Baku, Azerbaijan, 08/07/2021

I just concluded my first visit in Azerbaijan and I have been learning and seeing quite a bit. It was an intense visit. I think that we have managed to restart and give new impetus to our partnership with Azerbaijan.

Last Friday, we announced the new partnership with our Eastern Partnership countries. We have adopted a large package for these countries, our partners in the region. It is a very strong political signal on our side to come here to present the plan to our partners.

The plan would like to contribute to the economic recovery of the entire region after the COVID-19 crisis and to help the region to emerge even stronger out of the crisis.  This plan has been put together with the coordination and consultations of our partners in the region. What you see is a joint work that we are delivering now to the region to help overcome the main bottlenecks in the economic development and social development in the region.

Apart from the fact that the COVID-19 crisis had significant economic and social impact in the region, we also see now very clearly what are the biggest barriers in the efforts of shifting the region to a next level of development.

Azerbaijan is the most prosperous country and Azerbaijan has been successful in fighting the pandemic and also in avoiding a major economic backlash due to the pandemic. Azerbaijan has suffered the least in this crisis, for which we commend the country and its people, for coming out of the crisis with limited impact.

However, the prosperity of Azerbaijan is also dependant on the prosperity of its region, the South Caucasus. We have been discussing with the Azerbaijani authorities how we could design an economic recovery that is inclusive in the region and that also delivers for Azerbaijan. 

As we have seen, there is one common theme that keeps on coming back wherever we go in the region and that is the lack of connectivity. Because of that, there is limited potential to develop trade and investments that would create growth and jobs in the mid-term and long-term to this region. Connectivity means that we need to connect the Black Sea with the Caspian Sea and we need to have trade routes running through Azerbaijan from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea and to Europe.

Azerbaijan is a prosperous country that might not need the financial assistance of the European Union and, therefore, we are having a different approach when it comes to designing the future of the economy together, and that is our assistance in knowledge and in bringing investors and creating the trade routes together with Azerbaijan. The trade routes that should serve the interests of the region in the long-term and that should serve the interests of Europe as well.

This is why I started my day today in the Port of Baku. I had a very nice meeting with the Director-General of the Port [Taleh Ziyadov] who made it very clear that they have clear plans how to improve the port. But the port needs goods that it can process and it can only get goods if it is connected, not only to the East but also to the West. We are putting on the table a proposal for the development of the Port of Baku to make it more digital, greener, and speed-up the processing of the goods to make it even more competitive in the region.

As you have seen last night, I had a dinner with the Minister of Economy [Mikayil Jabbarov] and the Minister of Energy [Parviz Shahbazov] where of course this issue was the first we discussed. But we also touched upon other strategic issues, like our energy partnership which is of paramount interest to Europe when it comes to the diversification of our supplies, but also when it comes to phasing out the use of coal energies. Azerbaijan is a strong partner, which has already started to deliver diversification in Europe.

We discussed how we could improve this partnership and how we could also design the next phase of this partnership which is based on green energy resources, such as hydrogen. We have also discussed how Europe could help in creating a more modern and greener agriculture in rural communities in Azerbaijan. I was very pleased to see that our friends here would be interested in cooperating with us there, and I think we have new ideas, new technologies that would help to create a new agriculture for Azerbaijan. 

Finally, we discussed also the Nagorno-Karabakh post-conflict plan and post-conflict ideas, where we have offered our support as European Union to overcome the aftermath of the war and to work together for long-term peace in the region. We consider very important that we have seen a first clear engagement by both sides when it came to exchanging the war refugees with the maps on mining as facilitated by Georgia.

There, I salute the Prime Minister of Georgia [Irakli Garibashvili] and the Government of Georgia for convincing the two partners to make that step and this is a very fundamental step which we salute and we support. We are ready to contribute on our behalf with anything we can, financially or otherwise, to continue on this path and to make this a reality. Therefore, the European Union is here, accessible, available for both sides - if that is found useful - to help to move on and start the rebuilding of the region.

Thank you very much for your attention.