Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Riga Summit and New Prospects for EU-Armenia Relations

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By Erik Davtyan (06/10/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Ahead of the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, possible perspectives of Armenia’s relations with the EU became one of the most discussed issues on Armenia’s foreign policy agenda. After Armenia decision in 2013 to decline initialing an Association Agreement with the EU, instead opting to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the two parties have decided to promote bilateral cooperation in a new format matching the new realities in the South Caucasus.

On May 11, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian received the political directors of Poland’s and Sweden’s Foreign Ministries, Yaroslav Bratkevich and Torbjörn Sohlström, who reportedly arrived in Yerevan to hold consultations in the lead-up to the Riga Summit. The interlocutors discussed issues relating to preparations for the Riga Summit. Nalbandian reaffirmed that Armenia aims to develop and deepen cooperation with the EU in different fields, given Armenia’s obligations under other international integration formats. Bratkevich and Sohlström represent the two EU member states that have played a key role in defining the EU’s new policy towards neighboring post-Soviet states. In 2008, the Swedish and Polish foreign ministers, Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski, presented the idea of creating an Eastern Partnership (EaP) between on the one hand the EU, and on the other Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Simultaneously, on May 11, Armenia’s permanent representative to the EU, Tatoul Margarian, met with the EU Commissioner for the European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, discussing the bilateral preparations on the eve of the EaP Riga Summit. Towards the summit, politologist Narek Galstyan expressed the view that the EU has changed its attitude towards the six post-Soviet republics and has adjusted its policy to follow a bilateral, rather than regional track. In other words, the EU has decided to take an individual approach towards all six states, including Armenia.

On May 21, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan paid a working visit to Latvia to take part in the summits of the European People’s Party and the EU’s Eastern Partnership. During the visit, President Sargsyan met with Latvia’s President Andris Bērziņš. The presidents praised the political dialogue between Armenia and Latvia, which has been developing in the spirit of mutual understanding, and the dynamics of interstate relations, and stressed the importance of boosting these dynamics. Bērziņš also considered Armenia’s decision to join the EEU pragmatic and welcomed Armenia’s balanced multilateral approach.

Sargsyan also met Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both Sargsyan and Merkel emphasized the fact that Armenia and Germany have significantly enlarged and enriched their cooperation agenda through around six dozen cooperation agreements. They also commented security issues in the South Caucasus, especially in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.

The Riga Summit, held on May 21-22, resulted in the signing of a declaration which touched upon a myriad of issues. In relation to Armenia, the declaration states that “Participants welcome the common understanding reached on the scope for a future agreement between the EU and Armenia aimed at further developing and strengthening their comprehensive cooperation in all areas of mutual interest.” The parties welcomed “the progress to date in the implementation of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements (VFA/RA) with Armenia” and expressed hope that the EU and Armenia will promote a visa dialogue, provided that “Armenia continues to ensure sustained progress in the full implementation of the VFA/RA.” The signing parties also underlined that “they look forward to the launching of negotiations on an EU-Armenia Aviation Agreement at the earliest opportunity.” The declaration also mentioned the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, reiterating “full support to the mediation efforts by the co-chairs of the Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including at the level of Presidents and their statements since 2009”.

Reacting to the Summit, EU Commissioner Hahn expressed his confidence in obtaining a mandate to start negotiations. The European Commission has issued a positive report on Armenia which stresses that “the EU and Armenia have reached an understanding on the scope of their future contractual relations that take into account the other international commitments of Armenia, in particular its decision to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).”

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