The European Union and Armenia on Friday reported “good progress” in their ongoing negotiations on an association agreement meant to significantly deepen the country’s political, economic and other links with the EU.
In a joint declaration signed in Yerevan, the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said the signing of the agreement will elevate those ties to “a different level.” They also reaffirmed the Armenian government’s stated commitment to implementing wide-ranging reforms required by the 27-nation bloc.
The declaration signed after Fuele’s talks with President Serzh Sarkisian says the EU’s main executive body, the European Commission, is ready to significantly increase financial assistance provided to Armenia. According to the EU Delegation in Yerevan, it will double to 157 million euros ($232 million) in the next three years.
The association agreement stems from the EU’s Eastern Partnership program covering six ex-Soviet states, including neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan. Armenian and EU officials formally opened negotiations on the accord last July. They held two more rounds of negotiations later in 2010.
Nalbandian said the two sides have already concluded 16 negotiating “chapters.” “In effect, we have crossed half the distance,” he told a joint news conference with Fuele earlier in the day.
Fuele stressed the importance of free trade and visa facilitation agreements to be signed within the framework of the association process. His declaration with Nalbandian says the Armenian side will take “further steps” to pave the way for the start of talks on a free trade deal.
The reforms promised by Yerevan would mostly affect Armenian state agencies dealing with external trade and immigration and lead to changes in various Armenian laws. The European Commission has already earmarked at least 32 million euros for financing those reforms.
The EU says democratization, human rights protection and a stronger rule of law are another necessary condition for Armenia’s participation in the Eastern Partnership. However, it is still not clear just how aggressively it plans to press for such changes.
Fuele said the Armenian authorities should properly address the continuing fallout from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan. He welcomed the release of more Armenian opposition members arrested three years ago and a renewed investigation into the unrest which was ordered by Sarkisian last week.
“But the picture is much bigger and needs to be perceived as much also by the politicians here in Armenia,” the EU commissioner said. “What is also important is that three years after the  events Armenian citizens get a full picture of what happened and who is responsible [for it,] that there is an independent investigation of the events.”
“I personally believe that without addressing, reflecting fully on the events of 2008 and closing this chapter, it would be more difficult to create a conducive atmosphere in the society for the [parliamentary] elections in April 2012,” he added.
In a written statement, the EU Delegation said Fuele discussed with Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders “the internal political situation” in Armenia among other issues of mutual interest. “He encouraged the authorities to make further efforts on media pluralism and the conduct of elections,” it said.