Remarks by President Donald Tusk following his meeting with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
Today President Aliyev and I had a wide-ranging discussion covering our extensive bilateral relationship. We talked about what we are already doing together now. But more important, we talked about what we should do together in the future, about the future direction of our important relationship in the years to come.
Azerbaijan is our reliable and strategic partner in the energy field, and we want to take this partnership further. One aim of the European energy union is to exclude the possibility of using gas as a threat. The conflict in Ukraine shows that such threats are still possible.
This is why the EU is dedicated to diversifying our supplies. And Azerbaijan is a main partner in this endeavour. Today, we agreed to stand united on developing the Southern Gas Corridor - a project which is in our common strategic interest - and to make sure it is completed on time, whatever our competitors do. For Europe, it is a question of diversifying supply. For Azerbaijan, it is a question of diversifying demand.
Azerbaijan has the potential to become one of the EU's major commercial partners in the region. The EU is already Azerbaijan's main trade partner and one of its most important investors. We will expand these commercial relations further in the coming years. I recalled that good governance and rule of law are important for creating a favourable commercial and investment climate. The EU stands ready to assist here, if needed.
I also hope very much that Azerbaijan will soon finalise its negotiations to join the WTO.
We have discussed how best to move our relationship forward, through an ambitious new bilateral agreement. We agreed to set a brisk pace for our talks toward an Agreement on Strategic Partnership.
I stressed the high importance we attach to human rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU believes that an open society is the best guarantee of long term stability and prosperity. I have discussed with the President our concerns with the detention of human rights defenders here and our hope that prompt action will be taken on the individual cases. We will continue to discuss these issues and to explore ways for good and mutually beneficial cooperation on human rights, also in the context of the future of our contractual relations. After this meeting, I will meet with representatives of the civil society.
We also discussed the Eastern Partnership. The EU's intention is to better reflect the individual wishes and interests of each partner as we develop this policy.
Let me also reiterate that the EU supports the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Azerbaijan. The EU and its Member States have not recognised Nagorno-Karabach.
The status quo is unsustainable and the peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains a priority for the EU. We continue to support the mediation efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
Finally, we discussed the mobility of people and our strong common wish to facilitate travel and direct contacts between our peoples. I applaud the entry into force of the Visa Facilitation Agreement and the Readmission Agreement in the autumn of last year. This was an important step. Last year there were 70,000 visitors from Azerbaijan to the Schengen area. An increase by almost 20% from the year before. And one third of the visas we issue are now long-term multiple entry visas.
I look forward to continue strengthening our important relationship in the coming years, and hope my visit today has contributed to this aim. Thank you!