Azerbaijan’s 2024 Chairmanship of GUAM: Opportunity for Greater Regional Cohesion
Author: Josephine Freund
Jan 18, 2024
As Ukraine passes the baton of chairmanship of GUAM to Azerbaijan for 2024, this begs the question of what is in store for the organization in the next year, given significant changes undergone by the organization’s members. In the past year, members Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have been granted EU candidate status and Azerbaijan has experienced a significant territorial victory.
The GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) Organization for Democracy and Economic Development was founded in 1997 with the aim of “strengthening of democratic values, ensuring the supremacy of law and respect for human rights; ensuring sustainable development; strengthening international and regional security and stability; deepening European integration for the creation of a common security space and the enlargement of economic and humanitarian cooperation; developing of socio-economic, transport, energy, scientific, technical and humanitarian potential; stimulating of political interaction and practical cooperation in fields of mutual interest.” Uzbekistan was also a member of GUAM from 1999-2005.
Ukraine, as chair of GUAM in 2023, prioritized safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states, fostering new economic opportunities, enhancing trade between European and Asian markets, supporting the full functionality of the free trade zone, collaborating with the European Commission on transport corridor matters, and streamlining customs procedures.
Azerbaijan assumed its chairmanship of GUAM on January 1 and outlined energy security, transport and trade as key areas of focus for this year for the organization. Azerbaijan was also chair of the organization in 2020 and placed emphasis on similar objectives for that year as well.
Azerbaijan’s 2024 chairmanship of GUAM puts it in a unique position to foster better regional cohesion. That is, through this organization, Azerbaijan is linked to three countries that now have ongoing EU membership talks in place (Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine). Azerbaijan has also been instrumental in fostering cohesion with the five Central Asia countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), with membership in the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) and also notably with it’s the Central Asian Leaders’ Summit in Dushanbe in September 2023. With strong ties with both EU-adjacent countries and Central Asian countries, Azerbaijan will have the opportunity as Chair of GUAM to enhance the connection between both regions. This linkage will also come with increased standards for the latter countries.
With Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine on the path to EU ascendency, this means that the countries will have to refine their own standards of operation to meet the EU’s demanding acquis communautaire (the collective standards of the European Union), especially in their economic practices, to ultimately join the single market. To this end, as the only country in the GUAM Organization that is not seeking EU membership, Azerbaijan will still have to examine its own internal practices so as to still be able to main the strong economic dealings that it has had with these countries. So too will the countries of Central Asia. However, this could also act as a pull factor for Azerbaijan. As the three countries shift closer to Europe, this also bears the risk of isolating Azerbaijan from this grouping in practice.
While these countries on the pathway to EU membership may seem daunting to neighboring countries, in some ways creating a divide of sorts, it is also an opportunity to develop more streamlined policies compatible with the needs of neighboring Europe. Especially with an increasingly belligerent Russia, it would behoove Azerbaijan and the countries of Central Asia to also foster stronger economic links to the EU, as well as Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
While Azerbaijan’s 2024 chairmanship will certainly be useful for regional cohesion in terms of energy security and developing transport links, it begs the question if this could be an opportunity to serve as a bridge between the two regions, or if the organization will be less cohesive due to structural changes of the countries.