The website ‘Jewish voice from Germany’ published an article featuring the importance of Baku for EU, particularly Germany. The article reads:
After the catastrophe at Fukushima, Germany decided to completely transform its energy policy. All parties are in favor of abandoning nuclear power by 2022. In light of this decision, Europe’s largest industrial economy will be increasingly dependent on imports of natural gas as well having to produce its own renewable power.
Berlin is now forced to look for additional political and economic partners. Looking beyond the solid transatlantic relationship, Berlin’s focus is now being turned to the Caucasus region. Economies there are on the up, with vast untapped quantities of natural resources, there are many promising opportunities for rewarding partnerships.
The growing Importance of Baku
One potentially vital strategic partner for Berlin in the region is Azerbaijan. Both the private and public sectors are increasingly aware of the growing importance of Baku. Economic representatives from Germany and Europe have been sounding out the potential for collaborative projects in the country. The central focus of these trade missions is of course Azerbaijan’s substantial oil and gas reserves.
The geo-economic situation was cast into spotlight at the end of last year when work began on the South Stream gas pipeline which will stretch from Russia to Europe via the Black Sea. The first weld on the pipeline was celebrated by Gazprom CEO Alexej Miller as a victory. After all, President Putin is convinced that this pipeline is imperative for Russia and will cement Russian gas domination on the European market, especially in Germany.
Avoiding one-sided energy dependence
For its part, the EU wants to avoid one-sided energy dependence and is taking steps to ensure that gas from Azerbaijan can also be piped westwards to EU member states. The EU’s Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger is particularly active in trying to prevent the EU from becoming entirely dependent on Russian gas imports.
“For Europe, it will become increasingly important that we secure our long term supply of energy. Azerbaijan is politically stable and an important strategic supplier of gas and oil, particularly for Europe,” Oettinger told the JVG. Germany’s federal government and its parliamentary opposition are also beginning to discern the importance of Azerbaijan for Germany’s future.
Federal Minister of Economics, Philipp Rösler, emphasizes: “Looking to secure its future energy supply, it is of vital importance that Germany has long term and reliable partners at its side. Azerbaijan can make a significant contribution to the diversification of our energy supplies, thereby reducing dependency on other source countries.“
Fields of gold – Shah Deniz
Lying buried beneath the Shah Deniz gas field, one of the largest in the world, is the fundament for a much needed diversification of EU energy supplies. A decision will be made in March on whether the gas to Western Europe will be delivered through the Nabucco West or TAP pipelines.
Up until the end of 2012, the Nabucco project, which will bring the gas through Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria, enjoyed the backing of the big German energy company RWE who had a 17% share in the project. Claiming that a reappraisal of the project drew negative conclusions, RWE unexpectedly sold its share to the Austrian OMV group on the very day work began on South Stream. This sale will surely narrow the Essen based energy giant’s future options.
The alternative TAP pipeline will deliver Azeri gas through Greece, Albania then popping across the Adriatic to Italy. The TAP consortium includes Germany’s E.ON, Statoil from Norway and the Swiss EGL. At the moment the TAP project seems to have its nose forward in race to land this enormous investment. The countries along the chosen route can expect substantial windfalls to the tune of double-digit billions.
BP and its local Azeri partner SOCAR have been contracted to exploit the Azeri Shah Dinaz gas field. SOCAR is state owned and was founded in 1993. It boasts around 60,000 employees on its books. Over the next few years work will begin on Shah Deniz II which is expected to yield around 16 billion cubic meters of natural gas per annum.
6 billion are already destined for Turkey with the remaining 10 billion heading to Europe. By 2025, extracted volumes will reach up to 50 billion cubic meters, enough to supply 30 million customers. Azerbaijan’s total energy reserves are estimated at around 2 550 billion cubic meters natural gas and up to 2 billion tons of crude oil.
No imperial ambitions
The question of reliable gas supply for Germany also has foreign and security implications. Representatives from Gazprom have been at pains to point out the established gas supply relationship between Russia and Germany. Nevertheless, Russia is a world power with its own strategic interests. Azerbaijan on the other hand is a relatively small country with no imperial ambitions. Accordingly, one can expect a stable and reliable partnership with the Government in Baku.
The Republic of Azerbaijan is about the same size as Austria with a population of around 9 million. Lodged between the Caspian See on one side and the towering Caucasus mountains on the other, the state is excellently placed to act as an intermediary between Europe and central Asia. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has been implementing political structures modeled on western democracies.
It is a presidential democracy with a plurality of parties who are also represented in the national parliament and there is an established, independent system of labor representation. More than 100 newspapers and radio stations entertain and inform its citizens.
To be sure, Azerbaijan is no “Westminster Democracy”, and this is not just in relation to freedom of the press. Nevertheless, the UK and Germany should not be used as yardsticks when examining the political infrastructure here today, instead, one should compare it to other former Soviet republics like Russia, Georgia etc.
Tradition of religious tolerance
Often forgotten, Azerbaijan has a long tradition of religious tolerance and cultural openness. The majority of the population may indeed be Muslims, yet minority rights are respected and Christians and Jews alike are free to practice their region. After Israel, Spain and Germany, the Azeri Jewish community is one of the fastest growing in the world. A cultural pioneer too, the first opera to be built in a Muslim country stands proudly in the center of Baku. The status of women is also commendable with the Women’s U17 soccer World Cup being successfully staged in the country in 2012.
In its domestic and foreign policy Azerbaijan is striving for stability and balance. The state does however have its own Achilles’ heel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, violent conflict between Azerbaijan and its neighbor Armenia erupted. In the course of the conflict, Armenian troops invaded and occupied almost a fifth of the country, including the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Despite four unanimous resolutions (822; 853; 874; 884) by the UN Security Council in 1993, Yerevan maintains its occupation though it is illegal under international law.
Nagorno-Karabakh – the forgotten occupation
SPD party chairman Sigmar Gabriel bemoans the failed implementation of the UN resolutions and the plight of the refugees. “The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has not been resolved for almost 20 years now. According to independent observers, there were several hundred thousand internally displaced refugees in Azerbaijan at the end of 2011. Military hostilities between the two countries officially ended with a ceasefire in 1994 but this is not a peaceful state of affairs.
There are regularly occurring military skirmishes along the demarcation line between the two sides resulting in injuries and deaths. The UN resolutions have not been implemented and the internally displaced refugees are still waiting for a solution.”
The President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz concurs, adding that the EU was a “deserved recipient of the Nobel Prize. Not just for its role in the pacification of our continent, but also for its part in resolving conflicts beyond its borders. This should be the impetus to take a more active approach to unresolved conflicts on its doorstep. Nagorno-Karabakh, Western Sahara and the Middle East come to mind.”
The occupation of sizeable tracts of Azerbaijan has been largely ignored by the international community. The Azeri state is not just a victim of its neighbor but of West European indifference too.
Azerbaijan wants to cement its relationship to Western Europe. It is now time for politicians and business leaders, in particular in Germany, to take notice of this and work on improving the rapport with this young republic. Moves to help end the conflict with Armenia would also be in the interest of Europe and Germany./Today.Az/