By Armen Zakarian
The European Union has laid out the key political and economic objectives of Armenia’s inclusion last year on the list of nations eligible for a privileged relationship with the expanding bloc.
An official from the European Commission’s regional representation, Jacques Vantomme, said on Thursday that Armenia can expect a “significant intensification” of its political, economic and security ties with the EU as part of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). He presented the EU’s relevant “country report” that will serve as the basis of a plan of actions stemming from the program to be negotiated by the two sides.
The 30-page report is expected to be endorsed by the foreign ministers of the EU’s 25 member states later this month. “There will be a kind of mandate for the European Commission to start negotiations with the Armenian government to prepare that action plan,” Vantomme told reporters in Yerevan
“The European Neighborhood Policy gives us an opportunity to take relations with Armenia up a gear,” EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner is quoted as saying a statement attached to the report.
The document says the action plan should seek to promote democratic elections, the rule of law, respect for human rights, anti-corruption measures as well as further economic reforms in Armenia. It also reaffirms the EU demands for the closure of the Metsamor nuclear plant.
However, it does not specify what specifically needs to be done to speed up Armenia’s democratization. Unlike other pan-European organizations and the United States, the EU has so far had little involvement in political reform in the country. The union, for example, did not react to last spring’s dramatic events in Yerevan that prompted concern from international human rights watchdogs.
One of them, Human Rights Watch, accused the EU of doing little to prevent human rights abuses in Armenia. “Unfortunately, the EU failed to use [its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Armenia] publicly to encourage human rights improvements, issuing a press release that did not raise human rights concerns,” the said report.
Commenting on ENP, Vantomme singled out Metsamor’s decommissioning and the EU’s pledge to facilitate economic integration in the South Caucasus and the resolution of the regional conflicts. “The EU is increasing its regional engagement and becoming,” he said, adding that it will give “strong political support” the OSCE Minsk Group’s efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Neighborhood Policy, also known as ‘Wider Europe’, offers participating nations extensive cooperation in political, security and economic matters without the prospect of EU membership. The scheme was expanded last June to include all three South Caucasus states.
The most tangible benefit offered by it is unfettered access to the EU's vast and affluent internal market of more than 450 million consumers. Countries covered by the program will also be eligible for additional EU assistance.
EU officials made it clear last year that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will not be able to draw any material benefits until 2007. Each of them will have to negotiate the action plans by that time.
The EU has already provided 380 million euros ($500 million) worth of economic aid to Armenia since 1992.
(Photolur photo: Jacques Vantomme.)