A further deepening of the European Union’s ties with Armenia and its greater economic assistance to the country hinge on the proper conduct of the upcoming Armenian presidential election, a senior EU diplomat said on Monday.
“The European Union expects Armenia to ensure that the presidential elections scheduled for 2013 are and will be in line with international standards,” Traian Hristea, head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, told a news conference. “Armenia should therefore address effectively the shortcomings identified by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights during the May 2012 parliamentary elections.”
“Let me stress again that whether this is done will determine the pace of our bilateral cooperation with Armenia,” he said. “We expect that the full commitment of the Armenian authorities will ensure that the elections are held in a democratic and transparent manner.”
Hristea reaffirmed the EU’s largely positive assessment of the Armenian parliamentary elections, saying that they were marked by “noticeable improvements” in election administration. But he said “much more is necessary” for making the presidential election, due in February, truly democratic.
President Serzh Sarkisian insisted last week that his administration is committed to holding a “free, fair, transparent and democratic” vote. His political opponents dismiss these pledges, saying that Sarkisian will do everything to secure a second term in office. They also claim that the May elections were rigged by his ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
The Sarkisian government has stepped up Armenia’s European integration drive in the last few years through the EU’s Eastern Partnership program that makes Yerevan eligible for a far-reaching “association agreement” with the 27-nation bloc. It hopes that ongoing association talks with the EU’s executive body, the European Commission, will be completed by the end of next year.
“The conduct of elections is a test of successful reforms in Armenia closely monitored by the European Union,” Hristea said. “It also determines the more-for-more principle from which Armenia has already benefited.”
The EU allocated 43 million euros ($56 million) in fresh assistance to Armenia last month. It plans to give the Armenian government 15 million euros in additional funding soon in recognition of economic and political reforms implemented so far.
Yerevan hopes to secure much greater economic assistance as a result of an unprecedented conference of Armenia’s foreign donors planned by the EU. Visiting Yerevan in July, EU President Herman Van Rompuy indicated that the donor conference is contingent on the Armenian authorities’ handling of the presidential election.
“We will be ready to assist our Armenian colleagues in organizing a possible [donor] conference and to go ahead with the preparations if this more-for-more principle will be continuously implemented,” Hristea said in this regard.
The EU diplomat met journalists to announce the second phase of a $2.2 million program that the European Commission launched early this year to foster the freedom and fairness of Armenian elections. Much of this money is being spent on training of local election officials and monitors.