EU-Azerbaijan relations are important for both sides, and the Brussels format of the Armenia-Azerbaijani peace talks, are likewise important to reach negotiated solutions over the remaining unresolved questions between Baku and Yerevan, writes Vasif Huseynov in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. "The reactivation of the Brussels format and the revitalization of the constructive role of the EU in the South Caucasus should happen sooner rather than later. A balanced approach by the EU and its leading member states vis-à-vis the countries of the region is of utmost necessity towards this end", he argues.
On 25 October, Toivo Klaar, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, announced that the scheduled meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev with the mediation of the European Council President Charles Michel in Brussels [known as the Brussels format of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks] had been postponed due to scheduling problems. Previously, another EU-brokered summit between these two leaders from the South Caucasus, originally planned to take place on the sidelines of the European Political Community gathering on 5 October, was cancelled by the Azerbaijani side.
Few, if any, found Toivo Klaar’s explanation regarding busy schedules as the reason for the Brussels summit’s cancellation convincing. In the aftermath of Baku’s refusal to join the Granada summit, which took place nonetheless with the participation of Pashinyan, along with the French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the European Council President Charles Michel [without Aliyev’s participation], more setbacks in the European track of the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process were to be expected.
The reasons behind this trend are inextricably linked with Baku’s frustration with the military supplies by France to Armenia, an act which spoils the image of the French government as a neutral broker, as well as with the anti-Azerbaijani campaigns by the Western media and some political circles. Despite the repeated denial by the Azerbaijani side at the highest level, the propaganda about Azerbaijan’s plan to launch a military invasion of Armenia is being widely distributed by the Western outlets.
According to Farid Shafiyev, Chairman of the Baku-based political think-tank, Center of Analysis of International Relations, this campaign may have a geopolitical objective. It appears that Western powers are leveraging this situation to enhance their influence in Armenia and diminish Russia’s presence in the country. “Here Azerbaijan, and indeed Armenia too are the collateral damage of the greater geopolitical power game”, he posted on X.
Whatever the reason why these developments are occurring, they demonstrate that the biased policies pursued by France and some other countries in the West, as well as the aforementioned campaign against Azerbaijan, have counterproductive consequences for the EU’s overall role in the South Caucasus. Indeed, as was mentioned by Hikmet Hajiyev, foreign policy advisor to President Aliyev, in his tweet on 5 October concerning Azerbaijan’s refusal to join the Granada summit. “France’s biased actions and militarization policy… seriously undermine regional peace and stability in the South Caucasus and put at risk European Union’s overall policy towards the region”.
Regretfully, the visit of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to Baku on November 5 was not helpful to fix this problem. Her use of Armenian names for Azerbaijani cities in Karabakh in the press conference with her Azerbaijani counterpart, along with her false claim of meeting with Azerbaijani IDPs, disclosed the overall negative atmosphere in the negotiations between the two. Reacting to Baerbock’s comments, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister politely invited her to respect the principles of international law while uttering the names of the Azerbaijani cities.
The deterioration of relations between Azerbaijan and the EU, along with the collapse of the Brussels platform for Armenia-Azerbaijan peace talks, poses threats to both sides and does not help the peace negotiations between Baku and Yerevan.
The EU stands as Azerbaijan’s foremost trading partner, contributing to 65 per cent of its total foreign trade. Likewise, Azerbaijan holds the position of being the primary trading partner of the EU in the South Caucasus and plays a crucial role in supplying energy to the EU. Beyond these economic connections, numerous other factors, such as connectivity and geopolitical considerations, underscore the need for both parties to uphold a close relationship and collaborate in addressing shared challenges. The EU has been a critical partner for Azerbaijan to diversify its foreign policy and build independent stance vis-à-vis other external powers. Baku continues to need this partnership in the aftermath of the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity and the elimination of the separatist regime in Karabakh.
EU-Azerbaijan relations, more precisely, the Brussels format of the Armenia-Azerbaijani peace talks, are likewise important to reach negotiated solutions over the remaining unresolved questions between Baku and Yerevan. The EU’s support to, and facilitation of, the peace treaty negotiations between the two countries remains critical for the process. It’s worth recalling that it was thanks to the EU-mediated negotiations that Armenia and Azerbaijan recognized each other’s territorial integrity in October 2022 and opened a path to peace and reconciliation.
The EU’s support is important also to promote regional integration in the South Caucasus and develop a cooperation platform amongst the three countries. Without any doubt, the EU, unlike some other countries neighbouring the South Caucasus, stands to support and benefit from this integration. Closer ties amongst the three countries of the region will unleash their potential as an economic partner and connectivity hub for the EU, amongst many other benefits. That said, the reactivation of the Brussels format and the revitalization of the constructive role of the EU in the South Caucasus should happen sooner rather than later. A balanced approach by the EU and its leading member states vis-à-vis the countries of the region is of utmost necessity towards this end.