Interview of Lawrence Meredith, European Commission's Eastern Neighborhood and Institutional Building Director, to APA

- Mr. Meredith, within the European Union (EU) Economic Investment Plan (EIP), 2 billion euros are planned to be allocated to Azerbaijan.

You had meetings with Azerbaijani officials to discuss the details of this plan.

As we know, the projects financed by IIP are adapted to the specific needs of each partner country.

In what areas will the EU invest in the specific needs of Azerbaijan?

- Thank you!

This is my third visit to Baku.

I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to be here on the mandate of Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi to monitor the launch of the EU's IDP on Azerbaijan.

We believe that this can bring great transformation to the people of Azerbaijan.

We specifically discuss three areas:

First, relationships.

We are investing in the Port of Baku, helping it bring solar panels.

At the same time, we see great potential against the backdrop of new geopolitical realities.

It is clear that Azerbaijan has an important role in establishing a connection between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

We also discussed the possibility of joining the Black Sea.

The second area we discuss (with the bottom of the Black Sea-ed.) is the laying of submarine power cables, and this potential is of particular interest.

On the other hand, this is related to the development of "green energy".

As you know, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, signed an important Memorandum of Understanding with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, regarding both gas and renewable energy.

We want to work together on wind, solar and hydropower through the IIP and see great potential for joint cooperation in this area.

The third area is financial availability, which is extremely important.

We have already supported 13,000 small and medium entrepreneurs.

I went to Salyan district.

We think that it is particularly important for cooperation in this sector to cover all of Azerbaijan.

We met a very interesting tomato producer.

He wants to adapt his product to EU standards and export to new markets.

To achieve all these, it is necessary to cooperate and promote reforms.

For example, it is important to work together on judicial reforms, increase capacity through trainings, and discuss the importance of delivering these benefits to the country and the people of Azerbaijan by holding meetings with civil society.

EU officials always emphasize that these investments in partner countries must be accompanied by clear progress in judicial reforms, public administration reforms and human rights.

We believe that it is very important to continue the reforms.

As you know, these are the issues we discuss in our regular meetings with the Partnership Cooperation Council.

We are also here today to discuss capacity building and training.

The importance of transparency and investment climate is an issue we are discussing these days.

This is the reason why we believe that IIP can really benefit the entire people of Azerbaijan.

- Within the framework of your visit to Baku, the foundation of the high-level working group of IIP was laid.

What will be the task of this working group and when will its members meet?

- The purpose of this new, high-level working group is to accelerate the implementation of the IIP in the areas we discussed - connectivity, green development and financial access.

Therefore, we decided to meet at least twice a year.

During this period, our teams will work very closely on individual projects that will quickly benefit the people of Azerbaijan.

- The EU has already expressed its interest in cooperation with Azerbaijan in the field of "green energy".

On the other hand, Azerbaijan is a country with large oil and gas reserves.

This desire of the EU to cooperate with Azerbaijan, which is rich in oil and gas, is really interesting.

How do you assess the renewable energy potential of the country?

- As you know, there is a common vision, common interests.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen clearly stated that the European continent should be a climate-neutral continent by 2050, and President Ilham Aliyev is committed to significantly increasing the share of renewable energy sources in Azerbaijan.

Therefore, we see a strong common interest in this area in the memorandum signed in July.

We see strong potential in the field of wind, solar and water energy in Azerbaijan.

To do this effectively, we also work with the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as with member states and other financial institutions.

Because the strength of IIP is to combine grants and loans.

This will really accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.

- According to some local experts, the legislative environment for the implementation of projects aimed at "green energy" in Azerbaijan is not sufficient.

How can the EU share experiences to improve this environment?

- One of the areas we discussed is the advantages of working together with the EU, especially the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

In these sectors, we have the opportunity to provide technical information and exchange information with Azerbaijani experts on local conditions.

This includes adaptation of local legislation, new skills, new infrastructure facilities.

An integrated and holistic approach to renewable energy sources is needed for effective operation.

We believe that with both the vision of the IEP and mutual commitments, we will significantly accelerate our common goal of transitioning Azerbaijan to renewable energy sources.

- In July, the Memorandum of Understanding on energy partnership was signed between the EU and Azerbaijan, in this sense, how do you assess the importance of Azerbaijani gas for Europe?

- I would look at this issue as a whole.

I believe that the Memorandum of Understanding primarily intensifies the cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan.

Of course, double supply obligation (taken by Azerbaijan-ed.) is an important element.

We have discussed the importance of joint action on renewable energy, and we see the energy future of both Azerbaijan and the EU with a common vision in this field.

The transition to "green energy" is extremely important and it is in the interest of both Azerbaijan and EU countries.

So I think it is in our mutual interest to accelerate the transition to "green energy" through wind, solar and hydropower.

- Western Balkan countries have already expressed their interest in increasing the transportation of Azerbaijani gas.

How can the EU support the countries of that region for the transport of Azerbaijani gas to this part of Europe, or is there any work on this?

- It is clear that in the context of new geopolitical realities, increased gas supply is especially important.

This is something that will benefit both the EU and the Western Balkan countries.

This is one of the areas we are working on together.

- The current situation has also affected communication and global transport.

Recently, we often hear about the importance of the "Middle Corridor".

How do you assess the importance of this initiative in ensuring stable and reliable transportation between the West and the East?

How is the development prospects of this corridor evaluated by the EU?

- As I mentioned earlier, relations are one of the main areas in which we want to work not only with Azerbaijan, but with the countries of the "Eastern Partnership" program as a whole.

I recently accompanied Oliver Varhely on his trip to Georgia.

During this visit, it was emphasized that Azerbaijan plays an important role in East-West relations.

I would especially emphasize the possibilities of communication through the Black Sea.

This includes submarine power cable, fiber-optic internet cable, as well as physical connections via traditional ship-ferries, which we are currently considering.

Cooperation in this field is for the benefit of the entire Caucasus region.

Of course, here - in Baku, we should also look at the Port of Baku, which is undergoing an effective modernization process.

This port connects Central Asia via the Caspian Sea, and I think it's a really important, historic trade route.

We have seen a 70% increase in shipments this year.

Obviously, this is a common interest, so we are trying to involve the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and help companies meet EU standards and international standards, provide technical support, including modernizing the infrastructure.

This is really important to increase the trade volume between the EU and Azerbaijan.

- My last question is related to the management of the investment of up to 2 billion euros to be allocated under the IIP.

I would like to know, is there a mechanism implemented by the EU to monitor the transparent and correct spending of this funding by the partner country?

- This fund has the potential to reach two billion euros through cooperation with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

This mission is accompanied by both financial organizations, as well as member states, development and financial institutions.

This of course involves working in a transparent manner, we have already discussed the importance of the investment climate, the importance of further progress in judicial reforms and public administration reforms.

These are all extremely important issues and we have already delivered €90 million under this plan.

The purpose of the created working group is to look at the issues together and speed up the implementation of the IIP as a whole, both from the technical side and from the point of view of subsequent reforms, and ensure that it really reaches the people of Azerbaijan.


Photo - Ilkin Nabiyev © APA group