Armenians will feel the benefits of their new accord with the European Union “with time”, President Serzh Sarkisian said hours before the planned signing of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in Brussels.
The signing ceremony due today is expected to become one of the focal points of the current EU Eastern Partnership Summit that brings together leaders of six Eastern European and South Caucasus countries that are members of the program launched in 2009.
RFE/RL Armenian Service Director Harry Tamrazian, who is reporting on the summit from Brussels, asked Sarkisian late on Thursday about what an ordinary citizen of Armenia would get from the planned accord.
“Perhaps [ordinary citizens] will not feel its benefits immediately, but with time they will, because we are able to carry out reforms quickly with the help of the European Union,” said the Armenian leader.
“We don’t want to invent a bicycle, there are absolute truths, and we should be guided with these truths. But in addition to internal freedoms, Armenian citizens will get an opportunity of free travel to Brussels, to Paris, to other European countries.”
The CEPA, which was initialed by Armenia and the EU in March, commits Armenia to reforming its institutions and strengthening human rights protection with the assistance of the EU. The 350-page document does not make Armenia part of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area”, but still commits Yerevan to “approximating” Armenian economic laws and regulations to those of the EU.
Some analysts believe the CEPA will also provide Armenia with an “alternative security direction.”
“The word ‘alternative’ is not correct here,” said Sarkisian when asked to comment on such opinions. “But, of course, especially in the case of the main challenges threatening our security, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group [on Nagorno-Karabakh], and especially the United States and Russia, have the same positions, and this is one of the few issues on which they fully cooperate, as they declare themselves. This, of course, is an achievement for us.”
In 2013, Armenia was on track to sign a more ambitious association agreement with the EU, but several months before the initialing of the document, President Sarkisian stated about Yerevan’s desire to become a member of a trade bloc led by Russia, which effectively aborted plans for a deep and comprehensive free trade area with the EU. Sarkisian announced that decision during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, but denied any Russian pressure was involved.
Last week the Armenian president also met with Putin in the Russian capital. No references to the planned EU-Armenia deal were made at that meeting, according to official publications.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) Sarkisian again denied that Russia has ever meddled in Armenia’s dealings with the EU.
“Soon it will be ten years that I have served as president and before that I occupied different [government] posts. I have never heard even half a word from any Russian leader, especially from President Putin, that would contain any reproach in terms of our cooperation with the European Union,” the Armenian leader underscored.
Sarkisian’s second and final term as president expires in April 2018. According to constitutional changes approved in a 2015 referendum, Armenia has switched to a parliamentary form of government, which potentially creates an opportunity for Sarkisian to continue to govern the country as prime minister. Before the constitutional reform Sarkisian pledged not to seek a top government post after the expiry of his presidential powers, but in his later public statements he has been less categorical on this account.
Asked whether he had any ideas about where he will be after the end of his presidential term, Sarkisian said: “If I had an idea, I would have already stated about it. I will speak about it when I do have an idea.”