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By Emil Danielyan
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian underlined his status as one of the most pro-Western members of the Armenian government at the weekend when he described Europe as his country’s political and cultural “home.”

“Armenia is Europe,” he declared in a speech in Italy released by his press service. “This is a fact, it’s not a response to a question.”

“I remember our discussions in Armenia, before our entry into the Council of Europe, Oskanian added. “There were many questions about the choice of path to take. Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. I’m happy to say I won’t be going there because I was among the loudest advocates of the European path.”

Oskanian was addressing hundreds of intellectuals, artists and businessmen in the Italian city of Verona after receiving a prestigious award from a local charity. An Armenian Foreign Ministry statement said the Grosso d’Oro Veneziano award was given to Oskanian in recognition of his “contribution to Armenia’s integration into European structures, to the deepening of Armenia-Italy ties, and for his active involvement in peace talks.”

Armenia’s leadership has declared “European integration” a top priority of its foreign policy and claims to be working hard to honor its membership commitments to the Council of Europe. Some Armenian officials, notably Oskanian, have gone so far as to predict Armenia’s eventual accession to the European Union.

In his speech, Oskanian made specific reference to Armenia’s inclusion last year in the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) that entitles it to a privileged relationship with the expanding bloc. “The European Neighborhood Policy brings Armenia back home since Armenia’s foreign policy priority is the gradual integration of Armenia into European institutions,” he said.

Officials from the EU’s executive European Commission have said Armenia as well as neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan can expect a “significant intensification” of its political, economic and security ties with the EU as part of the scheme. But they have made it clear that the ENP does not pave the way for their accession to the union.

Armenian and EU were scheduled to open this month negotiations on a plan of actions stemming from the ENP. However, the talks were put off indefinitely for what officials in Yerevan called “technical reasons.”

The action plan is expected to be based on a report which was released by the European Commission in March. The 30-page document calls for democratic elections, the rule of law, respect for human rights, anti-corruption measures as well as further economic reforms in Armenia. But it does not specify what concrete actions need to be taken by its government.
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