Azerbaijan has moved to end a major parliamentary dialogue with the European Union in retaliation for EU criticism of its rights record. The tit-for-tat between Brussels and Baku again pits the push for democratization against the desire for Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea gas.
Aside from the September 14 vote to suspend the country’s participation in Euronest, a parliamentary forum of the European Union and its eastern neighbors, Azerbaijani legislators also called for a broader revision of Baku’s cooperation with Brussels through the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program.
Azerbaijan already had told a delegation from the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, not to bother to visit Baku as had been planned.
The diplomatic brownout began with the European Parliament’s September 10 resolution that admonished Azerbaijan for “unprecedented repression against civil society” and for jailing domestic critics of the ruling elite; most recently, investigative freelance journalist Khadija Ismayilova. The resolution called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Ismayilova and scores of jailed rights activists and other critics.
Azerbaijani lawmakers were having none of that. “They malign Azerbaijan, try to harm the image of our country and isolate it,” they said in the passed resolution.
Dismissing such calls as “biased” and “destructive,” the Azerbaijani measure responded with an attack on the EU’s own alleged human-rights failures. “The problem of migrants, racism and xenophobia has peaked in Europe,” lawmakers alleged.
Although the EU and Azerbaijan have arrived at an unprecedentedly chilly moment in their relations, they are tied by a parallel cooperation as respectively buyers and seller of Caspian Sea energy.
While having exceptionally tough words for human-rights abuses in Azerbaijan, the European Parliament resolution also said that “sectoral cooperation is mutually beneficial, especially in the energy sector; whereas Azerbaijan has the potential to become one of the EU’s major commercial partners.”
Starting in 2019, Azerbaijan will be sending to Europe 10 billion cubic meters per year of gas from its offshore Shah Deniz II field. Azerbaijan’s own SOCAR holds a 20-percent stake in the delivering pipeline, the Trans-Adriatic.
Azerbaijan appears to sense the "mutual benefits" itself. Ultimately, stressed Parliamentary Speaker Ogtay Asadov responding to criticism of Azerbaijan’s Euronest measure, “We’re not saying that we’re breaking ties with Europe.”