Saturday

24th Feb 2018

Opinion

Azerbaijan tests EU credibility

  • The oil- and gas-rich country has been at war with its neighbour, Armenia, for some 20 years (Photo: Sonke Henning)

Eight days after the EU pledged €19.5 million to reform Azerbaijan's justice and migration systems, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree pardoning Ramil Safarov, sentenced in 2006 by the court of an EU member state for the murder of an Armenian officer on EU soil.

The brutal murder, committed by lieutenant Safarov of the Azerbaijani army, took place in 2004, in Budapest. While attending the Nato Partnership for Peace programme in Budapest's military academy, Safarov entered the bedroom of 25 year-old Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan, also attending the programme, and slaughtered him with an axe.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The Hungarian court hearing the case convicted Safarov "to life imprisonment on charges of premeditated murder with extreme cruelty." However, on 31 August 2012, Hungary handed Safarov over to Azerbaijan, where he was given a hero's welcome and an immediate pardon by the Azerbaijani leader.

A number of serious questions about this case remain unanswered. Given the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, why would Hungary extradite a convicted murderer to Azerbaijan when there was little doubt that he would be pardoned?

If a person can commit a serious crime in an EU member state and then be pardoned and treated as a national hero in a third country, does this not set a worrying precedent?

Although the extradition took place on a bilateral basis between Hungary and Azerbaijan, it has wider implications for the liberal democratic justice model that the EU upholds at home and promotes in its neighbourhood and beyond.

It is common knowledge that Azerbaijan is governed by an authoritarian leader. The country has a poor democratic record; human rights are regularly violated, the media is not free and the courts have no independence of action.

This case reveals that the Azerbaijani President is also allowed to ridicule the judgment of an EU member state court. And this is at a time when the EU is pumping millions of euros into oil- and gas-rich Azerbaijan for the purpose of reforming the latter's judiciary.

With so much at stake, the high representative and the neighbourhood commissioner should issue a joint statement condemning the extradition and the pardoning of the murderer.

President Obama and the US state department have already expressed deep concern about this case.

A White House press release states: "We are communicating to Azerbaijani authorities our disappointment about the decision to pardon Safarov. This action is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation. The United States is also requesting an explanation from Hungary regarding its decision to transfer Safarov to Azerbaijan."

EU leaders should not be seen to be dragging their feet on yet another issue. The Council's Political and Security Committee (PSC) must convene an extraordinary meeting to request clarification on the basis of this extradition.

The high representative, Catherine Ashton, now has the responsibility to set the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), so she could use this opportunity to bring up the issue at the forthcoming FAC with a view to seeking answers from Hungary's foreign minister about whether all the repercussions of this action had been considered before handing Safarov over to Azerbaijan.

For their part, individual EU member states should not wait for the unanimous consent of the Council of the EU before condemning this transfer and pardon. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has already expressed his concerns. Other EU foreign ministers should follow suit.

With the backing of member states and the other institutions, the European External Action Service (EEAS) must ensure that EU's "more for more" principle, which is the basis of the reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy, is not applied to Eastern neighbours selectively.

Punishing Belarus for numerous human rights violations but not Azerbaijan shows that the Treaty of Lisbon objective of achieving consistency in EU external action (Art. 18 (4) TEU) remains 'paper diplomacy,' and is a long way from the spirit of coherence, visibility and effectiveness to which it aspires.

Under EEAS leadership, this discrepancy must be addressed in the upcoming country and regional strategic papers, national and regional indicative programmes and in annual progress reports.

The EEAS, in co-operation with the Council's Working Party on Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Coest), should address this double standard when drafting the country allocations of the next multiannual financial framework.

The past decade has shown that a policy of engagement does not work with Azerbaijan. When publically ridiculed, the EU should be willing to put its money where its mouth is and place its energy co-operation with Azerbaijan on hold.

The commissioner for Energy, who paid a visit to Azerbaijan last weekend, should abandon the BP script for the time being and take a lead on this matter.

Azerbaijan receives EU financial assistance mainly through the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

The ENPI regulation, however, provides the basis for the suspension of the EU's assistance in cases when a partner country does not respect "liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law [OJEU 2006 L310, art. 1, 28]."

Quite apart from highlighting the question of the EU's duty towards its taxpayers, who are the contributors to the budget through which the EU's external action instruments operate, this case shows that the Azerbaijani government has no intention of adopting European norms and values and is hardly a worthy recipient of EU funds at this time of financial crisis.

The European Commission should therefore begin consultations with the Council's ENPI management committee with a view to revising the annual action plan for Azerbaijan.

Members of the European Parliament of course have a particular role as the only elected representatives of the Union with a direct responsibility towards EU citizens.

This issue is primarily a political one and the Treaty of Lisbon grants the European Parliament "functions of political control and consultation [Art. 36 TEU]."

The European Parliament has systematically expressed its opinion on matters of human rights; it must also do so in this case. The parliament's committee on foreign affairs (Afet) should discuss this extradition and pardon and prepare a resolution for a plenary sitting.

Under no circumstances should the Azerbaijani government be allowed to toy with the European Parliament as it did with the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.

And since a number of the US congressmen have individually condemned Hungary for allowing the "axe murderer" to be freed and pardoned by his president, individual MEPs could do the same, in addition to a joint reaction on the part of the European Parliament.

So as the murderer of a young officer who travelled to Budapest for a Nato peace programme walks free, is promoted from the rank of lieutenant to major, rewarded with eight years' salary, an apartment and national celebrity as a hero willing to 'serve' his country, the question that comes to mind is: if the EU's liberal democratic justice model does not count for much in its immediate neighbourhood, where does it matter?

The writer is an analyst at Ceps, a Brussels-based think-tank

Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme

Growth predictions are positive, exports increasing, unemployment dropping and credit-ratings up, says the head of Greece's Syriza delegation to the European Parliament. Now the government in Athens is looking to design its own reform programme.

Analysis

We are not (yet) one people

Talks on the next EU budget will start on Friday. Brussels wants to do much more than before – and needs a lot more money. But arguing about funds won't be enough.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  2. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  6. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  7. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  9. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society