By Anna Saghabalian
Armenian and European diplomats have worked out a five-year plan of actions that will enable Armenia to forge much closer links with the European Union conditional on sweeping democratic reforms, it was announced on Monday.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his visiting Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomioja, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, announced the “successful outcome” of nearly year-long negotiations on Yerevan’s participation in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) program. The scheme is designed for the bloc’s immediate neighbors committed to political and economic reforms.
“The European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan is a significant step towards an increasingly close relationship between the EU and Armenia, going beyond co-operation, to involve a significant measure of economic integration and deepening of political co-operation,” Oskanian and Tuomioja said in a joint statement. “The European Union and Armenia are determined to make use of this occasion to enhance their relations and to promote prosperity, stability, and security.”
The statement said the document will be signed in Brussels on November 14 and will not be made public until then. Speaking at a joint news conference, the two men said its implementation will be contingent on a democratization of Armenia’s political system and the Armenian government’s improved human rights record.
“The action plan that we are going to sign once again reaffirms Armenia’s commitment to the fundamental European values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” Tuomioja said. “We encourage Armenia to continue to follow this chosen path.”
The Finnish official admitted that this means, among other things, holding elections recognized as free and fair by the EU. “Armenia is aware that we all have to live up to our obligations, and if there are deficiencies [in the conduct of the next Armenian elections] they will be noticed and there will be consequences,” he said, echoing warnings issued by other EU officials.
Oskanian confirmed that the action plan commits Yerevan to preventing serious fraud that marred just about every election held in Armenia since independence. He said Tuomioja made it clear to him that a repeat of such irregularities would jeopardize Armenia’s participation in the ENP. “We do realize that there would be consequences because democracy and human rights are part of this plan,” he said.
The Armenian government’s stated commitment to democratization and other political reforms will be put to the test during parliamentary elections that are due to take place early next year. Their proper conduct is also essential for the disbursement of $265 million in additional economic assistance to Armenia promised by the United States.
The ENP does not offer participating nations, among them neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia, the prospect of accession to the EU. Asked whether Armenia will seek EU membership after implementing its action plan, Oskanian said, “Today we are so far from being ready for membership that it is pointless to talk about that now.”