By Hrach Melkumian
The European Union signaled on Tuesday its increased attention to political reform in Armenia when its chief representative to the South Caucasus discussed the issue with senior Armenian officials.
Heikki Talvitie, in Yerevan on a regular fact-finding tour of the region, met with Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the two deputy speakers of the Armenian parliament. The anticipated inclusion of the three Caucasian states in the EU’s Wider European program of privileged ties with new neighbors was again high on the agenda of the talks.
Talvitie told RFE/RL that he discussed with vice-speakers Tigran Torosian and Vahan Hovannisian efforts to amend Armenia’s constitution and a controversial government bill on public gatherings pending debate in the National Assembly. The bill has been denounced by the Armenian opposition as aiming to restrict the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly ahead of its upcoming campaign of protests against President Robert Kocharian.
Torosian said he told Talvitie that the draft legislation “will fully correspond to European principles and standards” before it is passed by the parliament’s pro-Kocharian majority. He said it is currently being examined by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe which monitors legislative reforms in Armenia.
Unlike the Council of Europe, the EU until recently avoided close involvement in the promotion of Armenia’s democratization, largely focusing on its multimillion-euro economic assistance to the country. The bloc indicated last January its readiness to extend the Wider Europe Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Membership in the scheme would require commitments on both economic and political reform from the three ex-Soviet states.
A senior member of the Armenian parliament, Armen Rustamian, announced last week that Yerevan is ready to assume them. Torosian echoed the pledge. “It is obvious that we don’t pass this stage successfully, talk of a future membership of the European Union will remain a wishful thinking,” he told RFE/RL.
Oskanian, for his part, told the EU envoy that the Wider Europe strategy will facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere in the region. A Foreign Ministry statement said he and Talvitie had a “detailed” discussion on Karabakh. Talvitie also held a separate meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian who represents Armenia in Karabakh peace talks.