15.30 Brussels / 18.30 Baku
We are now closing this live blog. We thank our readers who have been following us over the last eight hours as we followed events related to the visit of president Ilham Aliev to Brussels and the opening of a new chapter in Eu-Azerbaijan relations.
Please continue to follow our news and anlysis through daily updates on commonspace.eu.
15.10 Brussels / 18.10 Baku
The overall reaction in diplomatic circles following the visit is very positive. One source described it to commonspace.eu as being "above expectations".
We asked some of our experts to give their comments:
Commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that after months of patient work and negotiations EU-Azerbaijan relations are back on track and a roadmap has been identified on how to take these relations forward. The discussions held in Brussels today were not easy, and a process of building trust between the two sides needs to continue. But clearly the mood is a positive one, and things are now likely to move quite fast on a new agreement.
We have also asked our team of experts to comment:
Regional analyst, Dennis Sammut said in answer to a question by commonspace.eu:
There is now definetely a clear path for EU-Azerbaijan relations to develop and both sides have been able to find a common language on some very difficult issues that will enable them to move forward. This does not mean there is agreement on everything, and clearly the discussions that will start tomorrow on a new agreement will not be easy. But I was very pleased to hear president Aliev caling on the negotiators to move with speed. This is exactly what is required now, and the foundations that have been laid during the meetings to day should be used to take the co-operation forward. It is important not to lose the momentum.
Ahmad Alili, from the Centre for Economic and Social Development in Baku said:
EU-Azerbaijan trade relations are a substantial part of enhancing economic and political relations between the parties. The EU turned out to be major destination for Azerbaijan exports and biggest trade partner. Azerbaijani oil exports reached EU markets through BTC pipeline. This makes Azerbaijan one of the main energy suppliers among EU Neighbourhood Policy countries.
In addition, the European Union is an important partner for Azerbaijan in terms of services and foreign direct investment relation.
Despite the existing trade challenges such as the tariff and non-tariff barriers (sanitary measures, production process, packaging, labour regulations and etc), Azerbaijan not having WTO membership, the EU-Azerbaijan economic relations can be enforced. In the future, Azerbaijan can be part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).
Nevertheless, considering the fact that the main export for Azerbaijan in the upcoming decade will be natural gas, EU is going to be main export destination for Azerbaijan and there will be strong economic links between the parties.
14.45 Brussels / 17.45 Baku
Replying to the comments of President Tusk, president Aliev thanked the European Union for its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and reminded that a large chunk of Azerbaijani territory remains under occupation. Speaking in English, President Aliev said a new chapter was opening in EU-Azerbaijan co-operation. He welcomed the start of negotiations on a new agreement tomorrow, and sia d the negotiators should hurry and not lose time in order that a nnew strategic phase in EU-Azerbaijan relations may start soon.
14.40 Brussels / 17.40 Baku
President Tusk said in his briefing together with president Aliev that the EU is the main trading partner of Azerbaijan and the discussions focussed on how the EU can help to diversify Azerbaijan's economy.
Referring to human rights issues, Donald Tusk said that the EU always highlights the importance it attaches to human rights and fundamental freedoms, inclduing freedom of expression. "The EU believes an open society is the best guarantor for stability and prosperity" he added.
On Nagorno-Karabakh President Tusk said that the status quo is unacceptable, and the EU believes there is no military solution to this conflict but there should be a political solution based on international law. The President of the EU Council said that the EU wants to broaden the scope of its relations with Azerbaijan and negotiations to upgrade the existing agreement will start tomorrow.
14.30 Brussels / 17.30 Baku
The press briefing has started
President Tusk started by re-affirming the support of the European Union for the independence, sovereignity and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The negotiations on a new EU-Azerbaijan agreement will start tomorrow.
14.20 Brrussels / 1720 Baku
We have the first pictures of the meeting between President Aliev and EU Council President Tusk. This is a group photo, including Foreign Minister Mammadyarov, Presidential Adviser Novruz Mammedov and EU AMbassador Maard and Azerbaijani Ambassador Fuad Iskanderov.
13.40 Brussels / 16.40 Baku
As we wait for the press statements we have asked our political editor to tell us what will Russia's reaction be to an improvement in relations between the EU and Azerbaijan. Our political editor replied:
In 2013 President Putin took over personal responsability for relations with Azerbaijan, and during a lull in EU-Azerbaijan relations since, Russia has tried to fill the vacuum. Russian Ministers, parliamentarians and other state officials arrive in Baku on a weekly basis with the precision of a swiss watch. Russia has sold Azerbaijan's billions of dollars worth of armaments. However there was one expectation from Baku that Moscow has not delivered on, and this is Karabakh. Russian attempts to push for a solution based on a Russian model, quaintly described as Lavrov's ideas, have so far failed. Russia cannot be Azerbaijan's partner in modernisation and reform since it itself lags behind on both fronts, so the European Union remains an attractive partner for Azerbaijan, especially as it embarks on a painful process of readjusting its economy away from dependence on oil. There is no doubt that Moscow does not like EU involvement in Azerbaijan and has been trying a number of creative ways in which to hamper it. Today's visit will be seen as a setback in Moscow. However in Azerbaijan Russia has less leverages than it has on Armenia and so it may decide to mark time and not react immediately to what appears to be a new phase in EU-Azerbaijan relations
13.30 Brussels / 16.30 Baku
We should be able to bring you the results of the visit after a press briiefing which will be held by President Aliev and EU Council president Donald Tusk at around 14.40 Brussels Time/ 17.40 Baku
Our readers may also watch this live on an EU news feed here We are told there will be statements by Mr Aliev and Mr Tusk but there will be no Q and A after
13.00 Brussels / 16.00 Baku
The debate about how the EU should engage with Azerbaijan brings together a wide variety of views. Prominent activist and co-leader of the REAL Movement, Erkin Gadirli, this morning commented on his facebook page on the visit and EU-Azerbaijan relations
"Overall, President Ilham Aliyev's visit to the EU (Brussels) after a long break is a positive event. The EU should not withdraw from the region. Retreating will only impact those who want to stop closer relations. As it appears from the behaviour of the government, it does not sincerely want to pursue a course for the country to join the EU therefore the EU itself needs to initiate this approach if it really wants to protect its interests here. This is also important for the advancement of democracy and human rights, which is our responsibility. This cannot be achieved through disengagement. The EU, despite all its problems, is a model of positive development, and there is no other success to follow."
12.45 Brussels / 15.45 Baku
Here is a screenshot of President Aliev arriving at the building of the European Council a few minutes ago for his meeting with Council President Donald Tusk
12.40 Brussels / 15.40 Baku
Organisers of the civil society meeting this afternoon at the European Parliament criticise Aliev for cancelling meeting with EP President Antonio Tajani
12.30 Brussels / 15.30 Baku
A number of our readers have emailed us to ask if the discussions ongoing today will deal with the Karabakh conflict. We put the question to our political editor:
You can hardly have a discussion involving Azerbaijan without the Karabakh conflict being high on the agenda. The issue will be raised in many of the meetings, but most importantly in the meetings between Aliev and Tusk and Aliev and Morgherini. The European Union supports a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and supports the work of the OSCE Minsk Process. The EU also has a special representative, Ambassador Herbert Salber, who is responsible for maintaining contacts with the sides in the conflict and to provide the EU's support for peace efforts whenever possible. There are always issues regarding the fine print, and the wording agreed will be clearer during the press briefing which we expect in about two hours time, but this is an ongoing discussion.
The Azerbaijani news agency Azertac has been tweeting about the visit. Here is a tweet from the meeting with Commission Vice President Sefcovic
It is midday in Brussels, 3 o'clock in the afternoon in Baku
We have been live for the last four hours reporting on the visit of President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan to Brussels for important meetings with the European Union. The president had an early start with a breakfast meeting with EU High Representative Federica Morgherini. He has also met EU Commissioner for Energy Maros Sefcovic. The highlight of the visit will be a meeting with EU Council President Donald Tusk, which is due to be start shortly. President Aliev cancelled a meeting with the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani. Sources told commonspace.eu that Azerbaijan took exception to a fringe meeting organised at the Parliament this afternoon by several MEPs and NGOs to highlight human rights problems in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Watch is among a number of NGOs that have issued a statement calling on the European Commission to focus on human rights in its dealings with Azerbaijan.
Analysts in Baku and Brussels have told commonspace.eu that the visit marks a new stage in EU-Azerbaijan relations and its outcome will determine how these relations will develop in the future. Azerbaijan's top diplomat in Brussels described the visit as a milestone event in EU-Azerbaijan relations.
11.50 Brussels / 14.50 Baku
And here is another tweet from one of the spokespersons of the Comission about a meeting with the EU Commissioner for Energy. Of course, energy and energy security are high on the agenda during Aliev's visit to Brussels.
11.45 Brussels / 14.45 Baku
The Royal Palace in Belgium has been tweeting about the meeting of President Aliev with the King of the Belgians
11.30 Brussels / 14.30 Baku
Earlier Azerbaijan's top diplomat in Brussels, Ambassador Fuad Iskanderov commented on the presidential visit:
"President Ilham Aliyev's working visit to Brussels [is] a milestone event in Azerbaijan-EU relations. It will focus on broader context of existing relations withthe aim of exploring ways and means of better responding to global and regional challenges.
Azerbaijan sees unity, solidarity and security as main pillars of the EU's strength in the neighborhood in line with key principles enshrined in the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. In this regard, Azerbaijan stands ready to contribute to reaching these overarching objectives and the visit ofPresident of Azerbaijan will definitely push this spirit ahead in our futurepartnership with the EU. We hope that these perspectives will be shared and reciprocated by our partners in the EU"
11.20 Brussels / 14.20 Baku
An update at this hour, President Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan continues with his official visit to the European institutions in Brussels. This morning he had a meeting with EU High Representative federica Morgherini. Several other meetings are also scheduled with bthe European Commission. Just after midday he is due to meet EU Council President Donald Tusk. A meeting with the President of the Eyuropean Parliament has been cancelled according to sources. The visit is considered to be one of great importance for the future of EU - Azerbaijan relations.
President Aliev this morning also met with the King of the Belgians Phillipe I
11.00 Brussels / 14.00 Baku
We have some breaking news which we have confirmed from two sources, that a meeting between president Aliev and the President of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani (picture left) has been cancelled. According to our information the meeting was cancelled by the Azerbaijani side because the parliament will later today be the venue of a meeting being organised by some MEPs and NGOs to focus on Azerbaijan's human rights record.
We asked political analyst Dennis Sammut, Director of LINKS (Dialogue, Analysis and Research), to comment on this development.
Relations between Azerbaijan and the European Parliament have been strained for some time due to Azerbaijan having taken exception to some resolutions adopted by the parliament. The parliament is concerned about several asspects of governance issues in Azerbaijan.On the other hand Azerbaijan likes the position of the parliament on the Karabakh conflict - or at least thinks this position is better than that of other European institutions. However it was hoped that with a new president of the Parliament the sides could open a new page. It seems this now has to wait.
The Azerbaijani government has been over sensitive to what goes on in the European Parliament, and this is another example of this. There are 751 MEPs, and each one has the right to host meetings in the parliament on any subject under the sun. This afternoon's meeting will be such an event - a fringe meeting similar to what happens at any international event where people with an alternative view can present their opinion.
It is by far in the interest of Azerbaijani civil society, and of more openness in Azerbaijan's political space, that Azerbaijan and the EU should have the closest relations possible. There are those in the Azerbaijani opposition, and within civil society, who still want a confrontation. They are not doing any service to themselves or their country.
Of course governance and human rights issues will always be on the agenda, as they should. But good relations between Azerbaijan and the EU are part of the solution to human rights shortcomings in Azerbaijan, not part of the problem.
10.05 Brussels / 13.05 Baku
A picture from this morning's meeting between President Aliev and High Representative Federica Morgherini
10.00 Brussels / 13.00 Baku
Whilst in Brussels, President Aliev is also having some meetings related to bilateral issues with Belgium. This morning he will meet King Philippe I at the Royal Palace. Yesterday, shortly after his arrival the President visited the monument of Azerbaijani poetess Khurdushbanu Natevann. The president was welcomed by the Mayor of Waterloo and put flowers on the monument.
09.30 Brussels/ 12.30 Baku
Commonspace.eu political editor gave us a short assessment of the visit and its importance, and the issues at hand:
"President Aliev has been in Brussels many times since he became President in 2003, but probably this is the most important and significant trip in terms of what is at stake for both Azerbaijan and the EU. There is a wish on both sides to develop relations but there are still awkward issues that are not going to go away very soon, and the sides will have to find ways of managing them. The first is the EU approach to the Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan has expectations from the EU based on the Union's strong support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia. The EU does not want to adopt a position that may jeopardise the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Process. The second issue is related to human rights and governance. The EU has expectations from Azerbaijan based on the country's committments as member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Azerbaijan finds criticism of its human rights record an intrusion in its internal affairs. Neither of these two problems are going to be resolved today, but if the sides are able to manage them, than Azerbaijan-EU relations can go forward to a new qualitative level for the benefit of both sides".
09.05 Brussels / 12.05 Baku
Back to that NGO letter, We now have the full text of the letter. It is available here.
09.00 Brussels/ 12.00 Baku
President Aliev is just finishing a breakfast meeting with the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policyt, Federica Morgherini. It was an early start for both because Mrs Morgherini will this morning chair a session of the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU.
08.45 Brussels/ 11.45 Baku
For more background about the visit we asked Ahmad Alili, the Head of the School of Policy at the Centre for Economic and Social Development in Baku to assess the importance of the visit from an Azerbaijani perspective:
"The Eastern Partnership Riga summit in May 2015 was supposed to bring clarification to the future of the EU Eastern Neighbourhood Policy. To some extent, it made the position of the countries clear: Belarus and Armenia joined Russian-led platforms, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova choosing Association Agreement with EU, and Azerbaijan joining neither of the sides. Azerbaijan, also expressed dissatisfaction with the summit's results. Baku was hoping for more vocal EU support in comprehensive resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. During 2013-2015, Azerbaijan was criticised for its human rights records, and Baku was particularly dissatisfied with that.
In 2014, the rapidly changing security environment in the region, events in Ukraine created new challenges for Azerbaijan and affected EU-Azerbaijan relations. The security environment in the region is more stable now. In the past two years, the NGO legislation was amended, and regulations were softened, the significant steps were taken in order to improve the human rights reputation of Azerbaijan.
All of these factors create favourable situation to advance the EU-Azerbaijan relations. In November 2016, following the diplomatic efforts, the European Council adopted a mandate for the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Azerbaijan.
For the past couple of month, the local media was particularly fond on sharing positive remarks regarding EU-Azerbaijani relations, and we have witnessed extensive diplomatic efforts from both sides to advance EU-Azerbaijan relations.
In this context, the visit of the President of Azerbaijan to Brussels, and the planned meetings are very promising. There is expectations on signing the agreement between Azerbaijan and EU, which will bring the sides closer.
08.30 Brussels / 11.30 Baku
The visit of President Aliev has received a lot of attention also by the NGO sector. A number of organisations have written to the President of the European Commission Junker asking him "to use this high-level visit to insist that President Aliyev commits to concrete, lasting human rights reforms in Azerbaijan. Insisting on such reforms would help ensure that the EU guides its engagement with Azerbaijan in a manner that honors Article 21 of the Lisbon Treaty, and the EU strategic framework and action plan on democracy and human rights, by fostering 'democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms'"
08.25 Brussels / 11.25 Baku
Commonspace.eu asked Amanda Paul, Senior Analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels about the content of today's discussions:
"While discussions are likely to include regional and global developments as well as developments related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the key issue of this visit is the expected launch of talks on a new strategic agreement with the EU which will open a new chapter in relations. Azerbaijan's relationship with the EU has significantly deepened since the early 1990s. While energy cooperation has been the backbone of ties, with Azerbaijan's role as facilitator of the Southern Gas Corridor key to EU efforts to strengthen its energy security via diversification of routes and sources, relations the new agreement will take relations wo a new level. The agreement will cover the areas of the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). It will also extend cooperation to such new areas as defence and security as well as intercultural dialogue. The new agreement will also help to support the diversification of the Azerbaijani economy as well as fostering a broader trade relationship. Ultimately Azerbaijan wants a strategic relationship based on mutual interests and objectives where interests are more narrowly defined. Other key issues such plans to move towards visa free travel for Azerbaijani citizens when travelling to the Schengen zone and further cooperation on counter-terrorism issues also seem likely to be on the agenda"
08.15 Brussels / 11.15 Baku
Azerbaijan and the European Union have had relations since shortly after Azerbaijan regained its independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In 1999 Azerbaijan and the EU signed a Partnership and Co-operation agreement and this remains until now the basis of the relations. Azerbaijan joined the European Neighbourhood Policy, and later the Eastern Partnership. Today’s visit by the Azerbaijani President is about how to move the relationship forward. Azerbaijan was offered an Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement similar to the one signed in 2014 with Georgia, but it refused. The Azerbaijani government has proposed instead a Strategic Partnership agreement that will take into account Azerbaijan’s importance as an energy producing and energy transit country. We will know by the end of today in which direction this discussion is going.
08.05 Brussels /11.05 Baku
President Aliev and his delegation arrived in Brussels yesterday afternoon, accompanied by Madam Alieva. Apart for the meetings with the EU leadership throughout the day, the President and his wife Mehriban Alieva, will also pay a call on the King of the Belgians, Phillipe I, at the Royal Palace. The climax of the visit will be a meeting with the President of the Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk, around lunchtime, which will be followed by a press briefing around 14.40 Brussels Time (17.40 Baku) where we will get to know the outcome of the visit.
Good Morning, It is 8 o'clock in Brussels and 11 o'clock in Baku on Monday, 6 February 2017.
08.01 Brussels/ 11.01 Baku
We welcome our readers who have joined us for this live blog covering the visit of president Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan to Brussels, and the discussions he will be having in the course of the day with the leadership of the European Union.
Throughout the day we will follow events in Brussels and discuss the state of EU-Azerbaijan relations with a panel of experts in Brussels and in Baku.
Good Morning, It is 8 o'clock in Brussels and 11 o'clock in Baku on Monday, 6 February 2017.
More than 500 couples who had already started families but had no Church wedding participated in mass wedding ceremonies presided over by Catholicos Patriarch Ilya II