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The promotion of democratic governance in Azerbaijan’s oil sector: conspicuously absent from the EU agenda (working title)

Mariella Falkenhain
Institute for Employment Rearch (IAB), Nuremberg, Germany
Mariella Falkenhain
Institute for Employment Rearch (IAB), Nuremberg, Germany

Abstract

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) seek to promote good governance, democracy and the rule of law. In the post-Soviet space patchy and unsystematic reforms coupled with the return or consolidation of authoritarian rule show, however, the EU’s limited impact on political transformation. In the case of resource-rich Azerbaijan, where the authoritarian leadership is strongly reluctant to adopt reforms, the EU’s efforts to promote democracy – both top-down (political conditionality) and bottom-up (support for pro-democratic local actors) – are marked by inconsistency and hesitance, and followed by meagre results. The EU’s interest to secure its own energy security seems to overrule democracy-related goals. Is the EU able to reconcile these conflicting paradigms? The EU has developed a governance model of democracy promotion as an alternative to traditional channels of democracy promotion. The attempt to promote democratic principles of policy-making (e.g. accountability, transparency, public participation) via functional cooperation is a more indirect and subtle way to encourage democratization. In the literature, the conditions for both successful uploading (in Brussels) and downloading (in the partner countries) of democratic governance norms have been studied. Findings suggest that several factors encourage the active promotion (e.g. non-adverse economic or security interests inside the EU) and adoption (e.g. thick acquis, international embeddedness, low degree of politicization of the policy issue) of democratic governance norms in sectoral policies. It is even in the context of stable authoritarian regimes that functional cooperation can lead to democratic socialization of political actors. Unlike earlier research, this paper focuses on the upload-side of democratic governance norms in functional cooperation in the context of authoritarian rule. Based on the issue of oil sector transparency in Azerbaijan, this paper asks how and with what effect the EU has responded to a situation in which strong international momentum was coupled with domestic ‘pull’ for democratic governance norms. The paper argues that despite the emergence of ‘oil sector transparency’ as an international norm, its active promotion by several international organizations and transnational advocacy coalitions, and (even) its partly successful implementation by Azerbaijani authorities, the EU has failed to jump on the bandwagon and promote a norm-based energy policy in line with its normative foreign policy objectives. In other words, democracy promotion via functional cooperation has proven positive (yet fragile) effects in Azerbaijan. This outcome is, however, not due to the EU’s efforts but largely developed in its absence. To date, democratic governance in the energy sector has remained absent from the bilateral partnership with Azerbaijan and from multilateral cooperation in the framework of the EaP. Thus, the EU is missing valuable and concrete opportunities to strengthen the (surprisingly) positive, yet feckless societal support for transparency in Azerbaijan’s oil sector. In the long term, neglecting this issue could not only challenge the EU’s commitment for political transformation in its neighbourhood, but also have detrimental effects for its energy security objectives.