President Serzh Sarkisian described Armenia as a European nation on Tuesday as he explained his government’s efforts to deepen relations with the European Union through a new treaty finalized during his latest visit to Brussels.
“Our people regard themselves as Europeans: our spiritual-cultural heritage and our way of life are European,” he said in a speech delivered at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think-tank.
Sarkisian spoke there the day after it was officially announced that Armenia and the EU have successfully concluded negotiations on a “comprehensive and enhanced partnership agreement.”
The deal is meant to be a less ambitious substitute for an Association Agreement which the two sides nearly signed in 2013. Sarkisian scuttled that agreement with his unexpected decision to seek Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Sarkisian said Armenia’s “Western partners” have since come to terms with that geopolitical choice. “We are ready to foster a mutually beneficial rapprochement between the EU and the EEU,” he declared in that context.
The Armenian leader said “shared values” are at the heart of the planned new accord with the EU. “We are simply putting in place a firmer legal framework for the existing cooperation. We are convinced that it will allow and even obligate us to have a more efficient state,” he added.
In his speech, Sarkisian also thanked the EU for financing the implementation of his government’s landmark agreement with the Armenian opposition aimed at preventing serious fraud in the April 2 parliamentary elections. The bulk of $7.4 million allocated by Brussels will be spent on special electronic equipment that will be installed in polling stations across Armenia.
Sarkisian reaffirmed his administration’s pledges to hold a democratic ballot. “The bar set by us is high: to hold democratic, free, fair and transparent elections. I am confident that we will achieve this goal,” he said.
Armenian opposition groups will question these assurances. Some opposition leaders say that despite agreeing to take significant anti-fraud measures the authorities will again abuse their administrative resources, buy votes and resort to other irregularities to ensure that Sarkisian’s Republican Party wins the polls.