Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian held meetings with European Union officials as he paid a working visit to Brussels on Monday.
There was no traditional handshake at the start of Pashinian’s meeting with European Council President Charles Michel as the politicians took a precaution against the new deadly coronavirus because of which a considerable number of people in Europe and elsewhere, including Armenia, has been quarantined recently.
According to Pashinian’s press office, during their meeting the two discussed “a wide range of issues concerning Armenia-EU relations.”
“At the center of the discussion was the broad agenda of democratic reforms in Armenia,” the statement said.
“The European Union is the main partner of our reforms, we have always felt the EU’s useful support in their implementation,” Pashinian was quoted as saying during the meeting.
The two sides reportedly expressed their readiness to further develop Armenia-EU cooperation, including trade and economic relations.
According to the Armenian government’s press release, the president of the European Council highlighted the importance of the reforms that Armenia has embarked upon, adding that the European Union will continue to actively cooperate with and assist Armenia in bringing about democratic reforms, including in the judiciary.
Pashinian and Michel also reportedly talked about their expectations from the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels in June.
According to the statement, Prime Minister Pashinian stressed that Armenia will consistently move forward in strengthening democracy, protecting human rights and ensuring the rule of law.
Later during the day Pashinian also met with leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) Donald Tusk.
Despite the coronavirus-related precautions the two still shook hands in front of the media, as seen in a video posted on Pashinian’s Facebook.
“With or without a handshake?” a hesitating Pashinian asked Tusk as the latter was going to give him one. “Ah, because of the virus?” replied Tusk having already shaken hands with the Armenian premier.
Tusk said he had no problem shaking hands with Pashinian, continuing, jokingly, that “sometimes politicians are more dangerous than the virus.” “But it’s not you, ok,” the EPP leader added.
During the meeting Tusk said he was happy to welcome the Armenian prime minister in his new capacity, but with “old traditional friendship.” “It is not only about you, but also our traditional friendship with Armenia.”
According to the Armenian government’s press service, Tusk emphasized that in society and among politicians in Europe there was a high level of trust towards Armenia’s new authorities and the prime minister personally and said that Pashinian could rely on him in his new position.
Pashinian reportedly thanked the EPP leader for the warm reception and attitude, noting: “We highly appreciate your role in the development of Armenia-EU relations. We are confident that as EPP president you will also contribute to the further advancement of our cooperation.”
The two reportedly exchanged views on Armenia-EU relations, highlighting the close and active cooperation between Armenian parliamentarians and members of the EPP faction.
During the meeting the Armenian prime minister also addressed the process of judicial reforms in Armenia, including the upcoming constitutional referendum, according to the statement. It added that opinions were also exchanged on current efforts to fight against corruption in Armenia.
“The EPP president highly appreciated the reforms being implemented in Armenia and expressed readiness to contribute to the development and deepening of cooperation with Armenia,” the Armenian premier’s office said.
Pashinian’s meeting with Tusk was preceded by some speculation that Armenia’s current ruling party, Civil Contract, may be contemplating membership in the EPP.
Lawmaker Ruben Rubinian, a senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Monday that as of this day the party has not applied for membership in any European party structure.
Remarkably, on March 5, Tusk also met with Armenia’s former President Serzh Sarkisian who was visiting Brussels for meetings with European politicians last week. Sarkisian’s former ruling Republican Party of Armenia is a member of the grouping of Europe’s leading center-right parties.
Sarkisian traveled to Brussels with the court’s permission as he currently stands trial on charges of embezzlement that he denies as politically motivated.
While on his visit to Brussels Pashinian also met with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell later on Monday.