By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian government has set up a special high-level body tasked with coordinating its policy on the European Union and promoting closer ties with the bloc, a senior official said on Friday.
“The government has decided to create a commission that will develop a national program of implementing the [Armenia-EU] Partnership and Cooperation Agreement,” Samvel Mkrtchian, head of the European directorate at the Armenian Foreign Ministry, told RFE/RL.
“We still have large room for developing our relations within the framework of that partnership agreement,” he said, referring to the document which was signed in 1999. He said the commission is headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and comprises senior representatives of “all ministries and government agencies that deal with the European Union in one way or another.”
The agreement provides the legal framework for Armenia’s political and economic relationships with the EU. One of its key stated aims to promote democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights in the country. The EU has signed similar arrangements with neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Mkrtchian acknowledged that the increased urgency of putting that agreement into practice results from the recent inclusion of Armenia and the two other South Caucasus states in the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy of privileged relations with its immediate neighbors. The move raised the prospect of increased EU assistance to the three impoverished nations and their easier access to the world’s wealthiest single market.
But European diplomats have been at pains to caution that none of those countries will be able to draw material benefits from the scheme before 2007. They say each of them will have to agree with the EU separate “action plans” on economic and political reforms that will determine the extent of their integration with the union.
According to Mkrtchian, the EU, for its part, is to come up with an “assessment document” detailing Armenia’s reform priorities. “That assessment will serve as a basis for the action plan,” he explained.