Germany’s ambassador to Armenia urged the authorities in Yerevan on Thursday to publicly explain in more detail their “surprise” decision to join a Russian-led customs union instead of moving much closer to the European Union.
Reiner Morell also made clear that the onus is on the Armenian leadership to determine the future of its relationship with the EU.
“It’s only natural that when you have difficult decisions ahead of you, you would propose that for discussion … as we do it now,” Morell told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Things have to be discussed. People want to know … why they should go in a particular way and what are the pros and cons. The more you explain, the more convincing you are.”
“Maybe that will happen now because I have heard that there are now working groups installed [by the Armenian government] and they will discuss things,” he said. “But this is first of all [will be done] internally. Maybe there will also be discussions within the civil society or within the population.”
President Serzh Sarkisian has made no public statements on the issue since announcing his decision to make Armenia part of the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan customs union during a September 3 trip to Moscow. He has left it to his ministers and political allies to explain the wisdom of the move. Their assurances that membership of the union will be good for the country have been short of specifics, however.
Morell confirmed that Sarkisian’s decision took the EU and Germany in particular by surprise as it came over a month after Armenia and the EU concluded nearly four-year negotiations on a far-reaching Association Agreement. “September 3 changes a lot,” he said. “It’s a U-turn because we were in negotiations, everything was ready and we were sure that [the Association Agreement] will be signed. Now they say, ‘You know, we are going in the other way.’”
Morell stressed at the same time that the EU respects the Sarkisian government’s choice and is ready to “stay engaged” in the South Caucasus state because “the Armenian people are very close to our heart and to the European values.” But he said Yerevan should now decide how close it wants that rapport to be.
“I would say that the ball is in Armenia’s side because they have to tell us what the red lines are,” added the diplomat.
The EU has already rejected an Armenian proposal to significantly water down the Association Agreement to make it compatible with Armenian membership in the Russian-led bloc. The European Commission has said it is willing to discuss a different “new legal framework” for EU-Armenia ties.
“It will take a long time to again achieve common ground,” Morell said in that regard. “We can’t just say, ‘Let’s sit down [for fresh talks] and tomorrow we’ll have a new paper.”