Azerbaijan and the European Union (EU) are increasingly important to each other. The Southern Caucasus country is rich in energy and will be a connecting hub for energy transport from Central Asia into European markets. For its part, Azerbaijan is located between Russia and Iran in an unstable region ridden with conflict, making good relations with the EU imperative not only for the country’s prosperity but also for its development as an independent state. But the EU’s interest in Azerbaijan goes further than energy alone.
The South Caucasus remains an unstable region featuring weak states, disputed non-recognised entities and war legacies. The EU’s engagement through assistance in democratic development should form the basis of strengthening security and stability.
In November 2006 the EU and Azerbaijan concluded an Action Plan (AP) within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). This document defines the relation between Brussels and Baku for the next five years and leads to a National Indicative Programme (NIP) that outlines the assistance available to Azerbaijan.
The NIP states that ‘in recent years Azerbaijan has been slowly (although not always coherently) pursuing an “evolutionary” reform strategy to develop democracy and a market economy’. Jos Boonstra argues that in reality, Azerbaijan is moving increasingly away from democracy and better human rights standards, as an authoritarian elite tightens its grip on society while prospering from enormous energy revenues.