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The restrained criticism by President Ilham Aliyev of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) project, voiced by him in an interview at the end of 2019, had its impact on decisions of European institutions.
We should recall that speaking about the future of the EaP, the president raised serious questions regarding the non-obviousness of the prospects for this project, the amorphous nature of its current mechanisms of cooperation and the manifestations of the “double standards” policy vis-à-vis different member states of the project.
The EU took this criticism very seriously. On January 15, at the Plenary session of the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg, by absolute majority of votes (454 for, 148 against, 102 abstained), the resolution “On the EU Common Policy in the Field of Foreign Policy and Security” was adopted.
Article 36 of the document speaks about “confirmation by the European Union of its obligations to support the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all countries of the Eastern Partnership within their internationally recognized borders in accordance with the norms and principles of international law, and to strengthen support for victims of conflicts of citizens of these countries – refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)”.
It is important to underscore that just such a legal definition, based on a common approach to the key elements of the international law, fully meets Azerbaijan’s interests. So, this part of the resolution on the content is separated from its anti-Russian part, which deals with conflicts involving, in the EP’s opinion, the direct involvement of Moscow.
In order to assess the significance of this resolution, it is necessary to understand both the political and legal “weight” of the document, and the process of development of the article in question.
So. Unlike most other EP documents, the Resolution of the European Parliament “On the joint EU policy in the field of foreign policy and security” is not declarative, but doctrinal in nature, requiring the EU executive structures to take into account its regulatory provisions in the development and implementation of the foreign policy of the European Union.
The resolution, which is always authored by the chairman of the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs, is adopted annually; it provides an analysis of the work carried out over the year, as well as the main priorities and prospects of the EU for the coming year.
The significance of adopting this document at the turn of 2019-2020 is difficult to overestimate. By and large, the newly-elected new composition of the European Parliament has determined the political framework for the international activities of the newly-formed European Commission.
The inclusion in the main priorities and legal norms of this activity of provisions confirming the EU’s commitment to support the territorial integrity of the Eastern Partnership countries within their internationally-recognized borders means, minimum, the impossibility for Armenia to use EU platforms to justify its occupation policies, and, maximum, the creation of additional opportunities for conflict-affected countries of the EaP (including Azerbaijan) to engage in two and multilateral cooperation with Brussels to more effectively realize their interests.
However, what the most interesting in the original text of the draft resolution, proposed for consideration by the deputies of the European Parliament in November 2019, was the lack of a hint of EU support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Eastern Partnership countries, not to mention, the inviolability of their internationally-recognized borders. The inclusion of these provisions (at the outset with regard to Ukraine and then all EaP countries) in the text of the Resolution and their approval by the EP’s relevant committee occurred later, in December, at the very end of 2019. Along with other reasons, this predetermined the postponement of its plenary discussion and the adoption from the end of last year (as it always is the case) to the beginning of 2020.
There is an obvious dynamics of changes in the position of the newly-elected institutions of the European Union against the backdrop of increasingly intensified discussions about the future of the Eastern Partnership. The latest and extremely expressive point in this discussion was put by President Ilham Aliyev.
It was he who asked the most important question, the answer to which he himself predetermined: what is in common for the countries of the Eastern Partnerships? Just their Soviet past? Or is it something more, without which the very existence of the Eastern Partnership as a project of the EU cooperation with truly independent states is impossible?
The answers to these questions gave no choice to the deputies of the European Parliament in the preparation, discussion and voting of the final text of the Resolution. The document convincingly demonstrated that the common denominator for the Eastern Partnership is not the Soviet past of the participating countries, but political independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally-recognized borders. Each of them, without any exceptions.
Any deviation from these provisions is a violation not only of the fundamental norms of international law, but also of the key principles of cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. This postulate leaves no room for speculative maneuvers and interpretations by Armenia of one or another international-legal definitions, at least, within the framework of the EP.
The future of the Eastern Partnership countries will be different. The associated partners (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) will continue to seek for EU integration options; Azerbaijan will achieve an equal, mutually beneficial and strategically oriented partnership with the European Union, Armenia which is self-insulated and under external control will permanently lock up in the status of a “poor relative”, always asking for alms… The scope of cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership will also alter.
The ideological rhetoric that covers the banal economic expansion of some EU countries has already begun to transform into a more pragmatic paradigm, due to serious geopolitical changes and based on the protection of practically tangible interests in the fields of security, transport, communications, technology, energy, and response to climate challenges.
And if the Eastern Partnership is destined to remain on the international agenda, then invariably common for this will only be the one-real independence of the participating states, EU support for their territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders.
It was this answer that was demanded by President Ilham Aliyev when posing questions about the future of the Eastern Partnership in December speeches. The president has actually brought the EU to this answer.
And he received it, in the form of a binding and doctrinal document of the European Parliament.