Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, on the deepening relations between Azerbaijan and the EU, as well as the path to peace.

Herman van Rompuy
Herman van Rompuy graduated from KU Leuven with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy, and later obtained a Master’s in Applied Economics. He began his political career in 1973 as National Vice-President of his party’s youth council. Between September 1993 and July 1999, he served as Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Budget. In 2008, he was asked by King Albert II to form a new government, and was sworn in as Belgian Prime Minister. On November 19, 2009, Herman Van Rompuy was elected as the first full-time President of the European Council under the Treaty of Lisbon. His first mandate ran from December 1, 2009 to May 31, 2012. He was re-elected to serve a second term until November 30, 2014.

Azerbaijan is unique in so many ways, lying at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It has been a transit corridor throughout the ages; from the ancient Silk Road to today's energy pipelines. Trade and exchange across borders have fostered over centuries a tradition of openness in its society, where many ethnic and religious communities have thrived together. At the same time, Azerbaijan's impressive recent economic growth spurred by the oil and gas sector shines a great spotlight on the country. I am impressed to see this modern dynamism here in Baku. The challenge today is to build on this momentum and secure the sustainability of the growing economy and modernization.

The EU wants to deepen its ties with Azerbaijan. I should like to emphasize this right from the start, since the ambitions we have for our relationship with Azerbaijan will only be achieved if they are built on peace, security, and stability in the region. I share these observations with our own European experience of reconciliation in mind. The European project was born out of the idea that we would not be prisoners of our history, that we could overcome the scars of conflict and bring former enemies together to build a better future. In the course of 60 years of European integration, we have always managed to overcome difficulties through dialogue, consensus building, and political will. Each time further progress was questioned, the forces tying us together have proven stronger than those setting us apart.

The present economic and financial crisis, which erupted in 2008 in the US, has affected almost all economies across the world. In Europe, we weathered the first phase relatively well, but the situation has become more challenging since the banking crisis turned into a crisis of public debt. Since I myself took office as President of the European Council in early 2010, overcoming this crisis has been our overriding concern. It may well be the most challenging period in the history of European integration. However, if we can handle the situation with determination and accountability, we will be stronger. There is much work still ahead, but we are determined to carry it out and lay the foundations for the future. We are addressing systemic challenges for the Economic and Monetary Union, and working to make it fully secure, safe, and stable. We are learning the lessons, in terms of fiscal discipline, structural reforms, and deepening integration. But this has to be done in an accountable way, and it has to be done in a transparent way. There is work to be done for months and even years ahead to strengthen the foundations for continued future prosperity, as well as adapt and safeguard the European model for the next generations.

“The EU is happy to see Azerbaijan as a rising international partner, with a growing regional role."

This European model, based on principles, values, freedom, solidarity, and justice, has also inspired the way we deal with neighbors in our immediate surroundings and further away. The EU has a Neighborhood Policy for all our neighbors to the south and east. In 2013, drawing the lessons from the developments in the Arab world, we reflected upon our approach. Europe's renewed Neighborhood Policy has clear goals: to offer greater support to partners engaged in building deep and sustainable democracies, and to support inclusive economic development more effectively. Those who do more in terms of progress get more in terms of support. We call this the more-for-more principle.

The 2011 Warsaw Summit of the Eastern Partnership has emphasized the common values that underpin our relations. We want to see our partnership with eastern neighbors based more on stronger foundations than just economic cooperation. That is why we attach such a great importance to civil society. The role of civil society is paramount in any country's modernization. The greater the engagement of civil society, the deeper the democracy with political pluralism and a system of checks and balances.

The EU is happy to see Azerbaijan as a rising international partner, with a growing regional role. In assuming a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Azerbaijan is showing its commitment to work for international peace and security. This comes with a great responsibility that I am confident the country will fulfill. The EU sees Azerbaijan as a strategic partner on energy. Azerbaijan is considered a reliable supplier and will, in the future, become a reliable transit provider for both gas and oil. The EU strongly supports the Southern Energy Corridor and the Trans-Caspian Pipeline; they will benefit all sides. While we look toward the Caspian, I must say that developments in Iran are as much a source of concern in Europe as they are here in Azerbaijan.

Before I conclude, a word on the current developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The benefits of economic and political development, trade, and prosperity cannot fully be realized without a sustained effort to build stability between neighbors. Indeed, the medium- to long-term goals of future agreements make no sense if the threat of conflict is going to be a permanent presence in the background. But let me be clear: this is a reality and it has to be faced. The EU will continue to insist that Azerbaijan and Armenia step up their efforts to reach agreement. The so-called Madrid Principles remain a valid basis for peace, in accordance with the commitments made by the Presidents of both countries to France, Russia, and the US as co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk Group. We will continue to ask for unconditional access for representatives of the EU to Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding regions. The EU calls on both sides to strictly respect the ceasefire and exercise restraint, on the ground and in public statements, in order to prevent further escalation of the situation. Threats and the use of force do not contribute to a resolution of this persisting conflict. The efforts of the Minsk Group and its co-chairs to seek a peaceful resolution have our full support. Where useful, we stand ready to provide extra assistance for confidence-building measures. And once there is a settlement agreement, the EU will be ready to help implement it, including rehabilitation assistance. Reaching a solution will take time. Building trust is the first step toward finding a solution. This is one of the messages that Ambassador Lefort, the EU's Special Representative for Southern Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, tries to convey to all our partners in the region.

Without trust, there will never be peace. Many of the good things in life take time to achieve. You do not build a house in one day. You do not make peace in one day. You do not establish a democracy in one day. But if you want to get to the roof, you must start by building it brick by brick. The work must continue, knowing that it will take time. I am confident Azerbaijani society can successfully complete this house of national democracy and regional peace. The EU will continue to work with you.