European Council President Donald Tusk met with Armenian leaders in Yerevan on Monday, reaffirming the European Union’s readiness to continue deepening relations with Armenia despite its recent accession to a Russia-led bloc.
Tusk, who chairs the EU’s top decision-making body, said it “fully respects” the Armenian government’s unexpected decision two years ago to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) at the expense of an Association Agreement with the EU.
“We still stand ready to deepen our relations by working together to open markets and by advancing on democratic reforms, economic growth, regional integration, a better business-investment climate, and sustainable development,” he told a joint news conference with President Serzh Sarkisian.
Tusk said Brussels and Yerevan will soon open official negotiations on a less far-reaching agreement which would not contradict Armenia’s membership commitments to the EEU. But he cited no dates for the start and completion of those talks.
The two sides have already identified concrete areas of closer political and economic cooperation to be covered by the new deal. A senior official in Yerevan said in late May that the Armenian government hopes it will be as similar to the abandoned Association Agreement as possible.
Speaking after the talks with Tusk, Sarkisian reaffirmed his government’s declared commitment to closer ties with the EU and “reforms” that would strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Armenia.
“I can’t imagine Armenia’s development without reforms and I can’t imagine reforms in Armenia without [use of] European experience and assistance,” he said. “Therefore, while being a member of the EEU, we will continue to closely cooperate with the EU.”
“Armenia can count on the European Union's continued support to advance on a whole range of political and social reforms, and to improve the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Tusk said, for his part.
The former Polish prime minister also expressed the EU’s readiness to eventually move beyond a 2014 visa facilitation agreement which made it easier for Armenian nationals to visit EU member states. “A visa-free regime is the final goal,” he said. “I am hopeful that the next step can be taken in the coming months, if this pace of work continues.”
Armenia unilaterally lifted visa requirements for EU citizens shortly before that agreement went into force.