Albert Weiler (Photo from www.albert-weiler.de)

German-Armenian Forum Marks Anniversary as Azeri Lobbyists Face Legal Trouble

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BERLIN — On January 29, members of the German-Armenian Forum gathered in a room at the Bundestag (Parliament) for their annual meeting. The Forum, which will celebrate its fifth birthday in May, was founded upon the initiative of Bundestag member Albert Weiler (CDU), as a vehicle to promote dialogue between Germany and the Republic of Armenia at all levels. This includes exchange programs and visits of persons active in the political and economic realm, as well as teachers, academics and students. The aim is to increase knowledge and understanding about the two nations, their history, culture and current political activities.

In response to requests by members to know more about the relations between Armenia and the European Union, President Weiler dedicated his keynote speech to this theme. Reporting on the advantages of the EU-Armenia Partnership Agreement, Weiler said the dynamic was definitely positive. In April and May 2018, he said, the peaceful protests had led to a new government, which received a mandate “to shape the present and future of the country for the well-being of the Armenian people.” Germans have displayed special interest in the foreign policy course the new regime would follow and are pleased to see “the enormous value placed on cooperation with the EU.” Weiler expressed his conviction that support for Armenia’s reform course will continue.

Reviewing the past years’ progress, Weiler noted that “on November 24, 2017 the in-depth and comprehensive Partnership Agreement between Armenia and the European Union was signed in Brussels, a document that defines the future of our cooperation.” The Bundestag presented a bill for its ratification, which was debated and passed by a vast majority on April 4, 2019. After President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Foreign Minister Heiko 7Maas signed the bill, it was officially ratified in August.

Weiler characterized the agreement as a “complex document,” in that it maintains the substance of an earlier association agreement, but excludes a free trade zone, due to Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. And yet a closer relationship to the EU’s system of norms and regulations should ensue in the interest of enhancing trade and investments. Fundamentally, Weiler said, it is a matter of providing support for Armenia’s sovereignty, its economic and social transformation and new political orientation based on democratic values, “securing universal human rights and individual freedom, supporting civil society, and strengthening the rule of law, separation of powers and representative democracy.”

Closer relations with the EU “means at the same time stable and peaceful regional cooperation.” Weiler noted Germany’s efforts at enhancing preconditions for this, by demanding open borders and good neighborly relations. He placed special emphasis on the commitment shared by Germany and Armenia to upholding existing formats for conflict resolution; for the EU these are the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, dealing with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Another important point he made was that the EU can intensify collaboration with countries that have strong economic and political ties to the Russian Federation; nations have the sovereign right to shape their relations to the EU, and regional associations are not aimed against any other country.

It is in economic and trade relations that Germany and Armenia have made significant progress. As Weiler reported, bilateral trade in 2018 grew 30 percent over the previous year, to 344.5 million euros. The Armenian government’s pledge to introduce economic reforms and fight corruption will further this positive trend.

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Weiler concluded his remarks on an optimistic note; having seen how the Forum has succeeded in facilitating dialogue, not only to enhance economic ties, but also to make “Armenia better known and beloved in Germany,” he expressed his confidence that the EU-Armenia relationship will prosper.

Azerbaijan Agent in the Bundestag?

It was certainly a coincidence, but not without irony. Just as members of the German-Armenian Forum were discussing ways and means of building more bridges to Armenia, another political figure, this one a dedicated adversary of Armenia, was coming under legal pressure on suspicion of corruption. Karin Strenz has been a member of the Bundestag for the CDU since 2009 and chaired the German-South Caucasus Parliamentary Group, a group whose deputy chairman is Albert Weiler. When Chancellor Angela Merkel toured the Caucasus in 2018, visiting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, she had a delegation including parliamentarians with her. Weiler was one of them, but Azerbaijan refused him a visa, as an “undesirable person.”

Karin Strenz has been a most desirable person, working indefatigably as a pro-Azerbaijan lobbyist in the German Bundestag as well as in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). In that body, she was the only German representative in 2015 to vote against a resolution demanding the liberation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Serving on a commission of election observers, she issued her judgment that they were democratic. And she neglected to report that in 2014 and 2015 she received funds from Azerbaijan through a company Line M-Trade, a financial front for paying lobbyists. In 2017 her party pulled her out of the Council of Europe and she was banned for life from PACE. In 2019 the Bundestag issued an official reprimand because she had failed to report the outside income, and calls for her resignation became louder.

The Armenische-Deutsche-Korrespondenz, the journal of the German-Armenian Society (DAG), published several reports documenting her shady dealings with Baku. Among them was her curious initiative in 2017 to bring together three parliamentarians each from Armenia, Azerbaijan and then-Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chair Austria, on neutral ground, to deal with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia was not informed, nor was the German government or Bundestag, nor were the competent authorities in the Minsk Group! (In this light, one realizes better why Albert Weiler underlined the importance of the established formats for conflict resolution.)

Now it appears Strenz may be in serious trouble. On January 30 (a day after the German-Armenian Forum’s membership meeting), the Bundestag voted to lift her parliamentary immunity on request of the Frankfurt state attorney’s office, on suspicion of corruption in connection with Azerbaijan. According to wire reports, a hundred police and federal criminal police (BKA) conducted raids on her Bundestag office, her home, as well as other residences, offices and legal practices in three German federal states as well as a locality in Belgium. The second prime suspect, whose residence and office were raided, is former CSU Parliamentarian Eduard Lintner, a lobbyist for Azerbaijan. The Line M-Trade firm belongs to Lintner. The suspicion against Lintner is that he received about 4 million euros from Azerbaijan between 2008 and 2016, through fake firms, and paid off PACE politicians to do pro-Azerbaijan lobby work. A third suspect may be charged with money laundering.

It was a coincidence, but indeed, with a touch of irony.

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