In a very broad perspective our research concerns the role of the European Union in promotion of normative values outside of its borders. In this regard we made it clear that Normative Power Europe is set as a framework of the study. Unlike alternative concept of Europeanization which relies on more coercive measures and conditionality tools and has various implications depending on the character of the target state (whether it is a member, candidate or non-candidate state) (Schimmelfennig 2009: 8), Normative Power Europe offers more uniform and neutral approach to foreign actors regardless of their status. It also means that conclusions of the case study will likely be applicable in regard to other countries and for the general policy as well. NPE focuses solely on interstate interactions taking place between the EU institutions and respective governments. Hence, such theoretical framework in our research provides more space for tracing and assessing particular role of the EU itself as an actor. Simultaneously, Manners’ threefold typology of principles, actions and impact, compose a general conceptual framework used throughout the thesis where category of principles is analysed through qualitative analyses while actions and impact are tested by using process tracing method.
Examination of normativity that the EU maintains in the foreign policy agenda and finding answer to the first research question have been carried out through the analysis of contractual relations. For this reason I have used qualitative content analysis of respective documents. Choice of qualitative analysis can be justified by its important feature which helps to identify and expose actual meanings of words and formulations and derive valuable findings from the context of official documents that usually contain neutral wording. For qualitative analysis we have used public records – official documents of the EU. A primary type of the document analysed in both cases of qualitative analysis is implementation documents which reflect annual evaluation of developments covering all policy areas in the region and in specific country respectively. To what extent these documents reflect the sought normative agenda have been estimated by detecting there 3 normative categories defined in the theoretical framework – normative values, normative tools and normative goals. Additionally, declarations of principal EaP summits are also taken into consideration inasmuch as each round of summits indicated significant advancement of relations.
Examining promotion of normative values by the EU requires establishment of a solid context where the EU carries out its activities. Therefore the use of a case study approach have been motivated by the necessity to define the contexts and frames of the research. According to Yin (2005), probe of contextual circumstances, which are critically important to a problem, preconditions the application of a case study method. As a form of qualitative research method, case study by the way of analysing certain events and relationships focuses on the problem which is put into a specific context (Zaidah 2007: 2). But here we need to solve another problem - what exactly constitutes the case in our research? Miles and Huberman (1994: 25) define the case as “a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context” or in other words as a “unit of analysis”. Hence, in our research design the case is the normative agenda in bilateral relationships between the EU and Azerbaijan, while the context for such analysis is the corresponding bilateral interaction occurring within the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership in particular. In agreement with Yin (2003) and Stake (1995), we have also placed additional bounds in the forms of time frame and specific normative categories detached from the theoretical part and first qualitative analysis1 to ensure consistency of the research design. The time frame of the study covers 2009-2013. This period is specific and relevant from several points of view. The year 2009 marked the launch of the Eastern Partnership which was believed to overcome deficiencies of the ENP by providing closer cooperation, more precise delineation of targets and goals, including normative ones2, in bilateral agenda. Moreover, in 2009 the EU went through institutional transformations caused by the Lisbon Treaty, which also had important implications for the Eastern Partnership in terms of refreshing and modernizing its policy (Martínezgarnelo y Calvo 2014: 133). In 2013 Vilnius held the latest EaP summit where several important decisions and agreements were signed, including with Azerbaijan. So, during pre-summit time Azerbaijani government was expected to show its desire to continue closer cooperation with the EU not just in statements but by conducting actions in compliance with the EU expectations. In other words, owing to abovementioned factors we can characterize the time frame covering 2009-2013 as a period of intensified contacts between the EU and Azerbaijan and expect that normative agenda had been more strongly advocated in the relations, both contractual and practical.
Finally, the assessment of the European Union’s normative role in Azerbaijan requires clear evidences of normative impact caused by corresponding actions of the EU. The necessity of this verification is concluded from the theoretical framework where Manners states that promotion of normative principles via normative means should result in normative impact. The main research question to be solved here is: Does the European Union invoke normative impact on the freedom of expression in Azerbaijan? We have to prove that alleged impact had been caused solely by actions of the EU. Therefore, process tracing appears to be the most compatible method for the reason that it exposes causal inferences between actions and outcomes. Collier (2011: 823) defines process tracing method “as the systematic examination of diagnostic evidence selected and analysed in light of research questions”. But the accuracy of evidences largely depends on the careful description of events. Collier (2011: 824) considers adequate description a fundamental condition to draw causal inference. In line with this statement we have described developments occurring in the realm of freedom of expression in Azerbaijan and corresponding reactions from various EU officials and institutions during 2009-20133. Since the events in the field of freedom of expression reflect extremely diverse issues from legislative amendments to journalist imprisonment, the definition of what we mean by normative impact have been clarified for each group of cases.