Armenia still hopes to finalize an Association Agreement with the European Union next month despite its decision to join a Russian-led customs union, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Wednesday.
Addressing the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg, Sarkisian insisted on his proposal to conclude the agreement without its key free-trade component and thereby make it compatible with Armenian membership in the union.
“Even now we are ready to sign the Association Agreement with the EU,” he said. “But unfortunately, after our statement on joining the Customs Union our partners from the European Commission said that there is a direct contradiction between the Customs Union and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement [with the EU.]
“We suggested that we sign an Association Agreement envisaging mainly political reforms, and we are not only ready but also determined to carry out those reforms in our country. This process is now underway.”
“We will participate at the [EU’s November] summit in Vilnius, and our expectation is to make some changes in the negotiated document by that time,” added Sarkisian.
The European Commission as well some EU member states have until now rejected the idea of signing a significantly watered-down version of the Association Agreement. Visiting Yerevan last month, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the two sides should now start working on “a new legal framework” for their relationship. But he made clear that it is unlikely to be worked out in time for the Vilnius summit.
In a speech at the Strasbourg-based body that preceded his question-and-answer session with PACE members, Sarkisian stated that the Armenian government is keen to be “as close to Europe as possible.” “This policy will not be interrupted,” he said.
The Armenian leader went on to stress, however, that Yerevan will not seek to forge closer links with the EU “at the expense of relations with its strategic ally,” Russia. He claimed in that regard that the Kremlin did not force him to make what many analysts consider a foreign policy U-turn.
“No official from the Russian Federation or the Customs Union has said a single word about the need for [Armenian] membership in the union,” Sarkisian said. He said Armenia could not have stayed away from the Russian-led trade bloc while remaining part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization together with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.