Kestutis Jankauskas

Kestutis Jankauskas

1. What are your expectations from the coming 2018 from the point of view of the development of relations between the EU and Azerbaijan?

I expect 2018 to be a year of the further consolidation of EU - Azerbaijan relations. This is an important year for Azerbaijan, as it celebrates 100 years of its statehood. Azerbaijan as a secular predominantly Muslim country that has been pioneer in many areas for all Muslim world. We will celebrate these achievements together.

This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Declaration which has shaped post World War II political scene and which is also at the centre of the universal values and principles that the EU and its Member States cherish and support.

This is also an important year for our bilateral relations, as we will work to conclude an ambitious New Comprehensive Agreement. I also expect us to initial mutually beneficial Common Area Aviation Agreement soon which would open many opportunities for Azerbaijan to increase the number of tourists, diversify its economy and further add to its ambition of becoming a transport and logistics hub.

We start this year with our relations being dynamically positive. Further developing trust, mutual understanding and respect will help to maintain and consolidate that positive trend.

We will continue working in many other important areas that would help to bring more practical content to our relations:

- We need to maintain pace and progress in building the South Gas Corridor which would enable Azerbaijani gas to reach the EU market in 2020;

- We should make best use of the recently opened Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the Port Baku facilities and its Free Trade Zone to increase volumes of transport and trade;

- We will continue and step up our efforts in assisting Azerbaijan with its economic diversification and reforms by providing best European technologies and progressive solutions that can make the country more competitive able to attract more EU and other non-oil investments;

- We expect the presence of high level EU officials such as EC Vice President Sefcovic and important events such as the EU-Azerbaijani Business Forum, which will be supported by the EU.

I very much hope that at the same time we will continue having an open critical dialogue on all the issues as truly strategic partners in order to achieve a better understanding of each other's positions and to strengthen the fundamental base of our relations.

2. Is it possible to expect that this year will end the negotiations on a new partnership agreement?

Yes, we can expect that, and not only expect, but we should put all our efforts to make it happen.

Our negotiations started in February 2017, less than a year ago. So far the work is proceeding well and we have made substantial progress. This New Agreement will become the new legal basis for Azerbaijan - EU relations for the years to come, so we should not rush but ensure that the agreement is of high quality, but at the same time make sure that we don't waste time, move forward where we can, work hard and hopefully agree the text this year.

3. Some representatives of civil society say that Azerbaijan, together with Belarus, is the most passive in the "Eastern Partnership" program. Is there a dialogue on enhancing cooperation, including through supporting civil society institutions?

When I assumed my position last September, I've found Baku a very dynamic place.

Throughout the year 2017 we all were actively preparing for the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit which took place in late November. There were a series of preparatory events, all attended by Azerbaijan, and President Aliyev went to the Summit in Brussels where all our leaders had good and open discussion on the key priorities.

The Joint Summit Declaration received many positive comments from Baku. Our leaders agreed to continue working on the 20 Deliverables for 2020 - an impressive "to do" list.

The Eastern Partnership has two dimensions: bilateral and multilateral. The EU is ready to work - and already works - on both tracks in Azerbaijan as well as in other Eastern Partnership countries allowing the country not only to get acquainted with EU best practices in a wide range of areas but also to share experiences with partner countries from the Eastern Partnership region on important topics such as climate change, justice reforms, SME development, transport and cross border cooperation.

Azerbaijan has put its priority on the bilateral relations. The New Comprehensive Agreement will further define the scope and ambition of our relations.

The topic of civic society has always been part of that work. Modern society is hardly imaginable without it. This topic is covered in the New Comprehensive Agreement, in the Partnership Priorities, in our assistance programmes and also in the resumed work on existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with all of its structure of Committees and Sub-committees.

There is always scope for advancement, but our relations are very active.

4. The public is waiting for the completion of negotiations on the aviation agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan. Can you reveal some details of the agreement? On what points are there disagreements between the parties?

The expectations are quite understandable, because the Common Aviation Area Agreement is mutually beneficial and would open many opportunities for Azerbaijan to increase the number of tourists, diversify its economy and further add to its ambition of becoming a transport and logistics hub in a strategically important region connecting Europe with Asia.

The European Union has signed similar agreements with a number of other countries. Our experience shows that without any exception countries that signed such agreements with us have seen an impressive increase in connectivity through considerable growth in the number of flights more affordable prices for tickets, and a substantive hike in the number of passengers visiting the country. It would help Azerbaijan to further boost economic diversification, tourism, trade, investments. It would help the people of the European Union to discover beautiful Azerbaijan, understand its priorities, it would help to bring our relations forward.

Last year when negotiations resumed we had two rounds of talks. 99% of the text has been agreed. There are no principle disagreements left; we just need to find the way to make the final step towards the initialling of the agreement. I very much hope that this will happen in the nearest future.

5. The EU Delegation conducts a large number of events, educational festivals to familiarize the citizens of Azerbaijan with the culture of European peoples. Do you feel the results and how much do you think the Azerbaijani society is ready for European integration?

2017 has been the most intensive year in public diplomacy for the EU Delegation with the biggest outreach in the regions and the variety of tools used. That included debates, discussions, lectures, an EU bus tour in the regions, the IMAGINE Euro Tolerance Festival in Baku, the EU Film Festival, the launching of "Avropadasan" radio programme on ASAN Radio and web portal

Tolerance and multiculturalism became features uniting all of us. Europe is perceived positively by people in Azerbaijan, and we are very happy about that. Everywhere we went we were met with hospitality, smiles, interest and a very good level of knowledge and understanding. This is the basis for our future relations.

An annual public opinion survey conducted last year shows an increase of positive attitudes of people in Azerbaijan towards the EU (47%, up from 26% in 2016). 68% of people feel that EU-Azerbaijan relations are good. 51% trust the EU, 33% are aware of EU financial support. I hope these numbers will continue growing.

Today Azerbaijan has chosen partnership with European Union. We respect that choice, it gives us plenty of space for practical and mutually beneficial work and cooperation.

It depends what you call European integration: it could be a legal-technical process, but it often is very wide process of building mutual understanding and acceptance and benefit from each other's strengths. I believe this process has been ongoing for quite some time. The strong use of the Twinning instrument in Azerbaijan which - more than any other Eastern Partnership country - has benefited strongly over the last 10 years from this unique peer-to-peer instrument bringing EU best practices and standards to the country . Indeed, we have a lot to learn and benefit from each other. To travel, see, learn and understand each other better. Integration is based on the set of values and rules which should be shared.

6. Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe are experiencing difficult times in their relations in connection with the failure of Baku to comply with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ilgar Mammadov. Officials of Azerbaijan did not even rule out the country's exit from the Council of Europe. If Azerbaijan leaves the CE will it have any consequences on the relationship between Baku and the European Union?

The Council of Europe and the European Union are two different organisations. However, they share the same values. They are very important for us.

The European Union has recently done a lot to help Azerbaijan to find a solution in the case of Ilgar Mammadov, and we keep working on this case.

Membership in any organisation is about honouring undertaken commitments. I believe that membership in the Council of Europe is important for Azerbaijan living in this region, its international stance and for its strategic priorities.

Let's leave the speculations aside, they were mainly in the press. Rather than guessing about theoretical possibilities let's keep working to make sure that it does not happen.

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