The Civil Society Perspective: Country Report Azerbaijan
This report offers the perspectives of Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum member organisations from Azerbaijan on the future of the Eastern Partnership following its tenth anniversary year. It is one of a series of six country reports, with other editions covering Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova.
The findings presented here are the result of a comprehensive process of internal consultation, conducted in October 2019 in order to inform the EaP CSF’s response to DG NEAR’s structured consultation on the Eastern Partnership beyond 2020. The report covers the following fields:
Economic and Human Capital Development: The results of the online survey of Azerbaijani organisations suggest the most urgent and effective measure through which the EU should support sustainable economic development in the EaP region is to push for a fair business environment free of nepotism (42%).
Good Governance, Rule of Law, Security Cooperation: Over 31% of survey respondents in Azerbaijan believe that in order to support good governance and rule of law reform in the EaP countries, the EU should adopt country-targeted “sticks” in the form of individual sanctions and assets freezing in case of proven breaches of the rule of law.
EU-EaP and Intra-EaP Cooperation: Ensuring Inclusiveness and Differentiation: The results of the online survey of Azerbaijani organisations suggest the most urgent and effective measure that the EU should support to enhance cooperation between Eastern partners whilst ensuring inclusiveness and differentiation in their relations with the EU is to support and promote internal organisational reshuffles in order to establish special departments on regional cooperation and the EaP within the national public administration, and support the establishment of the position of EaP ambassador (chosen by 37% of Azerbaijani respondents).
Boosting EU Visibility in the EaP Region: The results of the online survey of Azerbaijani organisations suggest the most urgent and effective measure that the EU should support to enhance the visibility of the EU in the EaP region is prioritising funding for local projects raising awareness about the EU in small towns and regions and going beyond EU-minded cohorts (chosen by 21% of Azerbaijani respondents).
Strengthening the Role of Civil Society: In Azerbaijan, CSOs’ impact on shaping public policy remains limited. Changes to NGO legislation in 2013-14 have dramatically weakened bona fide civil society organisations and have almost destroyed the civil society sector. The legal framework for transparency of decision-making and consultation with civil society is not well established, and the secondary legislation necessary for good implementation has not been adopted for government agencies. The decision-making process at the parliamentary level is also a subject of criticism due to non-transparent legislative processes that include sporadic public hearings and consultations, limited access to information, changes in the legislative agenda without notification of civil society experts and other relevant stakeholders (or last-minute notification). The Parliament’s rules of procedure await changes to incorporate transparency and CSO/citizen consultation for some time. This context makes it very difficult for CSOs to follow and shape the decision-making process consistently, and makes it easy for the government to adopt controversial legislative initiatives. Similarly, there are no precise procedures to ensure enforcement of transparency by local governments, and there is no monitoring mechanism for the enforcement of transparency legislation by these administrative units. The EU should closely monitor and support amendments to NGO legislation and the adoption of EU standards, as the biggest obstacle to the activities of civil society institutions in Azerbaijan remain the legislative changes of 2013-14.
The EaP CSF prepared its response to DG NEAR’s structured consultation on the future of the Eastern Partnership by launching a comprehensive process of internal consultation of its membership base. The internal consultation was based on three pillars: six in-country focus groups, four online focus groups and one online questionnaire combining qualitative and qualitative elements. Over 200 civil society organisations participated in at least one pillar of the consultation. The results presented below offer a detailed overview of the input received from Azerbaijan. A total of 31 Azerbaijani civil society organisations participated in the consultation process (1 or more pillars): 19 organisations took part in the online survey, 9 took part in the in-country focus group and 3 in the online focus groups.