does not seem plausible to me. Azerbaijan has remained stubbornly distant from Europe. And the conditions of the European Union for cooperation, which Ilham Aliyev calls “instructions”, are contrary to a few national interests – that is, to the interests of the authorities. Distancing itself from the West, Azerbaijani authorities now prefer cooperation with anti-democratic regimes. In such conditions, the abolition of visas is something of a fantasy.”

The Eastern Partnership is an integration project of the European Union, which has as its main goal the development of EU relations with six post-Soviet countries: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.

One of the main priorities of reforms in the partner countries and their cooperation with the EU is democracy and the improvement of the country's governance system.

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