The European Union is stepping up its efforts to negotiate an association agreement with Armenia that will bring the latter “much closer” to the EU, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said during a visit to Yerevan on Tuesday.
Armenia has been entitled to such an agreement since its inclusion in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program. The scheme offers six former Soviet republics deeper integration with the 27-nation bloc in return for political and economic reforms.
Senior officials from the EU’s executive European Commission said last September that the Armenian authorities will have to commit themselves to specific “institutional reforms” before the formal start of association and free trade talks with the bloc. They said the Brussels-based commission will provide Yerevan with 33 million euros ($44.6 million) in technical assistance for that purpose in 2011-2013.
The commission subsequently sent a team of experts advising various Armenian state agencies on the planned reforms. They were due to come up with a relevant plan of actions by this June.
Moratinos, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, discussed the matter with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. “During the Spanish presidency, we will speed up the mandate for starting negotiations on the association agreement between Armenia and the European Union, and I hope that the [EU] Council will announce this good news already in March,” he told a joint news conference with Nalbandian.
“A new chapter is opening between Armenia and the European Union,” said Moratinos. He did not specify when the negotiations will get underway and how long they should last.
“Armenia’s relations with the European Union have reached a turning point,” Nalbandian said, for his part. He described the EU as his country’s “reliable political and economic partner.”
“Moving closer to the European family is one of main directions of Armenia’s foreign policy priorities, and we are committed to that course,” he added.
Easier access to the EU’s vast and affluent market would be one of the most important tangible benefits of Armenia’s involvement in Eastern Partnership. Trade and Economic Development Minister Nerses Yeritsian said in September that the Armenian government thinks its forthcoming free trade talks with the bloc can be completed within three years. But he acknowledged that EU officials are less optimistic on that score.
Armenia’s EU-backed rapprochement with Turkey and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were also high on the agenda of Moratinos’s talks in Yerevan. The Spanish minister called for the ratification of the Turkish-Armenian protocols “without preconditions and in a reasonable time frame.” He also told Sarkisian that the Karabakh conflict can be settled “only by peaceful diplomatic means.”
Moratinos also held separate meetings with top representatives of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Zharangutyun party. A Zharangutyun statement said two senior members of the party discussed with him the political situation in Armenia and, in particular, the lingering fallout from the March 2008 violence in Yerevan.
An HAK spokesman told RFE/RL that the top leader of the opposition alliance, Levon Ter-Petrosian, spoke with Moratinos only by phone, leaving it to four other HAK figures to meet the visiting EU leader in person.