The European Union has urged the Armenian authorities to speed up political reforms promised by them and “appropriately” implement sweeping constitutional changes that were enacted through a disputed referendum held last month.
Senior EU officials also reaffirmed the 28-nation bloc’s commitment to deepen relations with the South Caucasus country “in all areas possible” during an annual meeting of the EU-Armenia Cooperation Council held in Brussels late on Monday.
The meeting was chaired by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian. The EU was represented by Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn and Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.
“The Cooperation Council reviewed recent political, economic and social reforms in Armenia,” read an EU statement released after the meeting.
“The EU took note of progress achieved in implementing these reforms and of Armenia's commitment to continue on this positive trajectory, while at the same time encouraging Armenia to accelerate reforms in specific areas, notably democracy and the rule of law, anti-corruption, human rights and fundamental freedoms, constitutional and judicial reform,” it said.
“Particular attention was drawn to the need for reform of the electoral system, to the need to appropriately implement the new constitution and assure media freedom, as well as to the important role of civil society,” added the statement.
It referred to a long list of constitutional amendments envisaging Armenia’s transition to the parliamentary system of government, which is due to be completed in 2018. President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration pushed through the amendments in a December 6 referendum that was marred opposition allegations of serious fraud.
The EU warned in the wake of the referendum that failure to properly investigate the alleged fraud would call into question the legitimacy of its official results indicating a “Yes” vote for Sarkisian’s amendments. It latest statement did not assess the Armenian authorities’ purported efforts to identify and punish those responsible for vote irregularities.
“Based on shared values, Armenia is interested in working with the EU on to the continuous promotion of human rights and rule of law, consolidation of democratic institutions and improvement of judiciary, good governance, fight against corruption, strengthening the civil society,” Nalbandian told the press after the meeting. “We are thankful to the EU for its valuable support in this regard.”
Nalbandian described the Armenian constitutional reform as “another important step” towards democratization. He argued that the amendments were largely endorsed by legal experts from the Council of Europe.
The Brussels meeting took place more than a month after the EU and Armenia officially opened negotiations on a new agreement to deepen their political and economic ties. It is expected that the planned accord will contain many provisions of an Association Agreement which was abandoned by the EU following Sarkisian’s unexpected decision in 2013 to seek Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Piotr Switalski, head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, reportedly told Sarkisian last week that Brussels hopes to conclude those negotiations before the end of this year.