Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom stressed the importance of political and economic reforms for Armenia’s closer relations with the European Union when she visited Yerevan on Tuesday.
Wallstrom discussed with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian ongoing negotiations on a new EU-Armenia accord that will serve as a substitute for an Association Agreement nearly signed by the two sides two years ago.
The new deal will stem from Armenia’s participation in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program for closer ties with six ex-Soviet states. Sweden helped to launch the program, along with Poland, about a decade ago and remains one of its main European backers.
“You can trust and count on us,” Wallstrom told a joint news conference with Nalbandian. She said that the EU is now taking “individual approaches” to each of the partner states reflecting their differing foreign policy priorities.
“This means dealing with countries on an individual basis and applying the principle of ‘more for more,’” said Wallstrom. This is why, she added, the EU will be closely monitoring the course of reforms promised by the Armenian authorities.
“Reforms implemented in Armenia and our European partners’ support for them were on the agenda of our negotiations,” Nalbandian said for his part.
Wallstrom discussed the matter with Sarkisian later in the day. “The president of the republic noted that the authorities regard comprehensive reforms implemented in Armenia as an important prerequisite for the country’s development and progress and highly appreciate EU support in this endeavor,” Sarkisian’s office said in a statement.
One of the reforms cited by Sarkisian is recently enacted amendments to the Armenian constitution envisaging Armenia’s transition to the parliamentary system of government. Sarkisian and his political allies say that the amendments, which were largely endorsed by Council of Europe experts, will foster democratization.
Armenian opposition groups dismiss these claims, accusing the authorities of rigging the December 6 referendum on the constitutional reform. They claim that the authorities will also try to resort to similar fraud in Armenia’s next parliamentary elections due in May 2017.
The EU has expressed concern about irregularities reported during the referendum but stopped short of openly challenging its official results. Senior EU officials reportedly urged Yerevan to “appropriately implement the new constitution” at an annual meeting of the EU-Armenia Cooperation Council held in Brussels last month.
An EU statement released after that meeting said senior EU officials urged Yerevan to “accelerate reforms in specific areas, notably democracy and the rule of law, anti-corruption, human rights and fundamental freedoms, constitutional and judicial reform.”