The European Union will not finalize an Association Agreement with Armenia at an upcoming summit because of Yerevan’s last-minute decision to join a Russian-led customs union, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele insisted on Friday.
Visiting Yerevan, Fuele effectively dismissed the Armenian government’s proposal to initial the agreement without its dominant component envisaging the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).
“The Association Agreement is actually one agreement, one treaty. It’s not two treaties,” he told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.
“They are two parts of one treaty that have been negotiated with our Armenian colleagues. There are clear links between those two parts; you can't separate just one at the expense of the other,” he said after attending a meeting in Yerevan of senior official from six former Soviet republics involved in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program.
Fuele made clear that while the EU stands ready to continue developing ties with Armenia through a “new legal framework” he is “skeptical” about the Armenian side’s desire to work it out in time for the EU summit in Vilnius slated for November. The summit can only be used for “launching this process,” he said.
The Armenian government offered to finalize a significantly watered-down version of the accord after President Serzh Sarkisian’s unexpected September 3 pledge to make Armenia part of the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Fuele appeared to dismiss this idea when he met with Nalbandian in Brussels last week. Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, a key sponsor of the Eastern Partnership, said afterwards that the Association Agreement with Yerevan is “now off the table.”
Fuele met with Sarkisian later on Friday. According to the presidential press office, Sarkisian said that his administration remains committed to deepening ties with the EU and implementing “large-scale reforms” required for that.
The Armenian leader has made no public statements since his decisive September 3 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The authorities in Yerevan were noncommittal on Armenian entry into the Russian-bloc until then. Observers have therefore suggested that Sarkisian was forced by the Kremlin into making the foreign policy U-turn.
Armenian officials have denied any Russian pressure, however. Fuele said heard similar assurances from them. But the EU official noted that other ex-Soviet states seeking European integration have complained of pressure from Moscow.
“Any threats from Russia aiming at the possible signing of agreements with the European Union are unacceptable. The European Union will support and stand by those who are subject to undue pressure,” Fuele said.
The European Commission has repeatedly made clear over the past year that membership in the customs union is “not compatible” with Association Agreements and the DCFTA in particular. Armenian leaders did not publicly object to this precondition until this month.
Nalbandian said on Friday that his government has told Brussels throughout the three-year association talks that it will not forge closer links with the EU “to the detriment of our allied relationship with Russia.”
Speaking to the Mediamax news agency ahead of his latest visit to Yerevan, Fuele said that Armenia first “directly informed” the EU about the possibility of its accession to the customs union only on August 31.