"Azerbaijan is an increasingly important partner, partly because of its growing economic momentum," declared Angela Merkel after her meeting with Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
The Southern Gas Corridor
The country’s economic growth is due in no small way to its vast gas and oil reserves under the Caspian Sea. Angela Merkel stressed that the German government "expressly" supports the Southern Gas Corridor project. Germany hopes that this project will help diversify Europe’s energy supplies.
Since 1994 the Azerbaijani government has been exploiting the country’s huge oil and gas reserves in partnership with western companies. Germany mainly imports oil from Azerbaijan; in 2013 it imported 2.2 billion euros worth of Azerbaijani oil, making the country Germany’s seventh largest oil supplier.
The Chancellor hopes to see even closer economic relations between Germany and Azerbaijan in future. "I believe that we still have potential to expand our economic relations." She pointed out that German investors could be helpful in expanding infrastructure and diversifying the country’s economy. Legal certainty is a crucial factor, said Angela Merkel.
Angela Merkel and Ilham Aliyev also discussed domestic policy issues, especially the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. The Chancellor stressed that Germany has wide-ranging relations with Azerbaijan, embracing not only the economic and political spheres, but also matters relating to civil society. German foundations and other organisations must be sure that they can work on a sound and secure legal basis, she said.
Since 2001 Azerbaijan has been a member of the Council of Europe. It is thus obliged to adhere to the rule of law and democratic principles. In spite of differences of opinion on this point, the Chancellor believes that the most important thing is to keep the lines of communication with Azerbaijan open.
When a radio station in Azerbaijan was raided in December, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer, said, "I am very concerned about the search of the Azerbaijani station, Radio Liberty, on 25 December and by the temporary detention of journalists who work for the station. The German Government will continue to follow this matter closely."
Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh
With a view to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Angela Merkel and Azerbaijan’s President agreed that the conflict should be resolved peacefully. Germany is a member of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, and in this capacity is supporting a negotiated solution, Angela Merkel added.
The Minsk Group is observing the conflict and spearheading efforts to bring about a peaceful and consensual agreement in talks with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Chancellor also expressed her concern over the increasing incidence of ceasefire violations and offered support in principle. "Germany would like to offer help in resolving the problem." She reported that they had discussed whether or not the EU ought to take the initiative.
"Of course we also discussed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia," said Angela Merkel. Although the situation is difficult, she hopes for progress in the preparations for a four-way summit to be held in Astana, said Angela Merkel with a view to the "Normandy format" meeting being hosted tonight (21 January) in Berlin by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
We want to see results," said the Chancellor, who hopes that "structures will emerge" from the meeting. At the moment we are moving further away from the Minsk Protocol rather than making any progress on implementing it. The Protocol provides for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
Integration in the Eastern Partnership
The meeting also explored the integration of Azerbaijan in the EU’s Eastern Partnership. "Azerbaijan would like – if I have understood correctly – to have positive cooperation with the EU." This in no way means that the country has any ambitions to accede to the EU, she stressed, and added that this was originally the starting point of the Eastern Partnership.
Under the Latvian EU Presidency, another Eastern Partnership Summit will be held this year.