“I am leaving Azerbaijan but my heart will always stay with this country” - Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan - VIDEO | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

18 June, Tuesday

“I am leaving Azerbaijan but my heart will always stay with this country” - Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan - VIDEO

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Head of Cooperation of the Delegation of the European Union to Azerbaijan Jeroen Willems completes his diplomatic mission in Azerbaijan. Last four years he has been working on issues related to economic governance and initiated a number of projects that have a big value for the country. In 2017, on the invitation of the International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF), Jeroen Willems joined the trip to the war affected regions of Azerbaijan. The purpose of the trip was to acquaintance with the wide social and economic development of the Tartar and Barda regions of Azerbaijan.

Before leaving, Jeroen Willems shared with Eurasia Diary his vision about the current EU-Azerbaijan relations as well as about his future plans related with Azerbaijan.

“I think that at the moment the EU-Azerbaijan relations are very good. It is a right time for a new comprehensive agreement, because the old partnership and cooperation agreement stands from 1996, and of course both EU and Azerbaijan have changed and developed quite a bit since 22 years.

When people talk about EU-Azerbaijan relations, they like to think that it is primarily energy, and it is true that we have strategic energy partnership with Azerbaijan. However, for the EU, Azerbaijan is much more than just energy and I would say that energy is just one of many pillars of our relationship. The EU is an important trade partner and investor, both, in oil or in non-oil sector. We have very strong cultural ties and exchanges; moreover we have a lot of discussion and exchanges on things like security and cooperation, because Azerbaijan is a leading example of implementing Twinning projects, bringing EU experience to the country. What is less well-known is that Azerbaijan was a leading country in a TIEX projects. There have been very frequent exchanges at the highest level between the EU and Azerbaijan, as it was few months ago, when President Ilham Aliyev signed a new partnership priorities setting out what are the new strategic directions for cooperation in period 2018-2020. I am very confident that this is very robust relationship”, Jeroen Willems said.

While talking about the work of the EU Delegation in Azerbaijan, Jeroen Willems notices that EU is the largest grant donor to the government and civil society.

“I just mentioned about Twinings and TАIEX projects and I think it is very much exemplifies the relations between EU and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan benefits a lot from this possibility of bringing civil servants from Member States to learn how standards in Europe are looking in a real life and how they could be transformed to something useful in Baku.

In 2014, when I arrived we had a very strong portfolio of civil society projects, and slowly we saw this number of projects going down, they were old projects slowly coming to an end and there were no new project being added. We have had some new legislative framework put in place that made it more difficult for everybody including the EU to work with civil society. Since the end of 2016 things are getting a bit better.

If I look at portfolio of the projects today, there are not as many as I would like them to be, but there are new projects finance by the EU, supporting civil society and important areas like education, regional and rural development. I hope these projects are not only good projects in themselves, but will also allow us to make a case to anyone who is not convinced yet that a civil society has a role to play. It is not about that it should be done by a government or should be done by a civil society. They can reach certain parts of population, the vulnerable groups. I am really hopeful that the results of these projects can lead to further increase of our portfolio”, Jeroen Willems stated.

Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan noticed that Azerbaijan has benefited very well from collaboration with the EU, maybe financially not so much, but in technical terms, there are a lot of what EU had to offer.

“When I came to Azerbaijan, of course my first impressions are very much WOW, what a beautiful country, what a beautiful city and why as an EU Delegation we are still providing assistance to this country. It is such a rich country, in terms of oil recourses and in terms of many other aspects of the country. And do we still have a role to play? I am happy to say that four years after the answer to that question is YES, very much, because here is a real hunger for EU experience, expertise and standards. The same is for cultural and educational exchange, for bringing civil society ideas into the main stream. These are all areas where we have a positive role to play”, he added.

Talking about the projects initiated during his mission in Azerbaijan, Jeroen Willems highlighted the setting up of the EU-Azerbaijan Business Forum.

“It is something that brings together people from governments, business people from Azerbaijan and Europe, those who are already working in Azerbaijan and those who are interested to better understand what it means to work here. I think that the magnificent thing has been done and I am really happy that we had outgrown.”

The diplomatic mission comes to an end but Mr.Willems is planning to continue dealing with Azerbaijan.

“I am leaving Azerbaijan but my heart will always stay with this country. It is also my case for the next assignment. I will be taking of duty the early September in Brussels but I will be still dealing with this beautiful country as well as with some other countries in the Eastern Partnership, dealing also with the bilateral assistance as well as with the regional programs. I look very much forward in my new capacity to visit Baku and look from the different perspective to the same beautiful country and hope to meet the same beautiful people once again.

What I would like to say to Azerbaijani people is first of all, thank you very much because I felt very well in your country. No matter how long I stay here I remain foreigner but I hope and pray that one day this country would be able to have a situation where the main issue that is keeping some Eastern Partnership a bit apart will be resolved in a way that is also a win to win situation to all who is concerned”, Jeroen Willems concluded.

Interviewed by Anastasia Lavrina

Correspondent of Eurasia Diary and assistant to the president of the International Eurasia Press Fund

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