Armenia and the European Union have worked out key terms of a wide-ranging Association Agreement and plan to finalize it by November, officials representing the two sides said after concluding a fresh round of negotiations in Yerevan on Wednesday.
“If everything goes according to plan … it will be initialed before the end of this year, by the time of the [EU’s] Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit [scheduled for November] and it can then be signed next year. It will also then be provisionally applied in important parts from next year onwards,” said Gunnar Wiegand, the chief EU negotiator.
“With this the European Union is delivering what it has promised in the Eastern Partnership. We are delivering political association, we are delivering economic integration with Armenia,” Wiegand told a joint news conference with Deputy Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian.
Both men reported further progress in the talks on what Wiegand called “probably the longest and most detailed agreement which Armenia has ever entered into.” The talks began in July 2010 in accordance with the EU’s Eastern Partnership program offering six former Soviet republics much closer integration in return for political and economic reforms.
“We have gone a long way and I am very pleased to say that we are indeed at the final stage of this negotiation process,” Wiegand said. “We have essentially closed all outstanding issues with regard to the political part of the agreement.”
“In effect, we have reached a point where all provisions are agreed upon,” Mnatsakanian said for his part. The negotiating process will now enter a “procedural phase” that will take several months, he added.
Mnatsakanian also said that separate Armenia-EU talks on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), a key element of the association deal, are going on “at a quite good pace” and should also be completed in time for the Vilnius summit.
The DCFTA envisages not only mutual lifting of trade barriers but also harmonization of Armenian economic laws and regulations with EU legislation. In Wiegand’s words, this will give a “significant boost” to Armenia’s business environment
The EU official said that the Association Agreement will cover a “vast range of sectors and economic cooperation fields where many EU norms and standards will be transposed into Armenian law.” He said he will meet with parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other senior Armenian lawmakers later on Wednesday to discuss corresponding legislative reforms.
The planned agreement will also commit the EU to simplifying its stringent visa procedures for some categories of Armenia’s population travelling to its so-called Schengen zone.
The two sides already signed a visa-facilitation deal late last year. In return, Yerevan pledged to help expedite the repatriation of Armenian illegal immigrants from EU member states. Mnatsakanian announced that Yerevan and Brussels will sign a relevant “readmission” agreement soon.