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Monday, 30 December 2013 13:05

Azerbaijan can play a role as a hub or the logistics center – Arjen Uijterlinde, ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands to Azerbaijan Featured

Azerbaijan can play a role as a hub or the logistics center – Arjen Uijterlinde, ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands to Azerbaijan

CaspianEnergyInvestor (CEI): Как бы Вы охарактеризовали нынешний уровень двусторонних отношений Нидерландов и Азербайджана?


Arjen Uijterlinde, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Netherlands to Azerbaijan: I am quite satisfied with the way our relations are developing. The Netherlands was one of the countries recognizing Azerbaijan in 1992. Actually in March next year we will have the anniversary of our twenty years diplomatic relations. At first interests were represented from Ankara. 2 years ago we opened an embassy here in Baku and since then we have seen rapid increase of contacts both in the political and economic sphere and I think that is a very encouraging development.


CEI: The Netherlands is part of the European Union, what importance does the Netherlands attaches to the energy security issue?

Arjen UijterlindeEnergy relations with Azerbaijan represent a very important part of the overall relations, they represent let’s say the strategic character of relations of Azerbaijan  with the European Union. Dutch companies are not directly participating in one of the gas transporting infrastructure projects that are now on the table, but diversification of energy routes is in the interest of the EU as a whole. Therefore the Netherlands supports the development of the southern corridor, for us it is less important which project will win, as long as the project is realized. We should also mention that for the Netherlands as a trading nation and the country with the port of Rotterdam, energy products have always been a part of our trade with Azerbaijan. A lot of petrol consignments come to Rotterdam from Azerbaijan.. If you look at our trade with Azerbaijan, 95% of our trade is in the petroleum products. So energy you can not deny is a very important part of our relations.

But I think the potential in our relations and economic field is much broader. I think we are particularly trying to develop our relationship in non-oil sector as well. Your President and the government have indicated that it wishes to diversify its economy, it wishes to develop the country sides and the regions of Azerbaijan. And I think exactly in areas like agriculture services, tourism, alternative energy, there is potential for cooperation between our two countries. Our Embassy focusses on agriculture,and  we are now very much trying to promote let’s say new technologies in construction industry. So these are fields outside the oil sector where I feel that we could see more development in coming years.


CEI: What was the impact of the euro rate decline on the relations with the Caspian states including Azerbaijan?

Arjen UijterlindeThese are of course difficult and decisive times for the European Union. How to overcome the Euro and the financial crisis in Europe? If you look at the development of the European Union and the European integration process through history you will see that after crises new impetus is given to the integration process. I trust that after we will overcome the internal problems of the EU and the Euro crisis, more attention can and will be paid to the relations with neighboring countries. I trust we might come stronger out of this crisis, become a strong political force in the international arena and I think that is in the interest not only of the European Union but also of its partners like Azerbaijan.


CEI: Azerbaijan celebrates its 20th anniversary of independence. Howwouldyouevaluatecountrysdevelopmentoverthisperiod?

Arjen UijterlindeAs we can see, Azerbaijan has been always able to develop in a very prosperous and impressive way. Looking at the economic performance, today this is a completely different Azerbaijan than 20 years ago. Every citizen of Azerbaijan can be proud of that. I think also in terms of relationships with its neighborhood: Azerbaijan has been able to balance and develop a more independent foreign policy in the region. Stability in the region is very important both for Europe and Azerbaijan. At the same time I think that Azerbaijan being a part of the European process, and as a member of the Council of Europe, it should pay attention to commitments and obligations it has taken upon itself. In this context we all encourage the government to continue reforms.


CEI: Netherlands has one of the largest port systems in Europe. What are the opportunities of cooperation in this sphere?

Arjen UijterlindeI think in a sense Azerbaijan and Netherlands have features in common. We are both countries situated on the sea, we are both trading countries, we have a long history as a international market place, just as Azerbaijan has. In this sense in our relationship we can exchange experiences and we can offer knowledge and expertise, and that is what we are doing at the moment. Netherlands companies are involved in Azerbaijan in building its new port in Alyat. Azerbaijan can play a role as a hub or the logistics center, as part of the TRACECA corridor, developing a trade center in the region. As we have much in common, our two countries may be natural partners to cooperate in that field as well.


CEI: We are interested in Netherlands’ position regarding South Gas Corridor projects? To what extent is Netherlands interested in supply of Caspian gas? What does Netherlands count on in this connection from the standpoint of diversification of its energy security?

Arjen UijterlindeWe look at this, on a European level, from a different perspective than Azerbaijan. We are in the north-west and you are in the south-east of this continent. Most of our energy resources, as far gas is concerned, in the NL we secure them in our own region. We still have our own gas resources as well. Although it is not a direct interest, we encourage the delivery of Azerbaijani gas to Europe, because for the whole concept of European gas market it is very important. The souther corridor project is supported by the Netherlands: interconnections within Europe but also with its supplying partners need to be improved. We hope very much that in coming days we will also see the breakthrough in the relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan as far as the gas transfer deal is concerned and that the agreement will be finalized.


CEI: What are the main sources of gas consumption in Netherlands?

Arjen UijterlindeGas is a very important part of our energy mix. We also import some energy from France which is to a large degree from nuclear energy sources. We have gasification of coal. This is also an important part of new technology and more environmental friendly technology for use of coal. Increasingly, there is a major effort to get more renewables in the energy mix. As a country with a lot of wind, naturally wind energy is the potential source for energy.  There is also new developments in the field of bio-gas. The use of garbage, the use of remnants in agricultural and food production, regasify this on the biological basis. Using the heat coming from greenhouses. This is a very interesting sphere. I think that these are also technologies that we could export to Azerbaijan.


CEI: What could you tell about the alternative type of energy?

Arjen UijterlindeYou know that the EU members agreed in its energy strategy to raise their level of alternative energy in their mix to 20% and this is the target for the moment in the member states. We are not yet there. As I said this is a very difficult process and very capital intensive. We have a very small country, densely populated, the most densely populated country in Europe, 400 people live here in each square km. So there is limited space to develop wind parks. People don’t like to see their horizons spoiled by wind parks. So this is also a social process, this takes time in a democratic country, it takes a lot of consensusbuilding to implement all these projects. But it is certainly one of the objectives of our government to implement more clean energy projects, such as windenergy and biogas. Having a lot of agriculture in the country, biogas is a promising technology that can be used to regenerate energy. So I think those are two ways of developing alternative energy in our country. I think it is also noteworthy that we import energy from Norway which is hydro-energy. We don’t have so much hydro energy in the Netherlands but Norway has a lot of it and we are connected with electricity grids to Norway and we import hydro energy from Norway.

The question of nuclear energy has always been a very sensitive issue. You know that some European countries have now decided not to develop nuclear plants any more. For example, after the Fukushima tragedy, Germany also decided not develop nuclear energy. In the Netherlands we had long time moratorium on new nuclear energyprojects. We have two nuclear stations and for many years there was a consensus that we would not develop nuclear energy in the future. But, the current government agreed to look again into the option of nuclear energy. So for us the option is open, but it will not bcome a very big part of our mix at the moment. For the future, it is something that is not excluded and as I said we already import nuclear energy from France. The debate on nuclear energy is a reality in the Netherlands whether you like it or not.


CEI: What importance is attached to energy efficiency issues?

Arjen UijterlindeMore efficient use of our energy is something that is very much promoted. In the beginning you can make big steps, but after a while it becomes more difficult to gain on that one. You isolate windows, isolate your walls, the government promotes energy use during the nights instead of the days. All these incentives have been part of the policy for many years. So the margins for new gains in efficiency are limited because a lot of the potential has already been realized. Governments’ policy includes free advice how to improve your energy efficiency in households, and of course pricing is a very strong incentive. If you have to pay almost two euros for fuel at the gas station, most people are inclined to get smaller, more energy-efficient cars. That is something that I think may be less the case for Azerbaijan, where fuel is cheap. Here you see mainly big cars, but may be for the future there is some sense in looking at smaller environmently friendly cars.


CEI: What kind of work is done for attracting tourists to Netherlands from Azerbaijan and vice versa?

Arjen Uijterlinde: I think tourism is one of the ways for people to get to know each other and to know more about other countries and traditions. That is a very important value in fact. I  am happy to see many Azerbaijanis have some idea or image of the Netherlands, there is a lot of interest to go and visit our country. It is difficult to say precisely how many Azerbaijani tourists come to the Netherlands, because many of them make use of Schengen visa, and travel from countries such as France or Germany as well. But in my work I see that  people know a lot about the Netherlands and have been there at some stage of time. We don’t need to make big propaganda to attract tourists. What is interesting to mention in this context here is that next year Azerbaijan will be participating in the big world exhibition in the Netherlands called Floriada 2012. It is an event that is organized once every 10 years, dedicated to agriculture, floriculture, tourism and culture. Azerbaijan will present its potential for tourism, showing its culture. Your Ambassador in The Hague is very actively promoting Azerbaijan, including amongst young people. You can see interest from our country to come to Azerbaijan is growing. Many Dutch tourists wish to travel on an individual basis, they like adventures, mountain hiking, cycling through the country.  I try to encourage cooperation in the field of tourism as well, to assist Azerbaijan in raising the level and standards of tourism and services in this sector. In this context, the year of tourism and Eurovision 2012 will of course be important milestones for Azerbaijan.


CEI: What way have you been through prior to becoming an ambassador?

Arjen Uijterlinde: I joined the diplomatic service in 1986, a little more than 25 years ago. I studied Slavonic languages and Eastern European Politics. In the second half of the 80s there were a lot of interesting developments going on in Eastern Europe. It was the era of Gorbachev, it was a very interesting period to study politics and history of the Eastern Europe. And I think that these positive dynamics in that era raised my interest in working as a diplomat and becoming a part of that process. So that was basicly prompting me to join the diplomatic service. Looking at my carreer I spent big part of it to work related to Eastern Europe and this region. I studied at the Amsterdam University, at the faculty of Slavonic languages. Partly I studied in Netherlands but I also spent some time of my student years in Soviet Union, in Moscow and Leningrad. I studied a short while in Prague, at Karl University.


CEI: Which cuisine would do you prefer?

Arjen Uijterlinde: I am always open for new discoveries, new meals, new cuisine. May be this is a part of my diplomatic life. You have to be curious, go for new experiences, not wait until it comes to you. I enjoy oriental cuisine, I love the Azerbaijani kitchen. There are a lot of different meals in Azerbaijan. My wife and I like particularly the whole tradition that goes with the food. It is not only the food itself, it is the way food is presented, the meals are shared with the guests, this is a very strong tradition. This tradition has been lost in many countries. In any case somehow we lost it in the Netherlands. Only a few times in the year, on specific holidays, the whole family eats together, make time to enjoy the food. Here it is an essential part of the culture, which I appreciate very much.


Thank you for the interview

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