BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
French Ambassador in Baku, Mr. Zacharie Gross, is optimistic that “Azerbaijan and Armenia can transition from ‘post-conflict’ to ‘peace negotiations’ in 2022”. He made such a statement at the event organized by the French Embassy in Baku on the occasion of the French Presidency in the Council of the European Union.
“The path will doubtless be arduous and success is not guaranteed but the chances of peace between independent Azerbaijan and Armenia have never been higher over the last hundred years,” Mr. Gross said.
Speaking about cooperation with the South Caucasus countries, Mr. Gross stressed that France and the EU as a whole have a direct interest in supporting peace in this region, in the independence of the three countries of this region and in their prosperity.
“An independent, sovereign, modern and secular Azerbaijan is in the interest of the EU,” the Ambassador said.
Ambassador Gross noted that the European Commission has announced a more than 2 billion euros budgetary package for cooperation in the region, in the field of low-carbon energy, connectivity, including digital connectivity, smart cities and villages, sustainable development, support to small and medium enterprises and rural development.
“The level of funding devoted to partnering with Azerbaijan will depend on the number and characteristics of the projects proposed by Azerbaijan. The more projects there are, the bigger the funding,” said Mr. Ambassador, “If there is a bigger appetite for EU-funded projects, then the EU funding will increase.”
In addition, the Ambassador noted that the negotiations between the EU and Azerbaijan on a new cooperation agreement are ongoing and expressed hope that they would be finalised this year.
Speaking about French Presidency in the Council of the European Union, Mr. Gross recalled that President Emmanuel Macron had defined the goal of the French Presidency as “moving from a Europe of cooperation inside our borders to moving to a strong, sovereign Europe in the world, free to make its own choices and a master of its own destiny”. The motto of the Presidency is “recovery, strength and belonging”. ‘Recovery’ is a reference to the EU’s 800 billion euro recovery plan that has entered its implementation phase in the context of the COVID pandemic. ‘Strength’ means a strong sovereign Europe in the world, master of its own destiny. ‘Belonging’ is a reference to the values of the EU, why the Europeans feel they belong to a common cultural and political space, that of liberal democracy.
Delivering a speech at the event in Baku, the Ambassador mentioned several agenda items related to key challenges and to EU sovereignty, such as climate agenda, digital agenda, social and equality agenda, and defence and security agenda. According to Mr. Gross, the EU Green Deal has to make the EU the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050, and the French presidency will continue working on the revision of the EU carbon market; establishing an EU Social Fund for Climate; and establishing a carbon adaptation mechanism at the EU borders. He also noted that the EUFP will seek to advance the EU digital sovereignty in data protection, artificial intelligence, cyber security, innovation and infrastructure resilience. As for the social agenda, the EUFP will work on a directive on adequate minimum wages across the EU and ensuring equality between men and women.
In defence and security sphere, under the EUFP it is planned to adopt the EU strategic compass, progress on an EU Space Strategy for security and defence, as well as implement the 2022-2024 partnership with the UN, deepen the partnership with NATO, reinforce the partnership with the African Union and the Western Balkans and forward EU partnerships in the Indopacific.
France took the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from January 1, 2022 and will hold it by the end of June.