Looking West

Azerbaijan & Europe

Formerly a Soviet state, Azerbaijan has branched out since independence, especially in its globalization. The first European Games is only one step in Azerbaijan's focus on establishing itself in Europe.

The Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and now the First European Games in 2015 are two examples of how Azerbaijan is integrating itself in Europe. Azerbaijan is now a noticeable part of Europe, and is continuing to increase that focus. Azerbaijan has long been a prospective partner for European countries due to its supply of natural oil and gas; however, there are also opportunities available in a number of other areas. Already a part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan has set its eyes firmly on becoming a more important part of Europe.

From the Azerbaijani perspective, the viewpoint is positive about the potential for diplomatic and economic ties with Europe to expand. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Azerbaijan has worked hard to increase Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the EU. Talking on the matter, Elmar Mammadyarov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said, “Another development in our relations with the EU has been the signing of the Protocol on Azerbaijan’s participation in EU programs. This will enable Azerbaijan to have greater access to a range of EU programs.”

It is important not to forget Azerbaijan’s event of the year, the First European Games. It is a major event both for Azerbaijan and Europe, and the high percentage of votes in favor of Azerbaijan to host the event was indicative of the strong support for the country, not only to successfully manage an event of this scale, but also be a representative of Europe. However, the Games are not a one-off event for the country. The Islamic Games will be held in Baku in 2017, and it is noteworthy that the majority of countries participating in that event will be from the Middle East, Asia, or Africa, rather than Europe. Although Azerbaijan has looked to establish greater diplomatic ties in Europe, its status as a CIS member country will remain culturally important and ties to the region strong.

Despite diplomatic ties being strengthened and increased with Europe, the balance in trade turnover between Europe and Asia for Azerbaijan has evened out in recent years, with Asia becoming a more prominent part of Azerbaijan’s export market. According to the State Statistical Committee (Azstat), Italy’s share of Azerbaijan’s exports has dropped from 43% in 2008 to 28.7% in 2013, while Indonesia’s had risen from 3.2% to 13.7% in the same time period. Countries such as India, Thailand, and Vietnam have also demonstrated increasing interest in Azerbaijani exports as the share of Asian countries in Azerbaijan’s export market rose from 12.2% to 31% from 2008 to 2013. This, however, does not take into account Azerbaijan’s potential as a gas exporter. The Southern Gas Corridor’s supply of gas to Europe will form a critical part of Azerbaijan’s export market, demonstrating that Europe will continue to be a lucrative option and a worthwhile diplomatic partner.
Ties are not, however, only being mulled due to the Games or energy. To help solidify relations in the long term, the First Lady HE Mehriban Aliyev has focused her efforts on developing international ties. She is the head of a number of interparlimentary groups, and in Decemeber 2014 met with French Senate Gerard Larcher in Paris through the Azerbaijan-France Interparliamentary Friendship Group. In the meeting, each commented on the fact that economic relations between the two countries are strong with more than 50 French companies now operating in Azerbaijan.

Many countries have been looking to develop cooperation in a number of fields in the non-oil sector. Poland has expressed interest in developing cooperation in the sphere of agriculture; Germany and Azerbaijan have discussed cooperation in tourism and ICT; while recent talks with Czech Republic have set forth targets to expand in sectors such as transport, investment, and SMEs. Azerbaijan is undoubtedly a favorable partner in the energy sector, but various developments in a number of areas have solidified its presence in Europe.

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