» EUROPEAN INTEGRATION
In recent years Azerbaijan has been slowly (although not always coherently) pursuing an “evolutionary” reform strategy to develop democracy and a market economy in the country and to bring Azerbaijan closer to the EU. However, much remains to be done in the coming years. The principal objective of cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan is to develop an increasingly close relationship, going beyond past levels of cooperation to gradual economic integration and deeper political cooperation. This process of Azerbaijan’s integration with Europe, however, is being challenged by poor understanding of European standards and values. In addition, limited public awareness on EU-Azerbaijan relations and EU institutions undermines sustained engagement of civil society in the country’s development. The lack of understanding and involvement of independent experts and civil society representatives renders the reflection of civil society views in the process of European integration.
In order to strengthen relations between the EU and six partner countries, the European Commission launched Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative in 2009. The EaP seeks to bring partners countries closer to the EU while promoting economic development, stability and good governance. EaP envisaged the development of new contractual relations, with the ultimate goal of establishing an Association Agreement with the EU and established a new forum to share experiences on reforms and exchange best practices. To ensure successful implementation, four thematic platforms of experts covering questions in relation to democracy, good governance, stability, economic integration and convergence with EU policies, energy security and contact between people were established within EaP.
EaP is the first initiative that puts a special emphasis on civil society engagement in the form of the Civil Society Forum. This mechanism provides civil society with a crucial opportunity for civil society to make their voice heard provides space for engagement and thus, makes Eastern Partnership a multilevel effort. To monitor and facilitate the process, the EaP National Platform was established. In addition, the Azerbaijan National Committee for European Integration (ANCEI) was established by well-known experts in the field.
EPF’s project aimed to facilitate dialogue between government, businesses and civil society on the most important issues related to integration of Azerbaijan with Europe and to raise awareness on those issues. Activities in this program promoted collaboration and build consensus on ENPAction Plan (AP) implementation issues among different stakeholders, facilitate improved policy and compliance with ENP commitments, and work to create the conditions for a new Association Agreement (AA). The program focused on issues of trade liberalizationthe , convergence of economic legislation and administrative practices, visa issues, energy and security and adapt the program emphasis as other issues and themes come up.
• Conduct seminars and public discussions: EPF organized quarterly seminars and public discussions on the priorities of the ENP AP, EaP and AA negotiations process. These seminars were open to students and young scholars. EPF invited leading experts in the field to lead the seminars.
• Journalist trainings: EPF improved public understanding of European integration issues through the media, especially by training journalists in specific topics (in accordance with the topics for roundtables and policy discussions). EPF attempted to include the same journalists throughout the program to develop a comprehensive understanding of European integration issues.
• PR campaign: EPF promoted wide public discussion about the ENP, EaP and the AA through 2 TV or radio talk shows and at least 5 publications in major print and web-based media outlets.
• Development of policy briefs: EPF facilitated the work of a National Committee on EU Integration and the National Platform’s working groups. EPF contributed to the preparation of policy recommendations to be submitted to the government, European institutions and general public. EPF maintained and broadened the cooperative relationship with major decision-makers in relevant fields to enhance lobbying activities.