The head of a coalition of Armenian civic groups promoting European integration on Thursday dismissed as pointless the government’s desire to significantly water down a planned Association Agreement with the European Union.
President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration offered the EU on Wednesday to sign the agreement without its most important element envisaging the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). It said this would make the agreement compatible with Armenia’s plans to join the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The EU has said that membership in the Russian-led union would fundamentally contradict the DCFTA. It has not yet officially responded to the idea of a watered-down version of the association deal.
Boris Navasardian, the coordinator of the Civil Society Platform, an EU-sponsored grouping of several dozen Armenian non-governmental organizations campaigning for closer ties with the EU, scoffed at the Sarkisian administration’s compromise proposal. Navasardian said meaningful political association with the EU is impossible without the DCFTA because the free-trade arrangement would not only open up the EU market to Armenia but also require a radical reform of the Armenian business environment.
“We would thus remove the whole content of the association agreement contributing to the formation of a competitive environment. Without sorting out economic monopolies, illegal market quotas, and illegal use of state bodies in this process it’s impossible to solve problems with human rights and democracy and corruption,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The chief of President Sarkisian’s staff, Vigen Sargsian, argued on Wednesday that other chapters of the Association Agreement also envisage important reforms. The authorities in Yerevan are committed to their implementation, he said.
“If the Armenian authorities are committed to their promises and obligations to expedite democratic reforms in Armenia, let them do that without the Association Agreement,” countered Navasardian.
The authorities defended, meanwhile, the idea of a less far-reaching association deal. Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian said Armenian and EU officials are already discussing it.
“We are ready to sign the Association Agreement. That agreement is important to us,” he told journalists.
Kocharian reiterated government assurances that the decision to join the Russian-led union was not made under Russian pressure. He also claimed that President Sarkisian did not take the EU by surprise when he announced the move after Tuesday’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Before the visit to Moscow our European partners were informed that such an outcome is possible,” he said.