10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership – a good opportunity to know what it means for Azerbaijan
1. What is the Eastern Partnership about? Does it mean EU membership?

The Eastern Partnership brings together the EU, its member states, and its six Eastern neighbours – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership

For the last ten years, the partners have been working together to build a common area of democracy, prosperity and stability. In everyday life, this means a stronger economy, stronger institutions and greater trust, a cleaner environment, safe and sustainable energy supply, opportunities for people across society and especially the young: ultimately, it means a better quality of life for all.

The Eastern Partnership does not mean EU membership, but it does provide the framework for countries to build a closer relationship with the European Union, if they choose to do so.

2. What is the EU's interest in the partnership? Why should the EU spend taxpayers’ money to help other countries?

The European Union’s interest is very clear: stable, secure and prosperous neighbours are vital for the EU's own stability, security and prosperity – “We must export stability… to avoid importing instability,” in the words of the EU's Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy, Johannes Hahn.

Azerbaijan is an important energy partner for the EU and plays a key role in bringing Caspian energy resources to the EU market. But the EU also supports economic diversification and the broader business and investment climate, developing new trade opportunities for both sides. The partnership also opens new markets for tourism, and the chance for young people – both Azerbaijanis and Europeans – to exchange, travel and broaden their experience.

So a stronger Azerbaijan also means a stronger European Union.

3. OK, so the EU invests money, but is there proper control of where the money goes and how it is spent?

EU funds always face rigorous monitoring and reporting procedures – both internal and external – in order to assess the value and impact of actions, and with strict financial auditing to make sure the money spent is properly accounted for. Even when dealing with state budget support, money is only released when agreed targets have been met – and the EU can and does hold back payment until it can see credible action to put objectives back on track.

Fighting corruption is a top priority in European cooperation with its Eastern partners, with many actions supporting the rule of law, transparency, and effective public administration. And ensuring that European funds are properly spent not only contributes to a stronger economy and society in each partner country, it ensures that citizens – both Azerbaijani and from EU member states – can truly enjoy the benefits of closer partnership.

4. So what are the concrete benefits for Azerbaijan?

The EU is Azerbaijan’s first trading partner and biggest market. It is also Azerbaijan’s largest foreign investor, both in the oil and non-oil sector. Since 2017, €207 million in EU-backed loans have been provided to small businesses in Azerbaijan, with more than 13,000 companies benefiting from finance, training and business advice. Ministries and public institutions have taken part in almost 50 Twinning projects with European officials sharing practical experience to improve government services.

Travelling and foreign exchanges have become easier: since 2014, an agreement on visa facilitation has made it easier and cheaper for citizens of Azerbaijan to get short-term visas to the European Union. Visas for Erasmus+ students are free, and almost 1,300 students and academic staff from Azerbaijan took the opportunity to study or teach in EU countries between 2015 and 2018.

5. And for me?

It could be you: people from all walks of life have seen a direct impact from EU support – people like Rizvan Garayev, who transformed the café he inherited from his parents in Baku into a chain of bakeries and restaurants, thanks to a series of investment loans made available with EU support. Or Aytekin Sadiqova, a forced migrant from the Kalbajar region, who received EU support to develop her beekeeping business.

Today Irana Alimova works in the laboratory of one of Azerbaijan's largest petrochemical complexes: but to get there, she spent a year in Braganza, Portugal, studying chemical engineering as part of the Erasmus+ programme.

And in just nine months, some 300 people – mainly the economically disadvantaged, people with special needs and pensioners – have turned to the Resource Centre, an EU-funded facility that provides free legal support to vulnerable citizens.

6. OK, I am interested - how can I track all these opportunities? How can I find something that might be useful to me?

The EU NEIGHBOURS website tracks and publishes all the latest EU opportunities. Whether it's a youth camp in Berlin, a traineeship at the European Parliament, or funding for energy efficiency initiatives, you’ll find all the opportunities in the dedicated section of the EU Neighbours website.

If you are a small business or an entrepreneur, you will also find a wide range of training and funding opportunities on the EU4Business website. You should also visit the website of the EU Delegation in Azerbaijan, which has dedicated sections for jobs & funding, travel & study as well as its social media page.

7. 10 years have passed: what’s next?

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. Over the past decade, the efforts of the EU and its partner countries have brought more trade, mobility, economic development and better quality of life.

But the partnership does not stop there: the EU and its Eastern partners have set 20 key targets to be achieved by next year – known as the ‘20 Deliverables for 2020’ – and efforts are ongoing to meet those targets across good government, economic development, energy, environment and transport, and stronger society, as well as on gender equality, the media and civil society.