Azerbaijan Expands Visa-Free Travel, Yet EU Access Remains Elusive

In a significant move to bolster international relations, Azerbaijan has recently implemented visa-free agreements with several countries across Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. Notably, on May 4, Azerbaijan and Morocco, as well as Gambia, abolished visa requirements, followed closely by Albania on May 6. These agreements signify Azerbaijan's ongoing efforts to enhance diplomatic and economic ties globally.

However, the ease of travel to the European Union (EU) remains a sticking point. Despite a visa simplification agreement signed with the EU in 2013 during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, which took effect in 2014, Azerbaijani citizens still face the stringent requirements of the Schengen visa to enter the EU. This contrasts sharply with neighboring Georgia and Armenia, whose citizens enjoy preferential visa terms due to their association and partnership agreements with the EU.

Azerbaijan has been in negotiations since 2017 to sign a similar comprehensive partnership agreement with the EU, but progress has been slow. Elman Nasirov, a member of the Milli Majlis Committee on International Relations and Interparliamentary Relations, emphasized the ongoing nature of Azerbaijan's open visa policy, which includes agreements with countries across multiple continents. "We are interested in our citizens being able to travel to other countries mutually. We have always been interested in the mutual development of cooperation," Nasirov told Turan.

Despite these efforts, the complete realization of a visa-free regime with the EU has not yet materialized. "The document on the development of cooperation and strategic partnership between Azerbaijan and the EU has not yet been signed. It was reported that an agreement was reached on up to 90 percent of the points. I think that after the signing of this agreement, new conditions may be created for the introduction of a visa-free regime with countries that support Schengen visas," Nasirov added.

Political commentator Nasimi Mammadli pointed out the historical context of Azerbaijan’s integration efforts with Europe, citing the cooperation agreement signed between the EU and Azerbaijan in 1996, which included commitments to integrate Azerbaijan into the European legal and economic systems. "Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe and then expanded the possibilities of cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Program. However, Azerbaijan has not resolved the issue of membership of the World Trade Organization, nor has it implemented a number of obligations it has undertaken. After that, the relationship was significantly damaged," Mammadli told Radio Azadliq.

Azerbaijan's participation in the "Eastern Partnership" Program since 2009 has seen varying degrees of integration among participating countries, with Ukraine and Moldova obtaining EU candidate status, and a partnership agreement signed with Armenia. However, Belarus has suspended cooperation with the EU.

Today, according to Mammadli, Azerbaijan appears to have shifted its focus from European integration towards more strategic cooperation with certain European countries, driven by specific economic interests rather than broad integration. "Officially, the head of state said that we have no plans to join the European Union, we are mostly members of the Turkish family of states. The work carried out in this direction really shows that Azerbaijan is taking steps towards strategic cooperation with certain countries of Europe on an individual basis," Mammadli explained.

This selective approach to international relations reflects a broader strategy by Azerbaijan to cultivate ties where they most benefit national interests, yet it raises questions about the long-term implications for Azerbaijani citizens seeking broader global access and the complex dynamics of international diplomacy.

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