On December 18, the same day 72 prisoners-of-war were effectively returned to Armenia from Azerbaijan by Russian peacekeepers, the EU and Azerbaijan met in Brussels for their 17th Cooperation Council meeting.
The EU website reported that the Cooperation Council meeting reviewed “the implementation of the jointly agreed EU-Azerbaijan Partnership Priorities, Azerbaijan’s reform agenda, and prospects for a new EU-Azerbaijan bilateral agreement.” When reviewing the implementation of the EU-Azerbaijan Partnership Priorities, both parties took note of their “successful cooperation” and “significant progress” in the energy sector via the Southern Gas Corridor.
The Southern Gas Corridor, costing approximately $40 – $45 billion dollars, is a strategic initiative of the European Commission to export natural gas through a supply route partly from Azerbaijan that aims to “reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas and add diverse sources of energy supply”. The EU is Azerbaijan’s first trading partner and biggest export/import market due to the oil mined from the Caspian regions. The first dispatching of gas from Azerbaijan to Europe through the Southern Gas Corridor is expected before the end of 2020.
EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, said during the Cooperation Council that, “The EU is a key partner of Azerbaijan in energy, trade, investment and connectivity. Building on the important progress made this year in finalising the Southern Gas Corridor, we are keen on exploring its possible extension to the Western Balkans. We will also continue to work with Azerbaijan on the country’s socio-economic recovery in the context of COVID-19 pandemic, including through our support to the country’s economic diversification and strengthening its health resilience. We are ready to contribute €10 million to further humanitarian assistance and to work towards more comprehensive conflict transformation and longer-term socio-economic development.”
“The EU wants to conclude an ambitious new comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan, based on democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms. This would contribute to the diversification of Azerbaijan’s economy, enhance our trading relationship, and extend our cooperation more broadly,” said the High Representative of the EU, Josep Borrell. “The EU stands ready to assume a role in supporting and shaping a durable settlement to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, in close complementarity with the Minsk Group Co-Chairs. We are ready to use our peacebuilding and reconstruction tools to support this.”
The Council was chaired by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joseph Borrell, and attended by EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeyhun Bayramov, led the Azerbaijani delegation.