The European Union has publicized an extensive agreement to deepen its political and economic relations with Armenia which is expected to be signed during an EU summit next month.
Citing “common values” shared by the two sides, the draft Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) calls for “increasing the participation of the Republic of Armenia in policies, programs and agencies of the European Union.” It commits the Armenian government to implementing political reforms and “approximating” national economic laws and regulations to those of the EU.
Armenia controversially joined the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) less than three years ago, following an unexpected decision that was announced by President Serzh Sarkisian in September 2013. The volte face, widely attributed to Russian pressure, thwarted the signing of an Armenia-EU Association Agreement which had a far-reaching free-trade component. Most political provisions of that ill-fated agreement are thought to have been incorporated into the CEPA.
“The Parties shall intensify their dialogue and cooperation in the area of foreign and security policy, including the common security and defense policy,” reads the alternative accord, which is more than 350 pages long. It calls for joint efforts to combat international terrorism, prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and promote conflict resolution.
Another stated aim of the accord finalized in March is the “strengthening of democracy and of political, economic and institutional stability” in Armenia. The EU is to help the Armenian authorities prevent human rights abuses and reform Armenia’s judicial and law-enforcement systems.A lack of independent courts and widespread corruption among judges and law-enforcement officers remain a serious obstacle to the rule of law in the country.
The CEPA contains much more extensive and specific provisions on economic matters. Armenia, it says, will “gradually approximate its economic and financial regulations and policies to those of the European Union, as appropriate.” Yerevan will regularly report to Brussels on “the progress made with regard to approximation” specified by several annexes to the agreement.
This “regulatory harmonization” would cover a wide range of areas, including business regulation, agriculture, transport, environment, consumer protection and even energy. In particular, the CEPA envisages EU-Armenia cooperation on “the diversification of energy sources and routes.”
Armenia currently buys nuclear fuel and more than 80 percent of its natural gas from Russia. These energy resources generate more than two-thirds of its electricity.
The CEPA also covers bilateral trade. “Each Party shall apply import duties and charges in accordance with its obligations established under the [World Trade Organization] Agreement,” it says. Each side must also ensure “most-favored-nation treatment to goods” imported from the other.
There is no reference to Armenia’s membership in the EEU which means that import duties set by Russia and the five other ex-Soviet states making up the Russian-led bloc are largely identical.
The EU and Armenia would also seek to ease non-tariff barriers to their trade such as technical regulations and licensing and labelling requirements. The CEPA contains even more detailed provisions on the enforcement of intellectual property rights and mutual recognition of patents.
The draft agreement further makes clear that the authorities in Yerevan can count on greater financial assistance from the EU. It cautions, however, that the scale of extra aid will depend on “the pace of the reforms” promised by them.
Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for European neighborhood policy, hailed “the groundbreaking new agreement” with Armenia when he visited Yerevan earlier this month. He said it will not only deepen the EU’s ties with Armenia but also serve as an “example” to other countries.
Speaking after talks with Hahn, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian confirmed that the deal is due to be signed at the EU’s November 24 summit in Brussels.
Earlier, President Sarkisian dismissed suggestions that the CEPA, just like the Association Agreement, may collapse at the last minute. “We have no reason to not sign that document,” he said.