It seems that almost everyone who knows something about the EU and its Eastern Partnership program equally knows Gunnar Wiegand’s name. He was the EU Chief Negotiator of the Association Agreements with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, the Chief negotiator of the Association Agenda with Ukraine and the Chief Negotiator of the EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, he initialled the Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova on behalf of EU at EaP Vilnius summit, he is the unchanged Director for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional cooperation and OSCE at EEAS (earlier at EC External Relations DG) for almost a decade while the Commissions and Commissioners have come and gone, now he’s also the Deputy Managing Director for Europe/ Central Asia, in case of Armenia he’s also the Co-Chair of Armenia-EU Cooperation Committee, so a bit exaggerating and paraphrasing the famous proverb “All the ways lead to Rome” it seems in Eastern Partnership “all the links lead to Wiegand”.
Still as a person he’s even more impressive, than all the titles and positions he holds, especially in the sense of his thoughts and assessments upon this rather bureaucratic EU Eastern Partnership initiative that all of a sudden turned into the greatest history making story on European continent since the end of Cold War, if not the WWII. One his quote about the motivation of the EaP nations’ European aspirations I remember by heart, nonetheless I’ve heard it two years ago, during a seminar in Brussels. I’m afraid I can’t quote it as the seminar was off-record, but may assure it remains the most profound observation about the EaP peoples’ aspirations that I’ve ever heard.
Unfortunately I didn’t manage to ask Mr. Wiegand about the broader EaP and Russia issues. As his assistant tells, Mr Wiegand’s schedule is practically closed from 9am to 9pm every day, so it already was incredible that within couple of days, if not couple of hours the very interview for me was arranged. Given to the shortage of time naturally the talk referred just to Armenia-EU relations and the negotiations upon the new, overarching agreement that parties are about to launch.
- Dear Mr. Wiegand, let me start with thanking you cordially for the very opportunity of this interview. I realize how tight is your schedule, how difficult is it to find there piece of time for any interview, so I’m endlessly grateful that you made this interview possible. Now moving to my first questions, that could be only one – when do the negotiations of the new EU-Armenia comprehensive agreement will finally start?
- The start of negotiations will be pretty soon. We expect this to happen on December 7th. Foreign Minister Nalbandyan will arrive here to Brussels, High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini will be here and they will jointly launch these negotiations.
The negotiating teams will also be here and next to the opening ceremony we expect the actual negotiations to start. Most probably this first round will last two days. Our negotiating teams know each other quite well, they worked together on the EU-Armenia Association Agreement, so we anticipate to hold a successful first round of negotiations in early December.
- Thank you, pleasure to hear it. Sir, I remember that Commissioner Hahn during his visit to Yerevan earlier this year stated that the new overarching and comprehensive EU-Armenia agreement may be negotiated during the year. Still at the end of year the negotiations are just starting. To my knowledge before this another process was underway – called the “joint scoping exercise”. May I ask how essential was that process and how helpful may it be for the original negotiations?
- Of course, the joint scoping exercise was an important preparatory phase for the negotiation process with Armenia. You know that for more than three years we negotiated the EU-Armenia Association Agreement, including the DCFTA, which finally wasn’t initialled because Armenia preferred after all to join the Eurasian Economic Union. As a result of that decision certain segments of the negotiated document will not be applicable in the future context of EU-Armenia relations.
Now what we did during this joint scoping exercise, we jointly examined all four principal sections of the negotiated Association Agreement - that refer to political dialogue and reform, to home and justice affairs, to trade and investment and to sectoral cooperation - and sought to define which provisions may be saved in the new agreement, where amendments will be required, and finally what shall be deleted.
So that scoping exercise was quite extensive work, and as a result of its successful completion now we know certainly the areas and issues that will have to be negotiated. Exactly on the base of that knowledge the EU Council of Ministers adopted the negotiating directives for the EU's negotiators, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS). They will now form for the EU the base on which we are authorized to negotiate.
Given this long preparatory phase and the availability of the already scrutinized AA document as well as the experience of cooperative work that our negotiating teams had carried out in the past, knowing each other quite well - all these factors should contribute to a swift progress of the negotiation process. But it is nevertheless a complex endeavour, which will take time to be realised.
- I understand that whether I ask or not, hardly you’ll tell anything regarding the negotiations’ timetable. Nonetheless may one hope they won’t last as long as the original AA negotiations lasted?
- Indeed, I myself don’t anticipate the starting negotiations to last for years. However you’re right that I’ll refrain from judgments upon its actual timing, but this much must be kept in mind that especially the trade and investments section will be amended sensibly and that requires considerable time and work.
- Indeed, it’s regrettable that Armenia didn’t sign the Association Agreement with EU. Still there are three EaP countries that struggled for that document, signed it and now are in the phase of successful implementation. As it’s your Directorate at EEAS that looks after the agreements realization, may I ask you to assess how the process goes on in those countries?
- Well, we, indeed, closely monitor the implementation of the Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. As you may know there are many deadlines set in those agreements, namely in the Annexes that lay out the timelines for the transposition of EU standards and regulations into national legislations.
Actually the process of harmonizing the national legislation with EU standards is not only about the legal framework improvement, but this process serves at the same time as a blueprint for the economic reforms and modernization of the country. When EU rules and standards are transferred into national legislation, they create a familiar environment for foreign investors and traders - ultimately resulting in increased trade and real investments in the country’s economy. On the other hand the legal approximation with EU standards and rules help the country’s internal market actors – the local producers of goods and providers of services as a well as the traders. – to produce not only competitive goods and services for the EU market, but equally for internal consumption and broader export.
In the case of Georgia in particular we are pleased how the process goes on so far, there are more investments in the country, there is increase in mutual trade, and we are pleased with the pace of DCFTA implementation. In case of Moldova there is sensible increase in the trade with EU, but the import restrictions imposed on Moldavian products by Russian Federation also impact the overall trade situation and indicators. In case of Ukraine so far there can’t be any assessment of the DCFTA implementation, as it was agreed that the DCFTA will start to be applied only as of 1 January 2016.
- Thanks a lot and let us wish successful and rapid progress to Armenia-EU negotiations and advantageous DCFTA implementation to other countries.