This article examines the substance of the EU's democracy promotion activities in Central Asia. Although agreeing with the literature that EU self-interest calculations have shaped aspects of the EU's democratization policy in Central Asia, this article argues that the importance of other explanatory factors needs to be highlighted - in particular, the importance of the 'domestic context'. In assuming that the substance of the EU's democracy promotion activities differs between regions and countries, the article asserts that the EU does so in accordance with the varying resonance in the respective target states. It hypothesizes that, ceteris paribus, the greater the targeted country's openness and commitment to political liberalization, the more the EU will aim to support externally embedded, that is, broad, liberal democracy. Conversely, the smaller the targeted country's openness and commitment to political liberalization, the less emphasis the EU will put on the core aspects of democracy and the more it will promote narrow or shallow democracy.
Using the embedded democracy framework, the article finds that the relatively varying resonance among the five countries corresponds - in some ways - to the substance promoted by the EU. While not providing a conclusive test of what matters most - that is, either strategic considerations or the advancement of democratic norms - the analysis ascertains that the EU is adjusting the substance of its democracy promotion in Central Asia with some eye to the particular context of each country. As such, the EU does more to promote 'broad' liberal democracy in Kyrgyzstan, the most open and politically liberal country in the region. In Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, the EU puts less emphasis on the core components of democracy but pays similar attention to the context conditions. In Uzbekistan, the EU tends to promote shallow democracy, as it focuses mostly on the context conditions of democracy. In Turkmenistan, the most repressive and authoritarian country in Central Asia, the EU is least assertive in pressing its democratization agenda, promoting, at best, only limited aspects of democracy.European Foreign Affairs Review