Updated | Opposition questions Muscat’s 'personal interest' in Azerbaijan

PN says Joseph Muscat’s trips to Azerbaijan raise suspicion and expect Prime Minister to brief parliament on latest trip • Muscat taking part in 3rd Global Baku Forum

The Nationalist Party is expecting Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to brief parliament about his latest trip to Azerbaijan.

According to the Opposition, Muscat’s trips to the country raised suspicion because they were shrouded in mystery and no communication from the government was made of the PM’s planned trip to Azerbaijan.

Earlier this month, MaltaToday reported that Muscat was to visit Azerbaijan before the end of April to join discussions at the 3rd Global Baku Forum and deliver a keynote speech on the European Union and its neighbourhood policy. This year's theme is 'Building Trust in the Emerging World Order'.

In a reaction, the government said Muscat had been invited to the international conference together with the Presidents of Bulgaria and Macedonia, former US secretary of State Henry Kissinger and a number of other political personalities, among others.

The government said Muscat had confirmed the invitation in an interview he had with The Times, a month ago. He is accompanies by state media.

In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister also pointed out that Muscat’s visit followed a similar visit made by French President Francois Hollande, last Saturday. Hollande signed an agreement for the setting up of a university in partnership with Azerbaijan.

“The Nationalist Opposition has no idea of what’s going on around it … Simon Busuttil doesn’t want Malta to attract investment,” it said, adding that seven EU countries have already concluded strategic collaboration agreements with Azerbaijan.

The PN said that Muscat flew to Azerbaijan yesterday afternoon, together with his chief of staff, Keith Schembri. An aide however confirmed that Schembri is in Malta. The PN also said that Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi had so far failed to say how many times he had travelled to Azerbaijan.

It added that Mizzi was responsible for a €14 million loss suffered by Enemalta after it hedged fuel purchases with state-owned Azeri company SOCAR. On his part, the minister insisted that he didn’t interfered with negotiations but had asked Enemalta to remain in the market and secure cheaper prices.

“Muscat should tell the truth and say what his personal interests in Azerbaijan are and why he’s keeping his trips a secret. The Opposition expects the Prime Minister to give a statement in parliament and to explain why he went back to Azerbaijan,” the PN said.

During the last visit, Malta and Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding, with one of the main objectives being the development of an LNG hub for storage and distribution of LNG Products both for the local market and abroad and exploring the possibility of development of infrastructure in energy related projects in Malta.

The MoU does not constitute any legally binding obligations for both sides.

An EU energy security strategy released by the European Commission last year showed that the EU was looking southwards to develop “a southern gas corridor” for natural gas from Azerbaijan to fuel the European mainland.

A key policy that also ties in with the Maltese government’s prospective energy shift to gas, supplied by Azeri state corporation SOCAR, will be the creation of the southern corridor running from the Caspian region and into Italy.

Beyond improving trade with the region, the European Commission said it wanted to see the development of a “critical infrastructure”, whose viability ultimately depends on having access to sufficient export volumes.

It is now expected that by 2020, 10 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas produced in Azerbaijan will reach the European market through the southern gas corridor.