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Azerbaijan Report: April 27, 2004

27 April 2004
German Foreign Minister, Local Experts Say Azerbaijan Should Observe EU Standards
Statements made by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer during his recent visit to Baku led to much speculation among local experts as to why he chose to highlight the issues of democracy and human rights during his official meetings.

During his talks with President Ilham Aliyev, Fischer expressed his wish for a rapid resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, noted the obligations that are linked to Council of Europe membership, and voiced his hope that the local authorities will step up their efforts in these areas.

Opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar said that, like other European countries, Germany wants to see Azerbaijan integrate with Europe, but to do so Azerbaijan must meet certain European standards. Germany's interest in seeing the implementation of reforms in Azerbaijan might also be explained by its willingness to invest there.

Human rights defender Leila Yunus suggested that the European Union considers the South Caucasus part of the European family. Therefore, the union is wondering to what extent the family's new members meet its standards and in what areas they need assistance.

Meanwhile, expert Zafar Guliev noted that the Council of Europe granted Baku additional time to solve its political-prisoner issue, and that as the deadline approaches the demands are being voiced in stronger terms. In this context, Guliev said, the German foreign minister's position can be viewed primarily as a warning to the local authorities that have yet to fulfill their commitments.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Passivity Of German-Azerbaijani Relations Explained
German business circles have attempted on several occasions to invest money in various sectors of the Azerbaijani economy, and they have succeeded in certain areas.

But economist Gubad Ibadoglu noted that the investments made by Germans over the past seven years only roughly equal those made every year by Turkish businesses.

According to Ibadoglu, the Germans explain that their low level of investment is due to corruption in Azerbaijan. German Ambassador to Azerbaijan Klaus Grewlich has also expressed his thoughts on the issue by stating that corruption is the main reason German investors take such a cautious approach in the country. The other reasons are said to be the lack of independent courts and pertinent legislation.

Arastun Orujlu, the program coordinator for the German Friedrich Naumann Fund in Azerbaijan, characterized the Germans as very cautious investors. Because of the lack of a total legal guarantee, the Germans have displayed vigilance. But what are the positive developments linked to?

Orujlu said that Ambassador Grewlich is an economist by profession who, it seems, has the power to convince his compatriots of the existence of certain favorable conditions for investments and cooperation.

As for relations between Germany and Azerbaijan, Orujlu suggested that the German officials maintain friendly relations with both the Azerbaijani government and opposition.

Germany's and the European Union's interest in the South Caucasus region has increased, Orujlu said, citing the development of Azerbaijani-German relations as evidence.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Authorities Launch Fight Against Corruption
Azerbaijan's Criminal Code includes specific articles on combating corruption. The parliament recently ratified the European Anti-Corruption Convention and adopted a separate law on the issue. Moreover, a special commission on combating corruption has been formed within the Council on State Service Administration, which is composed of high-ranking officials.

A state program on combating corruption is in the development stage, and the adoption of this program will nearly complete the formation of necessary anticorruption legislation and mechanisms.

However, parliamentary deputies and nongovernmental organizations are skeptical that the measures will actually be implemented.

Parliamentary deputy Asim Mollazade, a member of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Council of Europe, has said that entrusting the fight against corruption to officials themselves will hardly benefit the cause.

But Sabit Bagirov, a representative of Transparency International's Baku office, disagrees, saying the government should be at the head of the anticorruption campaign. In other words, no measure will yield results without the authorities' participation. In this context, by creating an anticorruption commission the government can demonstrate its political will. But Bagirov believes that it would better if nongovernmental organizations and public representatives are also represented on the commission.

(Natig Zeinalov)

New Co-Chairman of OSCE Minsk Group Describes Baku Meetings As Productive
U.S. Ambassador Steven Mann, who on 17 April was named the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, said at a 22 April news conference in Baku that, as with the Caspian issue, regarding the Karabakh conflict I will proceed from the U.S. national interests. The U.S. administration has made clear that it is interested in cooperation within the Minsk Group, as well as in fully supporting the conflicting sides to promote the peaceful settlement of the conflict, Mann noted. He expressed satisfaction with his visit to Baku and the opportunity to meet with President Aliyev and Foreign Minister Almar Mammadyarov.

Mann responded positively to the possibility of a new meeting between Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

"We discussed this issue," Mann said of the possibility of a meeting. "Generally, this issue has been raised throughout the history of the Minsk Group. The Minsk Group supports dialogues at all levels between the parties. I consider this one more contribution to efforts to find a way out. This conflict cannot be solved during one day or night, and it cannot be done at one meeting," Mann added. "But our position is that the dialogue between Baku and Yerevan must be continued at various levels, from the presidents to the working groups."

Commenting on the possibility of a visit by the OSCE Minsk Group's co-chairmen to the region, Mann said that such a trip is planned. "I cannot yet say specifically when that will happen, as this must be agreed between the parties. But we would like to see the co-chairmen's united visit to the region at the nearest time," Mann said.

Ambassador Mann, a U.S. envoy on Caspian issues, succeeded senior U.S. diplomat Rudolf Perina as the U.S. co-chairman of the Minsk Group.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

What Are The Possible Results Of Higher Oil Prices?
Among several demands made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Azerbaijani authorities have so far agreed only with one -- to adjust oil prices to global rates, and only as of next year.

The head of the presidential office's Department for Economic Policy, Mail Rahimov, said last week that the planned price hike will concern only wholesale oil prices, while retail prices will not change.

But most experts believe that if the wholesale prices increase, prices for fuel at filling stations will rise as well -- and as a result the costs of some goods and services will go up.

Sattar Safarov, the chairman of the standing parliamentary committee, noted that he has been against any price hikes for wholesale oil from the very beginning. He believes such price increases will negatively affect the population's social situation.

Gubad Ibadoglu, editor in chief of "Ekspert" magazine, argued that before resorting to a rise in prices, the government should carry out reforms in the energy sector. He said the IMF is not interested in any increase in domestic prices, but mainly wants to see drastic reforms to prevent officials from misappropriating funds allocated to the energy sector.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)