By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia is ready to assume more commitments on political reform in return for its inclusion in the European Union’s “Wider Europe” program of privileged ties with new neighbors, a senior official said on Wednesday.
“Those fundamental commitments will naturally include issues of democracy, press freedom and related matters,” Armen Rustamian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, said, drawing parallels with Yerevan’s membership obligations to the Council of Europe.
Rustamian spoke at the end of a three-day meeting in Yerevan of a joint cooperation commission made up of members of the European Parliament and Armenia’s National Assembly. A concluding statement issued by them stresses the need for the democratization of Armenia’s political system and in particular a greater pluralism of its government-controlled electronic media. It also calls for the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The German co-chair of the commission, Ursula Schleicher, said Armenia should bring its political system and laws into conformity with EU standards if it is achieve closer ties with the bloc.
Inclusion in the Wider Europe scheme would be the first practical manifestation of such integration. The EU member states took what appeared to be the first step in that direction in January when they told the executive European Commission to look into the possibility of extending the scheme to all three South Caucasus states. The idea was backed by the European Parliament on February 26.
Meeting with Schleicher, President Robert Kocharian also welcomed the move. “It is a serious incentive for us to bring the country’s ongoing process of reforms and legislation up to European standards,” he said.
Armen Rustamian said participation in the Wider Europe will necessitate major changes in Armenia’s 1996 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU which serves as the legal basis for their relationship. Similar agreements were also signed by Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Rustamian did not specify to what specifically the Armenian authorities, strongly criticized by the West for their handling of last year’s elections and the 2002 closure of the country’s leading independent television, are ready to commit themselves.
(Photolur photo: Schleicher and Rustamian speaking at a joint news conference.)