Koopman: No one had expected the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process to go so well - INTERVIEW


Gert Jan Koopman, Director General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission, spoke in an interview with Report about the normalization process between Azerbaijan and Armenia, demining works after the occupation, and the European Union's assistance to Azerbaijan in this matter:

- Azerbaijan is facing a serious mine threat today. It will take years to clear the liberated territories of mines. How does the European Commission assist Azerbaijan in mine action?

-There is a support program working with ANAMA to help deal with the mine problem in three dimensions. So part of it is training, part of it is equipment provision, and then there's also simply costs of running the operations of demining. So we're contributing financially to it, in total we have mobilized 12 million euros. We have also offered to make available technical support and assistance, and I should say this is only the beginning. We see this as extremely important, so we want it to be taken forward as a key priority in our cooperation.

- Azerbaijan and Armenia have already reached a preliminary agreement on delimitation of border between them. Armenia also agreed to return the four occupied villages of Gazakh. How do you assess this agreement?

-Well, the first thing I would say is that we are really greatly encouraged by the work that is going on. I understand that there has been an agreement for four regions already. I also understand that the demining teams are actually working together. And I was told yesterday that Azerbaijan had offered some demining equipment to Armenia, which is really lovely to hear. It's also very nice to hear that apparently two female teams are working shoulder to shoulder or literally head to head to clear some of these mines. So, we see this as extremely positive. Obviously, our strategic objective is to ensure that peace in the region returns. And we want to work very closely with both countries, bilaterally but also regionally. So, we see the work that you are doing as very positive indeed.

- Taking into account the current positive developments, do you think the two countries are close to signing the peace treaty?

- I mean, this is clearly between the two countries. And I'm very happy that the two countries are taking it forward together. I understand that there will be a series of further meetings. And I'm very hopeful that you will reach this peace agreement, which I can say we will, of course, fully support. I think it's going well. To be honest, no one had expected it to go so well. So, congratulations to both countries. And we see it, as I said before, as an extremely positive development.
I think peace in the region will change everything. The region has enormous potential. We Europeans would very much like to work with the region. And I think if this long-standing regional conflict is finally put to bed, the chances for growth, development and economic ties between the EU and the region will only grow more strongly.

- How can the European Union contribute to peace?

- Well, we can support it in different ways. But the support has to tie in with what the countries want. Countries are sovereign. They are negotiating themselves. If they need our assistance, we are there. Our door is open. But I think at the moment, as I see it, the two countries are actually managing perfectly well on their own, which is really fantastic to see.

- What do you think about the departure of the Russian peacekeepers from the liberated territories?

- Well, I don't want to comment on the Russian peacekeepers. I think it is a good thing that Azerbaijan has now restored territorial integrity. And I think as part of that, it is normal that the country assumes responsibility also through its police and military for its own territory. So, in that sense, I think the departure of foreign troops is a good thing.

And the last. How will the European Commission assist Azerbaijan within COP29? Are there plans to cooperate in this direction?

- We are going to be discussing that this afternoon actually, that we're meeting with the Minister, who will also be the Chairman of the COP. I cannot reveal the details right now, but we certainly will offer assistance. We think the COP is a major achievement for Azerbaijan, it's a recognition of the work you're doing in the field of renewable energy, energy efficiency, the fight against climate change. And we obviously want to support that very strongly.