Human rights groups have criticized the EU’s deal to boost Azerbaijan’s gas supplies as Europe scrambles to secure non-Russian energy sources.
The economic keys of the autumn without Russian gas that terrifies Europe
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed Azerbaijan as a “crucial” and “reliable” energy supplier on Monday, announcing a deal with Baku to expand the Southern Corridor, the 3,500-kilometre pipeline carrying natural gas. from the Caspian Sea to Europe.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, EU representatives have been visiting different fossil fuel producers around the world, looking for alternative suppliers, amid growing fears that the Kremlin shuts off gas flows to Europe completely.
Standing next to Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, von der Leyen said the EU was seeking to diversify away from Russia and towards “trusted partners”, adding that he was happy to have Azerbaijan among them. “You have been a crucial energy partner for us, and you have always been reliable.”
repression and corruption
Aliyev, who has led the country for 19 years plagued by rampant corruption and repression of activists and independent media, described the energy memorandum of understanding signed with the EU as “a roadmap for the future.”
According to the agreement, gas supply to the EU from Azerbaijan will reach 20 billion cubic meters per year in 2027, which is currently 8 billion. It is estimated that the supply will be 12,000 million in 2023.
The plan to more than double the existing capacity in five years “will require significant investments for the expansion of the gas pipeline network of the southern corridor,” the memorandum states. It adds that both sides will try to develop an infrastructure, “to the extent possible,” that is ready to convert to renewable gases.
Von der Leyen said he spoke with Aliyev about his country’s “tremendous potential” to produce renewable energy, such as offshore wind power and so-called green hydrogen. He also urged Azerbaijan to join the 119 countries that have signed the Global Methane Pledge, a pact to reduce this potent greenhouse gas by nearly a third over the next decade.
The energy deal is expected to pave the way for further cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan in terms of trade, aviation and the development of the Baku port.
Human Rights Watch says the EU should not have signed the memorandum or agreed to a contentious new bilateral deal without insisting on political reforms: the release of political prisoners and changes to laws restricting non-governmental organizations and the media.
Azerbaijan uses oil and gas “to silence the EU on issues with fundamental rights,” says Philippe Dam, director for the EU at Human Rights Watch. “The reality is that the Azerbaijani authorities have been infamous for their heavy-handedness against civil society activists investigating corruption, especially in relation to oil and gas.”
According to the organization, around 40 opposition leaders, journalists and civil society leaders were released from jail in March, but dozens of them are still unjustly imprisoned. The NGO also reported multiple cases of torture and abuse of detainees. “The EU should not say that a country is trustworthy when it restricts the activities of civil society groups and represses political dissent,” says Dam.
Other activists accused the EU of undermining its climate goals while empowering despots. “It is remarkable that the EU seems determined not to learn from its current dilemma, and is striving to build more pipelines that are going to tie us to gas in the long run,” says Barbay Pace, a senior energy campaigner at Global Witness. “Strong support for renewable energy and thermal insulation of homes should be the obvious answer to the crises Europe is facing. And of course not to repeat the mistakes that brought us to this situation.”
Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s Brussels Office, says: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a reminder that repressive regimes can rarely be reliable partners, and that prioritizing short-term goals at the expense of human rights humans is a recipe for disaster.”
Translation of Patricio Orellana