Society 13:11 14/11/2013

Europe, Azerbaijan, and the caviar: Azerbaijan in the center of attention of Italian press

The Italian “Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso” online resource issued an extensive publication concerning the European – Azerbaijani problems. We present to you the article written by Luka Zanoni, titled “Europe, Azerbaijan, and the caviar.”

The recent presidential elections in Azerbaijan for the OSCE were probably among the worst ever seen in the history of this institution, on the other hand for the MEPs led by Italian Pino Arlacchi they were free and transparent.

It's called caviar diplomacy. Caviar has always been a symbol of luxury due to its given high cost (about 1,500 euro per kg), and for quite some time it has enabled some countries to “make it clear “their own reasons to others. Azerbaijan is historically recognized as one of the producers of the best caviar in the world and also one of the countries that in recent years has been distinguished in this very special diplomatic activity.

In May 2012 the research center European Stability Initiative (ESI) has published "Diplomacy of caviar- Azerbaijan has silenced the Council of Europe." The report traces the stages of a process that was supposed to bring Azerbaijan close to the values and European democratic standards but instead it is likely to bring Europe to rest on the strong limitations to fundamental rights and the absence of free and fair elections in that country in exchange for their " caviar " . Of course, the ESI makes the point, “not all of those who have defended Azerbaijan in PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe] have done it for material benefits. There were other factors in the game including geopolitical considerations. But there are several indications that corruption played a big role in diverting the PACE from its responsibilities. "

"Caviar diplomacy - writes the ESI - began in 2001, not long ago after Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe. It was strengthened after Ilham Aliyev became president of Azerbaijan in 2003. Once the Baku- Tbilisi -Ceyhan pipeline was constructed in 2005 and the state coffers flooded with Azeri oil revenues the ‘’ politics of caviar’’ has entered a higher gear. "

The CoE changes opinion about Azerbaijan

The extra gear is inserted in the elections of November 2005 which are decisive for the permanence of Azerbaijan in the assembly of the CoE. Indeed, the standard to be met to be part of the oldest international organization that deals with human rights and democracy inevitably appears the criterion of “free and fair elections.”

But despite the report of the OSCE / ODIHR Election 2005 were negative, as well as the CoE rapporteur by Andreas Gross, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided not to sanction Azerbaijan. The rapporteurs on Azerbaijan were repeatedly attacked by the majority of members of the Assembly of the CoE for their critical positions of the Azerbaijani elections.

On the eve of the presidential election of 2008 the Azerbaijani debate was a hot topic again and the British Michael Hancock and The Estonian Kristiina Ojuland who were pro-Azerbaijiani disagreed with the position of the former rapporteur Andres Herkel. The focus of the debate finally shifted to the role of the OSCE / ODIHR and the alleged unreliability of the expert mission.

"Until the nineties Azerbaijan was considered a state of no importance. With the boom of hydrocarbons it has acquired great importance and as soon as it understood how to take advantage of the European side, Azerbaijan created a very effective and determined lobby, "says an official at OBC in Brussels.

Illuminating are the words of Lise Christoffersen relating to an affair of 2009 when the Norwegian deputy was close to be named the PACE co-rapporteur on Azerbaijan.

“A mostly hidden network which was gradually becoming visible was mobilized to prevent my designation ... There was the strong reluctance of Azerbaijan to the appointment of the Norwegian rapporteur and the reason was obvious. During our countries’ official visits Norway always raises the issue of human rights violations in Azerbaijan. "

The parliamentary elections were held in Azerbaijan in 2010 which were defined by ESI as “the most fraudulent that has ever been monitored in a member state of the CoE." The mission of ODIHR then led by Audrey Glover collided with the mission of PACE in the short term and the other two field missions, the EP and the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE the outcome of election observation. The result was some trade-offs to draft a joint document which, however, was followed by four different embarrassing statements to the press.

Debates, reports followed and even a petition signed by 19 Azerbaijani civil society organizations addressed to the PACE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. At the end of Audrey Glover said resignedly: " There is so much distrust that it renders the question: is there any value in the continuous monitoring of these countries?”

The Elections of 2013

Azerbaijan presidential elections were held on October 9, 2013. With the constitutional amendment of 2009 confirmed by a referendum which abolishes the limit of two consecutive presidential terms, Ilham Aliyev had a chance to reapply and get the 84 .5 % of preferences on the third five-year term for the presidency of the Republic. Recall that the above mentioned amendment has been a subject of series of complaints by the CoE and the Venice Commission for its dubious democratic value.

The mission of long-term (3 months ) of the OSCE / ODIHR led by Tana de Zulueta concluded in the very detailed report of October 10 that " the elections of October 9 have been compromised by restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association, which did not ensure a level playing field for candidates . " This position is still in stark contrast with that expressed in the joint statement of the mission of PACE and the official of the European Parliament led by the Socialist deputy Pino Arlacchi . The joint statement of missions and short-term (4 days) of PACE and the EP on 10 October, in essence states that " on the whole, on the Election Day we observed the electoral process which was ‘’free, fair and transparent." Scandal, for the first time the two missions do not find a compromise and make two completely different press releases.

On 11 October in a statement on the Azerbaijani presidential elections Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Commissioner Štefan Füle didn’t seem to take into account the mission of the EP. In the joint statement they included the results of the OSCE/ ODIHR with just a quick mention of EP and PACE of the monitoring missions.
An Embarrassing mission

A week after the election in Azerbaijan scandal rises. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament discussed the report of the mission led by Arlacchi . The greens reacted harshly and forwarded a statement to the press criticizing the official report of the EP mission. “The Greens / EFA Group does not endorse the statements made by the EP delegation and requests a meeting with the Head of Mission of the OSCE / ODIHR Tana de Zulueta," says Ulrike Lunacek , Foreign Affairs spokesman of the group. Another green spokesman Werner Schulz made even tougher statement: "The European Parliament loses credibility with statements that ignore the reality of the situation in the country. A group of MPs is damaging the reputation of the European Parliament in the struggle for human rights, democracy and the rule of law."

Arlacchi confidently reiterated his position in an exclusive interview with the Azerbaijani APA agency. When asked by the journalist Victoria Dementyeva: " How do you explain the big difference in assessments of the European Parliament, PACE and ODIHR?” Arlacchi replies: "It's very simple. We were 66 MPs belonging to 3 different assemblies - CoE, OSCE and PE. We have all observed the elections freely and we had a positive opinion about them. The ODIHR is formed by a group of so-called experts without political responsibility that have not been elected by anyone. So it is easy to manipulate. Our assessment was done with a great sense of responsibility; we also know that parliamentary elections much better than the experts who just want to be sure to get work at the next opportunity. "

Meanwhile, the president of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda said: “The group of Socialists in the European Parliament has distanced itself from the words of the observer mission EP / PACE on the recent elections in Azerbaijan. The group believes that the differences between the findings of the delegation of parliamentarians and the OSCE are so far away that it cannot be supported at all."

Business list

The scandal did not stop. The case of Members of Parliament was revealed: they went unofficially in Azerbaijan during the elections on 9 October. In an article in the influential European Voice with the significant title "MEPs must explain trips to Azerbaijan," published on October 17, the matter was brought to the surface with very clear words. “A crass stupidity or a petty venality seem to be the only plausible explanations for a member of the European Parliament choosing to go to Baku as an unofficial observer of Azerbaijan’s sham presidential election in Azerbaijan last week ." The newspaper reports the list (probably incomplete) with the names of deputies who “who appears to have indulged in electoral tourism ". That was the comment made by the newspaper founded by the Economist Group -adds: " Ivo Vajgl (Slovenia), Alexandra Thein (Germany) and Hannu Takkula (Finland) , all of the liberal ALDE group , they traveled at the expense of the German Association , the Society for the promotion of German - Azerbaijani relations , which appears to be a thinly disguised front organization for Azerbaijani government interests . [...] liberal Estonian MEP Kristiina Ojuland was quoted by the Azerbaijani media praising the government but refuses to say who paid the trip. "

“No wonder. It is known that various members of the EP are on the ' Azerbaijani business list '. That is to say, gifts, travel, luxury hotels, etc. " The above mentioned statement was made by an anonymous sources within the EP was made to OBC. The same source does not hide that luxurious Christmas baskets, including caviar safely reach the Brussels offices.

The European Parliament reacts and Azerbaijan leaves Euronest

The crisis of monitoring missions in Azerbaijan flares up just seven months before the elections for the European Parliament. The image of an important pillar of the European Union is likely to be in doubt. At this point the European Parliament reacts indirectly discrediting the conclusions of his own mission.

In its resolution on Neighborhood Policy adopted on 23 October by the European Parliament passes a note that angers the Azerbaijani government a lot. In paragraph 32 of the resolution it is stated that the European Parliament " regrets the fact that according to the findings of long-term mission of ODIHR, the recent presidential election held on October 9, 2013 didn’t meet the OSCE standards imposing restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression; calls, in view of this, on the Azerbaijani authorities to address and swiftly implement all the recommendations included in the current and past ODIHR / OSCE reports.’’

The Azerbaijani reaction was immediate. The next day in a letter addressed to the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the MP Elkhan Suleymanov - close to President Ilham Aliyev and driving the Azerbaijani delegation to Euronest (assembly was founded by the EP in 2009 which in addition to MEP members also includes members of so-called Eastern partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) replied angrily to the note contained in the EP resolution.

Suleymanov accuses the European Parliament saying that " The EP want to create unrest and sabotage in Azerbaijan ," adding that perhaps the EP is not fully succeeded in his ’’ campaign of sabotage’’ which is to "transform Azerbaijan in Libya or in Syria ", since the elections were " free and fair ". For this reason the “the Azerbaijani delegation is obliged to suspend all activities within the Euronest Assembly." This position was confirmed on 6 November in Kiev during the Euronest meeting.

Baku and the crisis of the missions

Finally, on November 7 a meeting was held in Brussels with the head of the monitoring mission to OSCE / ODIHR Election in Azerbaijan in the presence of the Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group (DEG) and spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the groups, i.e. practically all parliamentary political groups. The meeting was attended by all participants but in the end they didn’t reach any conclusion. The second round will be held on 12 December.

Many EP members talked about the recent developments in Azerbaijan, especially the liberal Alexander Graf Lambsdorff who stated "I am thrilled about how a small non-governmental organization based in Germany which is in charge of relations with Azerbaijan has been able to pay for the trip in business class and first class hotels for 120 people across Europe including parliamentarians.” A truly remarkable number which if confirmed makes the idea of size and capacity of the so-called “caviar diplomacy.”

What about the ESI, study center based in Berlin. Their latest report released a few days ago is unequivocally entitled ‘’disgraced Azerbaijan and the end of election monitoring as we know it’’. Seven pages are dedicated to several parliamentary relations with Azerbaijan and the lobbying work of some organizations very similar to the one indicated by Lambsdorff. ESI also puts in doubt the value of monitoring missions’ short-term election as a tool to promote democracy.

In fact, what happened in Baku last month marked a kind of watershed in monitoring missions. The striking difference between the OSCE / ODIHR and the short-term missions has affected the credibility of some of the most respected institutions. The EU and its parliament have shown that they are able to react. It could be necessary if those important institutions could clarify this incredible story and to question, as soon as possible, about the meaning of the international election observation missions.

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