The European Union and Armenia are inching closer to finalizing their Association Agreement in time for a key summit due in November, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele said during a visit to Yerevan on Wednesday.
Fuele met President Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian to discuss preparations for the EU summit that will take place in Vilnius. The summit will focus on the Eastern Partnership program offering six former Soviet republics political and economic association with the 28-nation union falling short of full membership.
Fuele confirmed that Armenia and the EU are on track to initial the Association Agreement in the Lithuanian capital. “I have confidence that we are able to overcome the last one or two issues, which are there, during the summer. I have no doubt about that,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian (Azatutyun.am).
The wide-ranging agreement envisages, among other things, the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) that will require Armenia to bring much of its legislative framework into conformity with EU laws and regulations. As Fuele put it, the deal will “build more of the EU in Armenia.”
The EU commissioner spoke after a meeting with local civil society representatives. Some of them asked him about what is widely seen as Russia’s unease over Armenia’s desire to integrate with the EU and reluctance to join a new Russian-led bloc of ex-Soviet states. A senior Russian diplomat warned this week that Yerevan risks undermining the traditionally close Russian-Armenian relations.
Fuele declined to directly comment on the alleged Russian pressure. He insisted only that the association accord will not hamper further development of Armenia’s ties with Russia.
Fuele also called for more “concrete steps” in the Armenian authorities’ stated efforts to reform the country’s political and economic systems.
Another senior EU official said that Armenian leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to such reforms and that Brussels is “upbeat” about their implementation. “Armenia has simply no other choice,” the official told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Sarkisian was cited by his press office as telling Fuele that his administration is determined to give “new impetus to large-scale reforms implemented in the country in a number of directions.” But he indicated that Yerevan expects greater economic assistance from the EU in return.
Armenian opposition groups claim that Sarkisian remains disinterested in democratization and the rule of law because that would threaten his hold on power. Unlike the EU, they are also highly critical of the Armenian authorities’ handling of recent presidential and parliamentary elections. Fuele is scheduled to meet with opposition leaders in Yerevan on Thursday.