EU Criticizes Azerbaijan in Annual ‘Neighborhood’ Report

European Union flags fly outside of the European Commission building in Brussels


BRUSSELS—The European Commission has approved its 2014 European Neighborhood reports, highlighting progress and shortcomings made last year in the countries to the east and south of the European Union — several of them on Russia’s fringes.

The report, issued on March 25, includes assessments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Belarus, which is also a member of the EU’s European Neighborhood group, is not included in the report because Minsk and Brussels have not yet agreed to a European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan.

Armenia
Armenia backed out of signing a landmark agreement with the EU in 2013 and has since joined the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union.

But the report says that negotiations soon will be launched on “a new EU-Armenia overarching agreement once the respective negotiating mandates have been approved.”

The EU says Armenia continued its democratic transition in 2014, but adds that “certain human rights issues, fundamental freedoms, and rule of law issues remained to be dealt with.”

The document says “the lack of trust in the judicial system persisted” and that “the fight against corruption remained a key issue.”

The EU also recommends more diversification in the country’s economy.

Azerbaijan
The EU sharply criticized Azerbaijan’s government for the political situation in the country.

The paper says there was a “regression in the democratic transition process and with regard to human rights and fundamental freedoms, e.g., the freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.”

It says the situation of civil society organizations deteriorated considerably due to the introduction of a more restrictive legal framework and that “a number of prominent human right defenders were detained, travel bans were issued, and bank accounts of civil society organizations were frozen.”

The EU urges Baku to improve the situation regarding democracy and human rights in the country and to create a more conducive political and legal environment for civil society.

The document notes that the security situation in Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh territory “remained a matter of serious concern amid unprecedented incidents and casualties since 1994, as well as rise in confrontational rhetoric and a continued arms race.”

Georgia
The EU says Georgia continued its democratic transition.

According to the report, last year’s local elections were “generally in compliance with international standards, even though freedom of association and assembly were not fully ensured during the campaign.”

The text also says judicial independence remains fragile and that “the rights of minorities remained to be improved further” despite the adoption of an antidiscrimination law.

It also criticizes the treaties that Russia has signed with the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, noting that it violates Georgia’s territorial integrity.

The EU says it hopes that Tbilisi increases “the accountability and democratic oversight of law enforcement agencies” and encourages trade, education, travel, and investment across the administrative boundary line with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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