The European Union is prepared in principle to finance “very costly” infrastructure projects proposed by the Armenian government, the head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, Piotr Switalski, said on Friday.
Switalski confirmed that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian requested EU funding for the construction of highways, hydroelectric plants and other infrastructure in Armenia when he visited Brussels in early March.
“Some of these priority projects are very important for Armenia but very costly and very complicated, including the continuation of the North-South corridor, building a highway to the Iranian border, which, as you can imagine, amounts to hundreds of millions of euros,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “But we are very seriously considering how best to implement these projects.”
Speaking on March 7, two days after returning from Brussels, Pashinian said the EU is ready to allocate funding for his “mega projects” provided that they are co-financed by the Armenian government. To that end, he said, the government needs to significantly improve tax collection and/or obtain more foreign loans.
Pashinian added that he will discuss the matter with relevant government bodies and the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) in the coming weeks to see whether the country could manage a higher public debt. The Armenian debt passed the $7 billion mark last year.
“As your prime minister said after his conversations in Brussels, it is impossible to expect the EU providing such big grants to cover all the costs,” said Switalski. “We have to find a possibility of cheap loans to be matched with grants and to find the best financing formula. But we are in a very constructive mood.”
The diplomat stressed that his staff is already “devoting a lot of time and energy to talks with Armenian counterparts” on the issue.
European Council President Donald Tusk praised the Pashinian government’s ambitious reform agenda when he spoke to reporters after his March 5 talks with the Armenian premier. Tusk said the EU is ready to support it with “enhanced technical and financial assistance.”
Switalski was also full of praise for the current authorities in Yerevan that came to power in last year’s “velvet revolution. “I believe that during these 12 months Armenia has changed,” he said. “There are undeniable gains and successes.”
In particular, the EU envoy pointed to the authorities’ efforts to root out corruption and strengthen the rule of law. “Armenians have become equal facing the law,” he said. “There is no impunity. There are no groups, no individuals who could feel that they are in a special status, protected from the workings of the legal mechanism.”