Senior officials from the European Union and Armenia shed little on the uncertain future of their relationship on Monday after discussing it Brussels in the light of the planned Armenian entry into a Russian-led customs union.
The EU enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, only reaffirmed EU support for political and economic reforms promised by the Armenian authorities.
Fuele, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania, the outgoing holder of the EU presidency, and his Armenian counterpart Edward Nalbandian spoke to journalists after presiding over an annual session of the EU-Armenia Cooperation Council. The meeting took place less than two weeks after an EU summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius that formalized the collapse of a planned Association Agreement with Yerevan.
Fuele spoke of a “difference in the content of our discussions” resulting from President Serzh Sarkisian’s recent decision to make Armenia part of the Russian-led bloc. “But what remains the same, and I would like to underline that, is our desire and resolve to continue to have a close relationship and even take it forward based on what we have achieved so far. In this light, we have reconfirmed the need to revisit the basis for our bilateral relations,” he told the joint news conference.
“We have welcomed progress on reforms in Armenia and Armenia’s commitment to continue on this path. At the same time, we have encouraged the acceleration of the efforts in specific areas, notably democracy and the rule of law, anti-corruption, human rights, fundamental freedoms and judicial reform,” Fuele said.
“The way forward for EU-Armenia relations in the new context has been outlined. Now we have to start work to make it reality,” added the commissioner.
For his part, Nalbandian said that Yerevan will carry on with its “active engagement” in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program covering six former Soviet republics. Armenia and the EU share “common values” and should deepen their ties “in all possible areas,” he said.
Nalbandian welcomed the forthcoming entry into force of a visa facilitation agreement that should make it easier for Armenians to travel to the European Union. He said Yerevan hopes that further negotiations with Brussels will eventually lead to the abolition of visa requirements for Armenian nationals.
A joint statement issued by Nalbandian and EU foreign and security policy chief Catherine Ashton at Vilnius said that the two sides will not sign the Association Agreement “due to Armenia’s new international commitments.” It remains unclear whether they will try to negotiate a less ambitious agreement anytime soon.