President Serzh Sarkisian again described Armenia as a European nation and pledged to deepen its relations with the European Union during a visit to Strasbourg on Wednesday.
“We consider ourselves Europeans regardless of whether or not the Europeans also think so,” Sarkisian declared during a question-and-answer session at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).
“We are sure that our cooperation with the EU will deepen because we cooperate with EU structures not to make a point to someone but because we consider ourselves carriers of the European value system,” he said after a speech delivered on the PACE floor.
In that context, Sarkisian cited the recent signing of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Armenia and the EU. The landmark accord opened up “very good prospects for Armenia’s development,” he said.
The CEPA is a less far-reaching substitute for an Association Agreement which was nearly finalized by Yerevan and Brussels in 2013. Sarkisian precluded its signing with his unexpected decision to seek Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
Sarkisian defended that decision on Wednesday, saying that it was backed by most Armenians and proved beneficial for the Armenian economy. Answering a question from a PACE member, he also argued that membership in the EEU has not prevented Armenia from seeking closer ties with the EU.
Under the CEPA, the Armenian government is to carry out political reforms and boost human rights protection. It must also gradually “approximate” Armenian economic laws and regulations to those of the EU.
In his speech at the Strasbourg-based assembly, Sarkisian claimed that Armenia has made significant progress in democratizing its political system since joining the Council of Europe 17 years ago.
“I can proudly state today that we have fulfilled our main commitments to the Council of Europe regarding Armenia’s democratization,” he said. “This is not just our assertion. Our successes in the establishment of democratic institutions have been acknowledged in reports drawn up by Council of Europe’s monitoring structures.”
The ongoing “reforms,” he went on, will gain new momentum with Armenia’s impending transition to a parliamentary system of government stemming from sweeping constitutional changes enacted in 2015. He argued that those changes were largely endorsed by legal experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
Sarkisian’s political opponents believe that the main purpose of the controversial constitutional reform was to enable him to stay in power after serving out his final presidential term in April 2018. They also maintain that the Sarkisian administration continues to abuse human rights and rig elections.