EU Evaluates Armenia Reforms in 2013

On March 27, the “European Neighborhood Policy Annual Package” was published – a report that is part of the Joint Communication “Neighborhood at the Crossroads: Implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy,” which includes separate country and regional reports. The report on Armenia underscores important developments, steps taken towards reform implementation, as well as recommendations for the following year.

According to the Armenian report titled “Implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy in Armenia, Progress in 2013 and recommendations for action,” numerous discussions took place between the EU and the Armenian government last year. In July 2013, the EU and Armenia completed negotiations on an Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA), however the parties could not proceed with initializing the agreement in light of Armenia’s decision to join the Eurasian Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, the EU and Armenia issued a joint declaration at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013 outlining a process to establish the nature of future bilateral relations within the framework of the new limitations involved in Customs Union membership.

The report specifically states: “Both Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements were ratified in 2013 and entered into force on January 1, 2014. While Armenia continues to address human rights issues and challenges to fundamental freedoms, further work remains necessary, particularly in the area of implementation and enforcement of legislation. The February 2013 presidential elections were considered generally well-administered and respectful of fundamental freedoms, although some concerns were raised which questioned the integrity of the electoral process. Although reform efforts continue, public mistrust of the judicial system remains high and anti-corruption measures do not seem to be very effective, including among the police and judiciary. There were numerous and consistent allegations regarding the routine use of torture and ill-treatment in police custody.”

According to the package Armenia has addressed some of the key recommendations outlined in the ENP progress report for 2012. Specifically it has adopted equal rights legislation with the goal of enhancing opportunities for both men and women. However the legislation lacks a mechanism for complaints and redress. Although state and judicial reforms have been insignificant, steps have been undertaken to reform electoral laws, to fight corruption and to protect human rights.

On the basis of this year’s report and with an eye toward sustained implementation of the ENP Action Plan in 2014, recommendations have been given to Armenia to: cooperate with and protect civil society; investigate cases of attacks on and intimidation of human rights defenders and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice; implement the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations concerning elections, in particular ensure a level playing field for all candidates and avoid the use of administrative resources for electoral purposes; ensure pluralism in broadcast media; fully investigate the deaths that occurred during clashes following the March 2008 presidential elections and the allegations of ill-treatment in police custody; finalize the draft Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religion; ensure respect for the principle of non-discrimination and adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation; continue the reform of public administration; intensify the prevention of and the fight against corruption; intensify reforms of the judiciary and law enforcement; strengthen the implementation of governance reforms; work toward the earliest possible closure of the Medzamor nuclear power plant as well as speed up the implementation of the roadmap on energy efficiency toward a target of 30% of generated energy to be from renewable sources; step up efforts toward agreement on the Madrid Principles, as a basis for peace, in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan within the Minsk Group; refrain from actions and statements that could heighten tensions and undermine the peace process; promote an environment conducive to progress within the conflict settlement process, encourage and support related peace building activities; ensure unimpeded access for EU representatives to Nagorno-Karabakh and to surrounding regions in support of conflict transformation activities complimenting the efforts of the Minsk Group.