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Energy Rich, Democracy Poor: New Freedom House Study Shows Growing Governance Gap in Countries of the FSU
Energy rich states in the EU's Eastern Neighborhood demonstrate an alarming decline in democracy and accountability, a major study by Freedom House released today shows. As those states' energy resources are becoming more strategically important for Europe, this trend suggests uncertainty ahead both for energy providers and consumers.
The Freedom House study Nations in Transit 2006, released today, evaluates key indicators that track the movement of countries toward or away from democracy. This year's report shows that while states such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan are increasing their economic influence based on energy resources, they are plagued by weak institutions, deteriorating governance standards, worsening media and judicial freedom, and rising corruption.
Experts at a policy briefing today in Berlin explored what the poor condition of governance in these key energy producing states implies for Europe, and encouraged European policy makers to emphasize policies that support good governance and democratic accountability in these countries.
"National leaders in these countries appear not to understand that improving accountability will provide what citizens want - prosperity and rule of law - and would give their states more options internationally," said Nations in Transit editor Jeannette Goehring. "Instead, they are taking advantage of high energy prices by building authoritarian regimes that are unresponsive to their citizens and unreliable in the international sphere," she added.
Russia warrants particular attention because its position and influence give it enormous implications for the former Soviet region. "In Russia, the new oligarchy is state officials," said Ivan Krastev, contributor to the study and chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies think tank based in Sofia, Bulgaria. "The transition has been from a one-party state to a one-pipeline state," he said, referring to Russian state takeover of the country's largest energy company. "People need transparency and legitimacy as a basis for long-term economic growth."
Anita Orban, deputy director of the International Centre for Democratic Transition (ICDT), based in Budapest, added, "Corruption is a disease. When a substantial portion of a country's income comes from the sale of one natural resource and the price is high, there is considerable risk and temptation on the part of state officials. Even though there is talk in some of these countries of creating funds from energy sale revenues, the question remains who will supervise the funds and whether they will be transparent."
Nations in Transit rates national and local governance, media and judicial independence, electoral process, civil society, and corruption for 29 countries and territories in the EU and its Eastern Neighborhood. The report is available online.
Freedom House Europe and the Robert Bosch Stiftung co-hosted the briefing event in Berlin.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.