EU red carpet for Azerbaijan sends wrong message: Rights group
Feb.6, NY: The European Union’s “quiet diplomacy” just got much quieter. With one strongman in particular, it is almost inaudible.
Remarkably, Brussels dragged its feet to inform the public of an upcoming visit by Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev, who is coming to town on Monday (6 February) to personally inaugurate negotiations on a new EU-Azerbaijan partnership agreement.
The deal is set to strengthen the political and economic ties between the union and its oil-rich neighbour to the south east. A state visit and a new partnership negotiation usually come with a lot of fanfare. Why all the reluctance to share the date of his visit?
The lack of transparency is hardly surprising from Baku’s side. The authorities in Azerbaijan are extremely hostile to public scrutiny and accountability, and this very hostility is at core of the crackdown on critics, opposition activists, journalists and other dissenting voices for many years.
But the secrecy around the visit suggests that Baku’s deeply problematic approaches to transparency are rubbing off on the EU.
Is the EU really so quick to set aside its own commitments to transparency and accountability? Apparently so.
During more than a dozen official meetings my colleague and I had on 26 and 27 January in Brussels, officials were extremely tightlipped about Aliyev’s visit.
Once we understood it was in the works, and pressed for some, any, information, officials and diplomats flatly refused to share the date of the visit.
One member-state diplomat, clearly uncomfortable with the “gag order,” eventually acknowledged that there was an agreement that the date would not be communicated beyond the hallowed walls of European External Action Service and the member state diplomats.
It was not until late last week when the date of the visit became official after the calendar of the European Commission president was updated online.
Does the EU fear publicity of Aliyev’s trip to Brussels and inevitable criticism of Azerbaijan’s human rights record and the EU’s failure in pressing for reforms? It may fear it, but that criticism would be well-earned.
The Oslo Times International News Network/HRW