A representative of the European Union on Friday urged Armenian officials “not to be afraid this time” and sign the framework agreement that they are going to negotiate with Brussels again.
The call from Luc Pierre Devigne, the head of the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission, came five days after the EU Foreign Affairs Council authorized the European Commission and the High Representative to open negotiations on a new legal basis for relations with Armenia.
“We have a large delegation and are very happy to see many familiar and friendly faces from our previous negotiations. And I do hope that the negotiations over the new framework will be swift. Maybe as swift as the DCFTA [deep and comprehensive free trade area agreement] negotiations, which were done in 18 months, but with a different outcome,” Devigne said in Yerevan today, referring to the previous EU-Armenia negotiations over a framework deal that Yerevan effectively abandoned after unexpectedly announcing in September 2013 its plans to become part of a Russian-led customs union.
Many observers then took the U-turn in Armenia’s policy as a consequence of pressure from Moscow that was jealously watching a number of former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, deepening their integration with Brussels as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program.
Armenia denied any pressure from Russia then, but said its further deals with the EU would have to accommodate the nation’s new status as a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) that also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
“This time don’t be afraid – do sign the negotiated agreement,” the EU official said, addressing his words to Armenia’s First Deputy Economy Minister Garegin Melkonian while attending an Armenia-EU Trade, Economic and Legal Issues Subcommittee meeting along with his delegation.
Melkonian, who led the Armenian delegation at the meeting, did not leave the appeal unanswered: “Luc, I know that you like making jokes about the DCFTA, but I am also convinced that we are going to have quite an efficient discussion today.”
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), Devigne expressed a hope that this time the negotiated deal will be signed. “This time it would really be bizarre to explain that you conclude successful negotiations on July 26 and you decide to change it on September 3, which is a rather radical move.”
“I remain optimistic and, at the end of the day, twice 180 degrees makes going back to square one. We hope and we believe that Armenia will make sense and will continue to do the negotiations with the will to succeed,” he added.
The European official also made another remarkable statement by saying that on the agenda of both the past and upcoming negotiations there is an issue of fighting corruption and monopolies.
“Obviously a trade agreement cannot substitute for good governance. It is not the EU that will decide how to run this country. And it is not the EU that will decide how well-paid are your officials, because the first important thing to fight corruption is, of course, that officials are paid a salary on which they can survive. Otherwise, it is very difficult.”
“Corruption is an issue in Armenia. It is not the worst in the region by far, but it is also not the best by far… Competition is very important. We have discussed and will discuss these issues [with the Armenian government]. We had a very detailed competition chapter in the DCFTA negotiations, and we intend to have one also in our coming framework negotiations,” Devigne said.
According to the head of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade, in the upcoming negotiations free trade will no longer be discussed with Armenia, since the country is a member of the EEU and its rights are limited. Now, he said, Brussels is hoping to reach agreement on the following areas: government procurement processes, services and trading standards, especially with regard to food-related standards.
According to Armenia’s First Deputy Economy Minister Melkonian, Yerevan also expects to reach agreement on all 28 points regarding the economy that were in the previous negotiated but unsigned Association Agreement.