The European Union on Thursday formally allocated 43 million euros ($55.5 million) in fresh assistance to Armenia which is meant to speed up the country’s integration with the EU.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele also confirmed the bloc’s plans to give the Armenian government 15 million euros in additional funding in line with its so-called “more for more” policy of rewarding political and economic reforms in the former Soviet Union with greater aid.
Visiting Yerevan, Fuele praised “pro-European reforms” implemented in Armenia and spoke of major progress in the country’s ongoing negotiations with the EU on a far-reaching association agreement.
“We are building on solid foundations,” he told a joint news conference with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian. “There have already been some very positive changes in Armenia.”
The two men spoke to journalists after holding talks and signing two agreements on the release of the 43 million-euro aid package. More than half of the sum will take the form of budgetary funding for efforts to bring Armenia’s public finance management and trade regulations into conformity with EU standards. The remaining 19 million euros is to be channeled into state bodies involved in the association talks. It will also finance the implementation of judicial reforms promised by the Armenian government.
“It’s clear that the financial and technical assistance provided to the Republic of Armenia and the documents which I signed with Mr. Fuele today will enable us to substantially enhance our government’s capacity,” said Sarkisian.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said that the Armenian authorities are “on the right track” in carrying out the reforms sought by Brussels when he visited Yerevan in July. He praised their handling of parliamentary elections held in May but said a presidential ballot due next February should be even more democratic.
Fuele also stressed the importance of the vote’s proper conduct, saying that Yerevan should address relevant recommendations made by European election observers after the May elections. “Successful elections really matter,” he said. “Without them, the continuous reforms which we want to see would be interrupted and the country’s unity and purpose could be undermined.”
The Armenian government and the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, began negotiating on the association agreement more than two years ago. They also opened earlier this year separate talks on two key components of the future accord: visa facilitation and the creation of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area.”
“This agreement is of utmost importance in moving our relationship to a higher level,” Fuele said. “This goes far beyond just a normal free trade agreement. With that agreement, the European Union will open up a sizable portion of its acquis (regulatory framework) related to the internal market to Armenia. It will affect all Armenians and it will affect them in the best possible way.”
“Most importantly, this agreement is about sharing values,” added the EU official. “It is about freedom, which unlocks the full potential of women and men in Armenia, offering them a protective umbrella of high democratic standards and real guarantees for their rights and freedom.”
Tigran Sarkisian said earlier this month that Yerevan hopes to complete the association and free trade talks by the end of next year. Neither he nor Fuele mentioned any time frames on Thursday.
Nor did they say if the talks could be adversely affected by Armenia’s recent decision to suspend diplomatic relations with EU member Hungary in response to the release from a Hungarian prison of Azerbaijani axe-murderer Ramil Safarov. The EU has expressed concern at Safarov’s pardoning by President Ilham Aliyev but unlike the United States and Russia, stopped short of criticizing the Hungarian government for extraditing the convict to Azerbaijan.
Fuele reiterated this cautious reaction as well as his earlier calls for both Armenia and Azerbaijan to show “restraint” in the bitter row. “We have to keep working for peace,” he said.
President Serzh Sarkisian appears to have been upset by this stance. Meeting with a visiting EU envoy on September 12, he slammed “some supposedly ‘balanced’ but, in fact, absolutely inadequate responses” to Safarov’s release.