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After Blankspot’s investigation about the paid trip to Azerbaijan: The co-chair of RUMRA resigns “they went behind my back”

In December Blankspot published an investigation about a paid trip to Azerbaijan for members of the European parliament. Now the German EU-parliamentarian Niklas Nienaß reacts by resigning from the board of the RUMRA-group that went to Azerbaijan. “When we joined the board of RUMRA, we agreed on common rules – they have broken them”.

The work is conducted together with Sascha Düerkop.

The members of the European parliament Engin Eroglu from Germany and Franc Bogovic from Slovenia participated in a partially paid trip to Azerbaijan in September – without declaring it in accordance with transparency rules in the EU. After the trip their criticism against Azerbaijan was exchanged with praise and positive remarks on the gas deals with the country.

Read the investigation here.

The delegation was organized by the cross-political intergroup RUMRA & Smart villages: The Group for Rural, Mountainous and Remote Areas and Smart Villages. Franc Bogovic is the president of the intergroup.

Now the co-chair of the group, the German member of the Green Party Niklas Nienaß, resigns from the group. To Blankspot he says in an exclusive interview that he is disappointed with the people who went to Azerbaijan, and that he therefore chooses to resign.

– When we joined the board of RUMRA, we agreed on common rules – they have broken them. It is sad since I am the only one representing the Greens from the European Parliament. I don’t resign only because the trip went to Azerbaijan, but also because they went behind my back. I have informed the whole group about my reasons for the resignation.

He continues by saying that the way the trip to Azerbaijan was planned was very unusual.

– In the past we didn’t have any invitations or such that I would deem to be problematic, as the Azerbaijan situation is, or at least I know of none. So this is not a standard procedure that we did a lot, but a procedure of common sense, that I expected from professionals. They are presented to the intergroup members before and the results of such trips are presented afterwards. This is how it should be. Integrity and transparency are values that we should stand for in RUMRA. Yet, I have only learned about the trip to Azerbaijan from your article, as it was not presented within the group – or at least not to me.

Niklas Nienaß informed the coordinator of RUMRA, Adam Mouchtar, who also joined the trip to Azerbaijan, about his resignation.

– Adam Mouchtar understood my decision and emphasized that also he had a role to play in the organization of the trip. He regretted that he did not inform the rest of the group.

Did you have any dialogue with the other co-chair, Franc Bogovic, of RUMRA?

– I didn’t talk to Franc Bogovic, but since he and Engin Eroglu after the article didn’t apologise or reached out for me or the group for a dialogue, for me the decision is final.

What do you think about the participants being positive about the gas deals with Azerbaijan after the trip?

– I don’t know whether it’s only the trip to Azerbaijan that made them speak in positive terms about the gas deal. Generally, there’s a lot of talk about it. I assume it’s a combination of both the trip and the general talk.

In July the first EU-delegation for five years on top diplomatic level visited Azerbaijan. The president of the Commission of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen, met with the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, and signed a new gas deal. Four months later, in November, Azerbaijan and Russia signed a short-term deal for Azerbaijan to meet the demands from the EU.

What consequences will your resignation get?

– We will see how the intergroup handles this. It’s not clear yet. That I resign is an important symbol. Why should I fight for transparency if the others don’t?

On Thursday, a resolution will be voted on in the EU Parliament condemning Azerbaijan for the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh that has been ongoing since December 12.

After the interview a press release was sent by email. Niklas Nienaß explains the reason for resignation:

As two journalists were able to reveal in an article in December, a small delegation led by RUMRA co-chair Franc Bogovic (EPP) and group member Engin Eroglu (Renew) traveled to Azerbaijan in the Zangilan region at the end of September to look at “smart villages”. In these remote villages, the infrastructure should be intelligent and digitally networked. “But it is also true that the Zangilan region was violently conquered by the Azerbaijani regime,” says Nienaß. In addition, the trip was planned and partially paid for by the Azerbaijani regime.

One can only criticize the regime there with regard to human rights and freedom of the media, says Nienass. “Azerbaijan’s dictatorship attacks Armenia, backs Russia and jails critics. They try to buy political support from abroad with such invitations and apparent generosity.

You can read the full press release here.


After the publication we shared the article with Franc Bogovic and Engin Eroglu. Together they made a comment:

We are deeply saddened by the resignation of MEP Niklas Nienass from the RUMRA & Smart Villages Intergroup, as he has always been an active and valuable Member. However it is his personal decision, that we will naturally fully respect.

Picture in the top: Niklas Nienaß in the EU. /Press picture.