The European Union has pledged to provide between 140 million and 170 million euros to Armenia for private-sector, public administration, and justice reforms over the next three years.
The commitment is contained in a memorandum of understanding launching the Single Support Framework for EU support to Yerevan that was signed in Brussels on November 3 by newly appointed Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn and Armenian Economy Minister Karen Chshmaritian.
“The EU and Armenia are committed to continuing cooperation in areas of mutual interest based on shared values,” Hahn said, on his first official working day as commissioner. “We support the country’s modernization efforts and we will continue encouraging necessary reforms in Armenia.”
The deal represents the most significant agreement between the European Union and Armenia since Yerevan decided to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. That decision, announced by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian in Moscow in September 2013, effectively put an end to years of negotiations between Yerevan and Brussels to conclude an Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) component.
Hahn also announced the first package of EU assistance for 2014 under the new Single Support Framework. The fresh funding of 19 million euros (about $23.8 million) will focus on small businesses and human rights protection in Armenia.
“Supporting businesses and innovative start-ups can, in a longer run, boost more job opportunities, increase the economic competitiveness, and enhance the overall progress of the private sector of Armenia. In the field of human rights protection, the new program will help improve relevant legislation in the areas of right to free elections, torture prevention, anti-discrimination, gender equality and child protection,” a European Commission press release said.
Pledging to continue to support reforms in Armenia, the European Union at the same time emphasized that the figures of allocations are indicative: final allocations will depend on the country's needs and commitment to reforms.
Aside from those agreements, the EU commissioner and the Armenian economy minister also signed a document under which 25 million euros will be provided to Armenia for agriculture and rural development.
“I welcome this agreement and hope that there will be a lot of further agreements and that will be certainly a very close cooperation between Armenia and the European Union,” Hahn said.
Chshmaritian expressed Armenia’s gratitude to the EU for understanding the position of Armenia, stressing that Yerevan wants to continue cooperation in trade and investments, implementing reforms in all sectors of the economy. “We want to have a more attractive investment and business climate for our European partners,” he said.
Asked by RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak whether it was still possible for Armenia to sign the political component of the Association Agreement with the European Union without the DCFTA part, Hahn acknowledged that the Russian-led customs group presented an obstacle.
“Tomorrow [November 4] there will be the first reflection process on this issue, a brainstorm meeting where both the Armenian side and the European Union will be sitting together and identifying areas of future cooperation and what this membership in the Customs Union implies for the relationship with the European Union,” Hahn said.