Armenia–European Union relations

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Euro-Armenian relations
Map indicating locations of European Union and Armenia

EU

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Armenia and the European Union have maintained positive relations over the years. Both parties are connected through the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, that was signed in 2017.[1] Armenian former Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandyan expressed confidence that the new partnership agreement would "open a new page" in EU-Armenia relations.[2] While, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini has concluded in June 2019, that the Armenia-EU relations are on “excellent” level.

Armenia-EU relations[edit]

Members of the Eastern Partnership

The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) (signed in 1996 and in force since 1999) serves as the legal framework for EU-Armenia bilateral relations. Since 2004, Armenia[1] and the other South Caucasus states have been part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). An ENP Action Plan for Armenia was published on 2 March 2005, "highlighting areas in which bilateral cooperation could feasibly and valuably be strengthened." The plan sets "jointly defined priorities in selected areas for the next five years." In November 2005, formal consultations on the Action Plan was opened in Yerevan.[3] However, most scholars and commentators have criticized the effectiveness of the ENP in facilitating reform objectives outlined in the Action Plan, especially in relation to democracy, corruption and civil society engagement.[4] Regardless, on January 12, 2002, the European Parliament noted that Armenia and Georgia may enter the EU in the future, as both countries are considered European.[5] Armenia entered the EU's Eastern Partnership in 2009.[1] Armenia is additionally a member state of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe, and takes part in various other European programs and treaties such as the European Cultural Convention, European Higher Education Area and the European Court of Human Rights, among others.

Armenia and the EU began negotiating an Association Agreement, which had included a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreement, to replace the old PCA in July 2010.[6] In November 2012, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle stated that the AA negotiations could be finalized by November 2013.[7] The new EU Centre in Armenia, set to become the European Union's communication hub, officially opened in central Yerevan on 31 January 2013.[8] However, on 3 September 2013 Armenia announced their decision to join the Eurasian Union.[9][10] According to EU politicians, Armenian membership in the Eurasian Customs Union would be incompatible with the agreements negotiated with the EU.[9][10] President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan stated at the 2 October 2013 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe session that Armenia was ready to sign the AA during the November 2013 Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, without the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area component of the agreement that contradicts Armenia's membership in the Eurasian Customs Union.[1][10][11] A spokesperson of EU Commissioner Füle responded a few days later by saying "No Armenia-EU document is being readied to be signed at a Vilnius summit" and “We’re trying to find routes for further cooperation with Armenia, based on the existing achievements”.[10] This was followed by other EU officials who echoed this statement.[12] No AA was ultimately initialled at the summit.[13] In December 2013, the Polish ambassador to Armenia said that the EU and Armenia were discussing a less in-depth bilateral agreement on their relations, and did "not rule out the possibility that it may be an association agreement in a different form".[14][15] In January 2015 the EU commissioner for European neighbourhood policy and enlargement Johannes Hahn stated that the EU was willing to sign a revised AA without free trade provisions.[16] Negotiations were launched in December 2015.[17]

Although Armenia's trade with EU states far exceeds that with Eurasian Union members Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan combined, Armenia is dependent on Russia for security.[1] Armenia's alliance with Russia, and its membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, is seen by Armenia as a counterbalance to Azerbaijan’s sharp hike in military spending (Azerbaijan bought tanks, artillery cannons and rocket launchers worth billions of US dollars from Russia in 2011, 2012 and 2013).[1][18][19] This is seen by Armenia as a threat given that the Nagorno-Karabakh War (an armed conflict that took place from 1991 to May 1994 between Armenia and Azerbaijan[20][21]) remains unresolved.[1] Russia (also) has a military presence in Armenia, the Russian 102nd Military Base is an active base located in the city of Gyumri.[1]

On February 24, 2017 Tigran Sargsyan, the Chairman of the Eurasian Economic Commission stated that Armenia's stance was to cooperate and work with both the European Union and the Eurasian Union. Sargsyan added that although Armenia is part of the Eurasian Union, a revised European Union Association Agreement between Armenia and the EU would be finalized shortly.[22]

On February 27, 2017 the European Union and Armenia finalized a new agreement on deepening their political and economic ties. The Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, was in Brussels and met with European Council President Donald Tusk and other high-ranking officials. The new Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement will expand and broaden the scope of relations between the EU and Armenia,[23] but will not be an Association Agreement.[24] It was signed by Armenia and all EU member states on 24 November 2017.[25][26]

Developments in 2017[edit]

On April 3, 2017 the Prime Minister of Armenia, Karen Karapetyan said that Armenia tends to become a bridge between the European Union, Eurasian Union, and other economic blocs. He also said Armenia's membership in the Eurasian Union will not affect its growing relationship with the EU.[27]

A new political alliance in Armenia, comprising several pro-Western parties, had campaigned on opposing further integration into the Eurasian Union and pledged to seek a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union in the Armenian parliamentary election, 2017.[28] After the 2017 election was held, the European External Action Service Spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said that the EU is committed to a stable, democratic and prosperous future for Armenia and that the EU would strengthen political dialogue and continue supporting economic and social reform in Armenia.[29] Meanwhile, the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, stated that Armenia seeks to build stronger ties with both Russia and the EU during an election speech.

On April 12, 2017 the Armenian Foreign Minister, Eduard Nalbandyan attended the EU Eastern Partnership and Visegrád Group meeting in Warsaw, Poland. The Minister stressed the importance of the Eastern Partnership and Armenia's relations with the EU. He touched upon the importance of interconnectivity on the European continent, beginning talks on visa liberalization, welcomed the decision to extend the Trans-European Transport Networks into Eastern Partnership countries, and Armenia's progress of joining the European Common Aviation Area. He also thanked the EU and the European Investment Bank for funding construction of modern highways and border crossing checkpoints with neighboring Georgia. The Minister stated that Armenia is a country willing to bring together the EU, Eastern Partnership states, and Eurasian Union members to foster economic growth and development.[30]

In May 2017, the delegation of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament met with the President of Armenia in Yerevan. The President said with satisfaction that in recent years Armenia has registered significant progress in the relations with the European Union. He also stated that the country is willing to expand the existing partnership with the EU in all possible areas.[31] Meanwhile, the Speaker of Parliament of Armenia stated that the EU remains one of Armenia's major partners and cooperation with the EU is based on a common value system, during the meeting.[32]

In August 2017, the Way Out Alliance; emerged as a liberal political alliance in Armenia and declared that it was a serious mistake for Armenia to join the Eurasian Union. Party leaders stated that discussions on leaving the Eurasian Union will be on the agenda of the alliance. The alliance has a Pro-European orientation and believes that Armenia should have signed an Association Agreement with the EU rather than joining the Eurasian Union.[33]

Developments in 2018[edit]

As a result of the 2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution, Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan announced on April 23 he would resign to maintain peace in Armenia following daily protests. The EU applauded the peaceful nature of the changes. While opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan advocated for Armenia's neutral position and positive relations with both the EU and Russia.[34] Pashinyan further stated that should he become Prime Minister, he would deepen relations with the EU and will do everything possible for Armenian citizens to be granted visa-free access to the Schengen Area. However, Pashinyan confirmed he would not withdraw Armenia's membership from the Eurasian Union, despite previous discussions questioning Armenia's membership.[35]

Following the 2018 Armenian parliamentary election, Nikol Pashinyan was appointed Prime Minister of Armenia. During his first speech as Prime Minister, Pashinyan declared that Armenians deserved to travel freely within Europe, a perk already enjoyed by other Eastern Partnership members Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini congratulated the new leader.[36]

Meanwhile, Bright Armenia emerged as an official opposition party, becoming the 3rd largest party in the National Assembly. Edmon Marukyan, the leader of Bright Armenia stated that if Armenia should continue its membership in the Eurasian Union—even to the detriment of national interests, the Bright Armenia party shall act as an opponent, and demand that appropriate measures be taken toward withdrawing Armenia from the Eurasian Union and to begin the first steps of EU accession negotiations without delay.[37]

Developments in 2019[edit]

In October 2019, the Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Avinyan stated that Armenia and the EU have a completely different level of relationship following the 2018 Armenian revolution. The Minister confirmed that the revolution strengthened ties between Armenia and the EU as both share the same democratic values. The Minister further stated that, "this new political situation is completely in line with the EU’s views". Avinyan also made clear that in the future, Armenia will have to deiced whether or not to pursue an EU membership bid. The Minister advised that any decision for Armenia to join the European Union would have to be brought before the people and that future accession of Armenia to the EU would only occur following Armenia's complete withdrawal from the Eurasian Union.[38]

Visa liberalization dialogue[edit]

Since 2013, European Union citizens enjoy visa-free travel to Armenia.[39]

On March 15, 2017 the former President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan announced that Armenia currently takes part in a number of EU agreements and programs and that the EU is an important partner. He also announced that Armenia will launch talks with the EU over establishing visa-free travel for Armenian citizens into the EU's Schengen Area soon.[40] Meanwhile, the Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Switalski stated that, the action plan for beginning visa liberalization between Armenia and the EU will be on the agenda of the next Eastern Partnership summit in 2017 and dialogue for visa-free travel will begin in early 2018. He stressed the importance of better connecting Armenia with the EU.[41] The Ambassador also stated that Armenian citizens could be granted visa-free travel to the EU by 2020.[42]

On April 10, 2018 the former deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia confirmed that the EU will soon provide Armenia with an action program to launch visa liberalization dialogue. The Minister further stated that Armenia has already been implementing preconditions for launching dialogue over visa liberalization.[43]

On 1 May 2018 the newly appointed Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan announced that Armenian citizens would be able to travel within the EU's Schengen Area visa-free in the nearest future.[citation needed]

On 24 August 2018 the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel during her meeting with the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan said “Georgian and Ukrainian citizens don’t need visa to enter the European Union, and we will do everything possible to reach visa liberalisation with Armenia as well.”[citation needed]

On January 18, 2019 the dialogue on visa liberalization was officially launched as part of Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement.[44]

Armenia-EU common aviation area[edit]

Armenia is a member of Eurocontrol, the European Civil Aviation Conference and a partner of the European Aviation Safety Agency. After the new Armenia-EU Partnership agreement was signed in February 2017, Armenia began negotiations to join the European Common Aviation Area. During the first round of talks in April 2017, the Head of Armenia's Civil Aviation Department stated that Armenia attaches great importance to joining the common aviation area and that this will allow Armenian and European airlines to further boost their activities and allow more European airlines to fly to Armenia.[45] The EU Delegation in Yerevan stated that the agreement will enable Armenia to have a stronger connection with Europe and the outside world and will open up new travel routes, while reducing travel costs for passengers. Once the agreement is finalized, airlines will have the opportunity to operate new routes without any limitations and enjoy equal opportunities of servicing a market with a population of 500 million.[46]

Armenia-EU trade[edit]

Armenia benefits from the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+) trading initiative. This offers Armenian exports advantageous access to the EU market by allowing complete duty suspension across approximately 66% of all EU tariff lines. More than 96% of EU imports eligible for GSP+ preferences from Armenia entered the EU with zero duties in 2017. The EU is Armenia's biggest export market, trade with the EU accounts for around 26.7% of Armenia's total trade.[47] EU-Armenia trade increased by 15% in 2018 reaching a total value of €1.1 billion.[48]

EU assistance to Armenia[edit]

The EU is the biggest provider of financial support and a key reform partner in Armenia.[48] As part of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Armenia benefits from EU financial assistance. The amount allocated to Armenia depends on Armenia's commitment to reforms. Certain EU reform targets need to be met before money is paid. The planned amount of EU assistance to Armenia for the period 2017-2020 is up to €185 million.[49][50]

Public opinion[edit]

A December 2006 public opinion poll in Armenia found that EU membership would be welcomed, with 64% out of a sample of 2,000 being in favour and only 11.8% being against.[51] Another poll conducted in the Armenian capital Yerevan in October 2006 suggested that "as many as 72% of city residents believe, with varying degrees of conviction, that their country's future lies with the EU rather than the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)."[51] Still, more than two-thirds of the country's population believed that Armenia would not be ready to join the EU until at least 2019.[51]

A 2007 opinion poll indicated an increase in Armenian EU interest, with 80% of the Armenian public favoring eventual membership.[52]

According to a 2012 opinion poll, 54% (26% strong support+28% rather support) of Armenians supported Armenia's membership in the EU.[53]

The 3 September 2013 decision by Armenia to join the Eurasian Union sparked a series of protests in Yerevan against the action, as many feared that Russia was trying to stop Armenia from building a deeper relationship with the EU just as they had tried to do in Ukraine leading to the Euromaidan demonstrations.[1] Eurasia Partnership Fund director Gevorg Ter-Gabrielyan stated that, "We need to fight against Russian interference" however, he also acknowledged that,“The [Armenian] public largely supports joining with Russia. Plus they don’t like the EU, which they see as a source of perverted values,” he added “They love Russia, at least insofar as the monster you know is better than one you don’t”.[1]

According to a 2017 Gallup opinion poll conducted in Armenia, support for the EU increased significantly with 27.2% of those surveyed favoring EU integrating over other development paths.[54]

According to the 2018 survey by EU NEIGHBOURS east project:[55]

  • Pro-EU sentiments are rising in Armenia; 48% of Armenians have a positive image of the EU, the same as in 2017. The number of persons with negative opinions of the EU is just 8%.
  • 80% of Armenians (up 4% on 2017) feel relations with the European Union are good - well ahead of the regional average (63%).
  • 70% of people in Armenia trust the EU (up 5% on 2017), while trust in the Eurasian Economic Union (48%) has declined.
  • 69% of Armenians (up 4% on 2017) are aware of the EU's financial support to the country, and two thirds feel that EU support is effective (66% - up from 62% in 2016 and compared to a regional average of 48% in the Eastern Neighbourhood countries).

Individual opinions[edit]

There is a lot of interest in Armenia eventually joining the European Union, especially among several prominent Armenian politicians[56] and the general public in Armenia.[51] However, former President Robert Kocharyan, has said he will keep Armenia tied to Russia and the CSTO for now, remaining partners, not members of the EU and NATO.[57] Former President Serzh Sargsyan took a similar position to this issue.

According to Artur Baghdasarian, head of the Rule of Law party and former speaker of the National Assembly, Armenian membership in the European Union "should be one of the key priorities" of the country's "present and future foreign policy." Baghdasarian believes that "EU membership will open new avenues for Armenia to move to a new geopolitical milieu as well as a new economic environment." He also added that it "will enable Armenia to have access to a completely new security system."[56]

Armenia's former Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanyan reiterated in 2005 that "Armenia is Europe. This is a fact, it's not a response to a question.".[58] Torben Holtze, head of the European Commission's representation in Armenia and Georgia and Ambassador of the European Union with residence in Tbilisi, stated recently: "As a matter of principle, Armenia is a European country and like other European states it has the right to be an EU member provided it meets necessary standards and criteria."[59] On 12 January 2002, the European Parliament noted that Armenia and Georgia may enter the EU in the future.[59]

Hovhannes Hovhannisyan said there is a quite strong opinion in Armenia that the country's future lies with Europe. “There is no talk about Asia,” he said, adding that Armenian society considers itself European and celebrates its European origins and values. He also said Armenia shares a significant history with Europe because Armenian comes from the same language family as many European languages.[60]

Mikael Minasyan, Armenia's Ambassador to the Holy See and Malta stated that "Armenia and Europe are, first and foremost, united by our common values. Armenia, Artsakh and Armenian people worldwide have been, and are, inalienable part of European civilization and the Eastern border of the Christian world".[61]

In March 2019, the Vice Speaker of the Parliament of Armenia Alen Simonyan stated, "Over the past 28 years following its independence Armenia, adhered to pan-European values and continues building its cooperation in the European direction," during a ceremony dedicating a section of Northern Avenue as "Europe Square".[62]

In July 2019, the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian stated that “Armenia is not only a country that signed an agreement with the European Union, but also a country that is and has always been deeply European in terms of culture. Therefore, coming closer to the EU is very natural for us. Armenia is a cradle of European values, from our religion and culture to literature and music,” during a meeting with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk in Yerevan.[63] In return, Donald Tusk stated that “Armenia is an integral part of the European family and culture. A place of authentic people who cherish freedom. Sevanavank is a monument that testifies to Armenia's millennia-old imprint on Europe’s culture.”[64]

Pro-EU political parties[edit]

There are several political parties in Armenia which advocate for closer relations with the EU or support Armenia's EU membership. These include:

In contrast, Prosperous Armenia is the main Euroskeptic party in Armenia. The party advocates for maintaining strong relations with Russia and is currently the second largest party in the National Assembly.

EU membership perspective[edit]

Armenia is geographically located between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. However, like Cyprus, it has been regarded by many as culturally associated with Europe because of its connections with European society, through a diaspora, its Indo-European language and a religious criterion of being Christian. On January 12, 2002, the European Parliament noted that Armenia may enter the EU in the future.[72]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Armenia, EU initial mutual agreement on partnership, Global Times, 3 March 2017
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  4. ^ Smith, NR (2011), "Europeanization through socialization? The EU's interaction with civil society organizations in Armenia", Demokratizatsiya, 19 (4): 385.
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External links[edit]