Armenia Maneuvers Between Dependence and Cooperation

Armenia_EU Armenia-EU relations enter a new stage.

On Monday December 7, the European Union and Armenia officially launched their framework for cooperation. The announcement came from Brussels by Foreign Minister of Armenia Edward Nalbandian along with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the Commission.

The announcement characterized the framework as “a new, promising page in the Armenia-EU mutually beneficial relations” and stated that the priorities of the common agenda include “improvement of the framework for enhanced trade and investments, and increased sectoral cooperation.”

This is not the first attempt to forge deeper relations between the EU and Armenia. In September 2013, after over three years of negotiations towards an Association Agreement and a Deep Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement, President Sargsyan abruptly decided to join the Russian-led Customs Union. This later morphed into Eurasian Economic Union, which Armenia joined as a full member in January 2015. This decision was largely due to Armenia’s military and energy dependence on Russia.

In an interview with CivilNet in October 2015, Piotr Switalski, Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, stated that as long as there is improvement in Armenia of common European values — including rule of law, eradication of corruption, fair economic principles and respect of basic freedoms — then this basis of common values will remain strong irrespective of what kind of economic, political, or military alliances Armenia will join.

Switalski also reiterated that “there is no hidden agenda” — that the EU is simply interested in having the best possible relations with its neighbors and helping Armenia to modernize, no matter how far it is from EU borders. He believes that in the long term, “tensions will be overcome because strategically, the European Union and Russia will have to restore good and constructive relations on the basis of common values, because that’s a strategic necessity.”

Monday’s announcement mentioned that the ‘yes’ vote of the Sunday’s referendum for constitutional reform was an important step towards launching this new framework. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe considers the reform to be of “extremely high quality” and “in line with international standards.” Interestingly, this does not line up with the findings of the European Platform for Democratic Elections, which found the referendum vote to be illegitimate due to manipulation of voter lists, ballot box stuffing, and intimidation of citizen observers and journalists.

More agreements will be signed in the coming days that will join Armenia into several EU programs. These include the financial instruments “Horizon 2020” and the Program for Competitiveness of Small and Medium Enterprises (COSME), as well as the US-EU Open Skies Agreement that will liberalize the airline market. It will also be necessary to enable Armenian citizens to travel freely in Europe without visas.

Time will tell how Armenia manages itself between its dependence on Russia and this growing cooperation with Europe.