Official basis of relations between Azerbaijan and the EU were laid down in 1996 by signing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which entered into force in 1999. Azerbaijan benefited from TACIS29 programme launched in 1991with the aim to help ex-soviet countries. Beyond that, Azerbaijan participated in TRASECA and INOGATE. These projects served to provide assistance for post-USSR rehabilitation of CIS30 countries infrastructure, particularly transport and cross border management. However, Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was remarkable in terms of institutionalizing bilateral relations and placing them into the framework of European principles and values. New initiatives (ENP, EaP)31 embraced the countries of South Caucasus including Azerbaijan. Action Plan, Country Strategy Paper and National Indicative Programme outline prioritized areas of cooperation as well as specify exact amount of assistance provided for sectoral reforms. Implementation documents, on the other side, evaluate year by year progress and point out problematic issues to be tackled in future. But it is usually argued that contractual relations entrenched in formalities miss out or downplay actual state of relations, their interests and genuine objectives. So we are aiming to observe those diverge opinions on EU-Azerbaijan relations.
Nuriyev (2008: 158) identifies 3 determinants that basically define strategic concerns of Azerbaijan within external relations, including the EU. These are energy resources, settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh problem and long-term democratization. Hitherto our observations confirm the relevance of the first two, while democratization remains questionable taking into account aforementioned political developments in the country. Moreover, it is usually argued by some authors (Shirinov, Aliyeva) that presence of energy determinant creates obstacles for democratization. This is also the case when the EU-Azerbaijan relations are concerned. It is inherent for majority of Azerbaijani authors to evaluate these relations through the prism of pragmatic perception. Thus, energy resources of the region constitute a common interest: for Azerbaijan – diversification of its oil consumers; for EU – diversification of energy suppliers32. The last argument can be supported by actual developments on the ground. Bilateral relations, including normative aspects, get along with strengthening cooperation in energy issues. Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2006 underlines the importance of this area for the EU’s own interests (Nuriyev 2008: 162). Overview of progress reports also indicates that energy issues along with economic agenda represents the most successful case of EU-Azerbaijan relationships. Expanding oil and gas projects (BTC, BTE, TANAP) on the background of surging human rights abuse gave rise to the feeling of “betrayal” in critically minded opposition and in some circles of European political elite (Shirinov 2011: 77). However, this interest-based approach indicates the EU’s pragmatic and not necessarily normative vision of its neighbourhood. Asymmetrically, for official Baku this strategic partnership allows to present itself as Europe-oriented, although orientation in this case is stripped off the normative dimension and rather implies being EU’s partner as a foreign policy actor. After all, EU’s attachment to differentiation principle within regional projects leaves certain space for target countries to put forward the issues they are mostly interested in. Therefore, prioritization of abovementioned areas in Azerbaijani approach does not violate the principles that ENP/EaP are based on.
Another priority area is the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Official statements from Baku and local political analysts have always stressed concern over EU’s passive engagement in this issue. The necessity of solution is clearly realized in the EU: “If the ENP cannot contribute to addressing conflicts in the region, it will have failed in one of its key purposes” (European Commission 2006: 9). However, practical policy of the EU shows its prevailing normative stance in conflict resolution appealing to confidence building, financial assistance for internally displaced people as a means for overcoming current disputes33. But, so called “track-two diplomacy” offered by the EU is unfamiliar for both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and non-state actors’ involvement always receives negative reaction in the societies concerned. (Shiriyev 2013). In terms of traditional tools of conflict resolution, the EU is only a secondary actor in the region and lacks corresponding vision and mechanism. Azerbaijan expects the EU to be more active in the mediation and, hence, Nagorno-Karabakh problem was ranked first in the Action Plan. However, this fact is assessed as political symbolism rather than any serious intention (Huseynov 2009:75). The EU rhetoric on this issue reiterates OSCE’s approach, Madrid principles and principles of international law, thus admitting its inability to bring new solution and exposing the deficiency of normative approach.
Democratization and human rights protection is the area prioritized by the EU and Azerbaijani leadership affirms its commitment to them. But hitherto, this commitment has been largely declarative. The authorities may exploit advantageous position they have in order to deviate from compliance with recommendations. But our considerations are based on normative perception of the EU. Therefore, it is more important for us to find out first how consistently the EU promotes norms in Azerbaijan, and if that promotion goes beyond declarations and transforms into normative impact.
EU-Azerbaijan: qualitative analysis.
Previous paragrapgh illustrated several ambiguities in bilateral relations. According to the authors we have reviewed, there are either areas of mutual interest where pragmatic vision prevails over normative thinking, or areas of mismatching capabilities and desires, as was in the approaches to conflict resolution and democratization. This ambiguities are often reformulated as a dilemma of vales vs interests. However, as we have chosen the Normative Power Europe concept for the theorethical framework we believe that the EU prevailingly reiterates normative wording and thinking in bilateral relations. And this was supported by the first qualitative analysis. Here, we are aiming to find out if the European Union keeps the normative agenda high in the bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. Having in my mind, what previous paragraphes said about the complexities of relations and at the same time the intensification envisioned by the introdcutiion of the Eastern Partnership, we can expect somewhat mixed findings. However, the question here is not only if the EU promotes values in contractual relations with Azerbaijan, but also what exactly and how. Our selection of the documents foremost complies with the time frame covering 2009-2013 that was explained before, with the exception of Action Plan that was adopted in 2006 as the main instructing document. We are seeking for the same normative categories which were defined in the theorethical part and later confirmed in the first qualitative analysis.