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2nd Mar 2024

MEP points to wider Polish backing for Azerbaijan

  • Polish MEP Tomasz Poręba was previously a PiS election-campaign manager (Photo: europarl.euorpa.eu)
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A Polish ruling-party MEP has defended his Azerbaijan-friendly vote, even as EU support slips in the wake of its "ethnic cleansing".

Tomasz Poręba was one of just nine MEPs who voted against a European Parliament (EP) resolution on Thursday (5 October) condemning Azerbaijan's ruthlessness against ethnic Armenians.

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The motion sailed through with 491 votes in favour.

It spoke of an "unjustified military attack" by Azerbaijan on the ethnic Armenian exclave of Nagorno-Karabakh on 19 September.

It also accused Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev of "ethnic cleansing" after some 100,000 Armenians fled his armed forces.

"The hospitals ... are not functioning, the medical personnel left, the water board authorities left, the director of the morgue also left," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Reuters on Tuesday, speaking of the Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert.

"So this scenario, the scene is quite surreal," the ICRC said.

Out of the nine no-voters in Brussels on Thursday, three MEPs from the eurosceptic Identity and Democracy (ID) group voted not because of Azerbaijan's actions, but because ID felt that the EU parliament's non-binding foreign-policy resolutions were "stupid" in principle, an ID spokesman told EUobserver.

This put Poręba, who defended Baku on substance, in an even smaller minority, politically speaking.

"In terms of today's voting, in my opinion, the resolution is extremely one-sided and takes into account the arguments of only one side of the conflict," he said by email.

The other no-voters were Latvian socialist Anders Ameriks, Bulgarian Christian Democrat Asim Ademov, former Romaninan president Traian Băsescu, Dutch far-right MEP Marcel De Graaff, and Bulgarian liberal Ilhan Kyuchyuk.

They didn't immediately reply to EUobserver's questions.

Most of Azerbaijan's EU friends also kept a low profile in a parliament debate in Brussels on 20 September, when nobody took the floor in Aliyev's defence.

Meanwhile, Poręba was among a handful of MEPs who visited Nagorno-Karabakh with the help of Aliyev's EU embassy in the buildup to his attack.

Ameriks, who also voted no on Thursday, also went on trips there.

But the other two who visited the region — Slovenian Christian Democrat Franc Bogovič and German liberal Engin Eroglu — backed the Aliyev-critical EP text in what looked like a change of heart.

The EP motion also called for "suspension of all imports of oil and gas from Azerbaijan to the EU in the event of military aggression against Armenian territorial integrity".

Imports of gas from Azerbaijan to the EU soared by 40 percent last year, even though they still accounted for just three percent of Europe's need.

MEPs' resolutions are non-binding on EU countries, which take decisions on sanctions by consensus.

But the EU foreign service has already drafted proposals for Azerbaijan measures, according to Reuters, in a move which indicates a groundswell of support from influential member states, including the Netherlands.

The draft sanctions spoke of a halt to high-level meetings and, potentially, targeted blacklists.

"In case serious human rights violations are committed [against Armenians], restrictive measures against individuals responsible for such violations could be envisaged," the EU proposal said.

For its part, the European Commission had cultivated closer ties with Aliyev prior to his latest attack in its search for non-Russian energy supplies.

But as the EU wonders how to handle him if he uses further violence, Poręba gave an insight into Polish thinking on the issue.

The MEP, from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said: "Former Polish president Lech Kaczyński, whose policy I admire, treated relations with Azerbaijan as strategic in the dimension of energy security of Poland and Europe".

"Poland is building its position in this region. For example, next week a representative office of 20 leading Polish companies will be opened in Baku," he added.

The nationalist-populist PiS is fighting re-election on 15 October and has larded its campaign with a Poland-first message, right down to bashing Ukrainian refugees.

And even if Poręba stood out as the only PiS euro-deputy who voted no on Azerbaijan, the abstention list also told a tale of Polish quietism on Armenia's national tragedy.

It also indicated that Poland might not be willing to back any EU sanctions against its "strategic" friends in Baku.

The list of Polish ruling-party MEPs who sat on the fence regarding what the vast majority of Europeans saw as "ethnic cleansing" included former PiS prime minister Beata Szydło and two former foreign ministers, Anna Fotyga and Witold Waszczykowski — in another example of the Poland-first approach.

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