By Emil Danielyan
Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja paid a one-day visit to Yerevan Tuesday on the second leg of a regional tour, discussing bilateral ties and Armenia’s efforts to forge closer links with the European Union.
Official sources said during his talks President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian officials Tuomioja reaffirmed Finland’s support for Armenia’s recent inclusion in the bloc’s European Neighborhood Policy program that will entitle the country to greater aid and better access to the EU markets in the future. The Armenian government is expected to commit itself to deeper political and economic reforms in return for membership in the framework.
A statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Tuomioja and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian discussed “the process of reforms and democracy strengthening in the context of Armenia’s European integration.” No further details were reported.
Also on the agenda of the Finnish minister’s talks in Yerevan were the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the resulting strained relations between Armenia and Turkey. The Foreign Ministry statement indicated that Oskanian renewed Armenian calls for the EU’s “positive engagement” in efforts to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations. Official Yerevan has long been lobbying for EU pressure on Ankara on the issue.
EU officials have signaled in recent months their increased interest in a Karabakh settlement but continue to rule out a direct involvement in the long-running Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks mediated by the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Tuomioja appeared to reaffirm this line as in a speech at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), an independent think-tank led by former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian.
Speaking at a dinner celebration of the tenth anniversary of the ACNIS’s establishment, Tuomioja said the EU is better equipped for “addressing the root causes of conflicts.” “The Union is not and will not become a military great power, but it can become an effective actor in conflict prevention and crisis management,” he added.