Armenia still hopes to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union after deciding to join the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a senior Armenian diplomat said on Friday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian seemed to acknowledge, however, that this is unlikely to happen at the EU’s summit in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius scheduled for November 28-29.
“This is a process that needs time. We and the EU need to work together. I don’t want to say that there will be no Association Agreement. Why not? We are aspiring to it. But we need to work,” Mnatsakanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We may get what we are aspiring to and conclude an Association Agreement corresponding to our goals and the current situation,” he said, referring to an amended version of the wide-ranging accord.
Asked whether official Yerevan still hopes to have the deal initialed at the Vilnius summit, Mnatsakanian said, “We have to be cautious because this is not a process that can be expedited quickly. We should be careful and cautious and take things seriously. True, Vilnius is a very important milestone, but there is life after Vilnius, there are relations that will continue. So I would be careful not to get fixated on Vilnius.”
The Association Agreement envisaging Armenia’s inclusion into a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU was on course to be initialed at Vilnius until President Serzh Sarkisian’s September 3 announcement that Yerevan will seek membership of the Russian-led customs union. Mnatsakanian was the chief Armenian negotiator in the almost four-year association talks with the EU that were successfully concluded in July.
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, had repeatedly warned the Sarkisian administration that the DCFTA, the draft agreement’s dominant component, is “not compatible” with Armenian membership in the union. The commission effectively rejected last month an Armenian proposal to sign the association accord without the DCFTA-related provisions.
That a watered-down agreement will not be finalized at the upcoming summit was confirmed on Friday by Traian Hristea, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan. Hristea said the EU is currently trying to chart a new course for developing ties with Armenia.
“We need to understand what obligations Armenia is assuming with its accession to the customs union,” he told a gathering of Armenian non-governmental organizations promoting European integration. He said the EU is also seeking explicit assurances that the Armenian authorities remain committed to implementing political and economic reforms.
Hristea stressed at the same time that the Armenian entry into the Russian-led union will preclude the kind of a close relationship with the EU which the Sarkisian government hoped to forge at least until its about-face. He also made clear that Yerevan should now count on less economic aid from the EU. “These consequences should not be regarded as sanctions,” the diplomat said, adding that Brussels will continue supporting pro-democracy and anti-corruption initiatives in the country.