By Anna Saghabalian
Finland’s President Tarja Halonen ended a two-day official visit to Yerevan on Tuesday, pledging support for Armenia’s efforts to forge closer links with the European Union and stressing the importance of its democratization.
“We have discussed how Finland can help Armenia within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy,” she said after talks with President Robert Kocharian.
“I am happy to see that Armenia has a serious approach to European integration and think my counterpart too realizes that it creates many opportunities for his country but requires a great deal of efforts.”
Halonen was referring to Armenia’s inclusion last year in the program designed to promote privileged partnership between the EU countries and their immediate neighbors. Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian expressed hope that Finland will help Armenia benefit from the scheme and contribute to its broader European integration when it assumes the EU’s rotating presidency next year.
“We hope to receive more active support from the Finnish side during the drawing up of the action plan [for Armenia] stemming from the European Neighborhood Policy program,” Kocharian told a joint news conference with Halonen. He said he hopes Yerevan and Brussels will work out the plan by the end of this year.
Halonen said Finland supports the EU’s deeper involvement in the South Caucasus but stressed that it should be contingent on political reform in Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia. “Democracy, human rights, rule of law, good governance and social justice form the basis of a modern state,” she said. “We discussed these issues and I hope that the next [Armenian] elections will be viewed from that standpoint.”
The two leaders also discussed ways of expanding the presently modest bilateral commercial ties. The two governments are currently working on bilateral agreements on avoidance of double taxation and investment protection. Officials said the Finnish side is taking an interest in Armenia’s mining and information technology sectors.