Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in Azerbaijan before the elections

Delivered in Plenary - 26th October 2005

Madam President

Last June I spoke in plenary in the human rights debate. The situation in Azerbaijan at the time was particularly serious, with allegations that the government was holding political prisoners and indeed that torture and ill-treatment in custody was common. This time I speak as the resolution’s co-author, as I am being sent to Baku by this Parliament as an official observer for the 6 November elections. But I also wear the hat of the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the European Neighbourhood Policy, which is now being extended to the three Caucasus republics.

I welcome President Aliyev’s decree which, theoretically at least, orders state officials in the Central Electoral Commission to observe and implement free, fair and transparent elections. I also believe that the recent dismissal of the old guard hard-line ministers resistant to political change, like the former health minister Ali Insanov, suggests that the dominant pro-government YAP party finally realises that the time has come to manage the transition peacefully to multi-party democracy and bring Azerbaijan closer to European democratic practices.

The newly-elected parliament will no doubt be more mixed politically, with so many registered candidates to choose from, and will have new, younger and more independent technocratic MPs as well. The system of government is still heavily presidential, so the parliamentary election will be more of a test of willingness by the state to commit itself permanently to western-style democracy, rather than a real change in the exercise of power which will only come about in 2008 at the next presidential election.

Nevertheless, there are still grounds for concern in terms of press freedom, balanced political access to the media, and the right of free assembly and protest. It is also true that Azerbaijan is still affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh unresolved frozen conflict which can only be resolved peacefully by dialogue through the Minsk Group.

I regret the huge rise in military expenditure in the region and threats of escalation and a fresh outbreak of hostilities. Azerbaijan will shortly enjoy a huge injection of funds, as oil – now at historically high prices – will flow from Baku via Tbilisi to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. It is important that this money be used to enrich the entire country fairly, and there must be transparency and a renewed commitment by the government to fight public corruption.

Lastly, I hope that the action plan negotiations with Azerbaijan will shortly be resumed, once the direct air links to Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus are discontinued, as this matter is clearly of deep concern to the Republic of Cyprus as an EU Member State.

I, as the co-author for my political group, commend this resolution to the House. It will send a strong message to the Government of Azerbaijan about where this House stands and the European Parliament’s hopes in particular for that country’s democratic future.