The European Union has postponed the start of negotiations with Armenia on the facilitation of visa procedures for Armenian citizens seeking to travel to EU member states, Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Kazinian said on Thursday.
Kazinian expressed her government’s “indignation” with reported EU plans to open such talks with Armenia and Azerbaijan at the same time later this year.
The easing of stringent visa rules for some categories of Armenia’s population is envisaged by the 27-nation bloc’s Eastern Partnership program covering six ex-Soviet states.
Each of those states is offered the prospect of much closer political and economic partnership with the EU to be formalized by comprehensive “association agreements.” Armenia and the EU launched the first round of association talks last July.
Kazinian said in November that Brussels will give Yerevan a formal “mandate” to start visa facilitation talks with the executive European Commission by the end of the year.
“Although they had promised that the mandate for starting negotiations will be presented to us at the end of last year, that has been delayed,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Thursday. “As things stand now, we are expected to get the mandate in September.”
“They [EU officials] linked the delay with changes in their internal procedures and the creation of a new [EU] foreign service,” Kazinian said.
The diplomat questioned this explanation, saying that the EU is reportedly planning to also launch similar negotiations with Azerbaijan this fall. She claimed that unlike the Azerbaijani government, the authorities in Yerevan have already met virtually all EU requirements for the start of the talks.
“Azerbaijan is lagging behind us,” said Kazinian. “Hence, our indignation with the fact that they are not starting to negotiate with us and want to link the process with another country. After all, it has been clearly stated by our European partners that relations with a particular country within the framework of Eastern Partnership will develop on the basis of progress made by it.”
According to Kazinian, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele apologized for the delay when he met with Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in Brussels last March. “I feel ashamed that it has taken that long,” she quoted Fuele as saying.
Visiting Yerevan late last month, Fuele praised Armenia for making “good progress” towards the signing of the association agreement. The Armenian government, for its part, reaffirmed its pledge to implemented wide-ranging reforms required by the Eastern Partnership.