EU is a partner that is present on every turn in Armenia. Whether it’s the improvement of living conditions of prisoners and the reforms in justice or education reforms and harmonization with European educational and scientific space, whether it’s development of rural tourism industry or modernization of border security and customs houses, whether it’s the safety issues of Metsamor nuclear power plant or support of human rights activists, and in dozens of other spheres. It's the European Union who supports Armenia move forward towards higher values and better standards.
So the questions that one could ask the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, taking advantage from the opportunity of the interview could be endless. Still the actual questions during any interview are just few. Therefore I decided to touch three topics while requesting this interview with H. E. Traian Hristea, Head of EU Delegation to Armenia. These were the Armenian-Turkish border re-opening issue, the future of the negotiated and finalized Association Agreement and the implementation of the Joint Declaration of EaP Vilnius Summit.
My motivation of choice is evident given the basic posture of those items in the overall agenda of EU- Armenia relationship and the future of the broader region.
The Relations Should Be Normalized Without Preconditions
Dear Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview. Let me start with a question about the issue of reopening the Armenian-Turkish border. A week ago the Turkish press posted that PM Erdogan has instructed to open a border check-point in September. Then Turkish MFA told it’s not true but noticeably this time didn’t voice any measureable preconditions - like return of some regions around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azeri control, etc. Taking note of those last moves - what is the EU stance towards the issue?
The EU continues to support normalisation of Turkish-Armenian relations and we hope that recent high-level official contacts after many years will contribute to a renewed. We continue to encourage both sides to remain committed to the process of normalisation without preconditions. The EU is currently working on concrete support to activities aiming to promote confidence and people to people contacts.
A €2m project, financed under the Instrument for Stability, has started in January 2014. It will support civil society efforts towards the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Turkey by enhancing people-to-people contacts, expanding economic and business links, promoting cultural and educational activities, and facilitating dissemination of balanced information in both societies.
The normalisation of relations will have a key impact on the stability of the whole region; it would also facilitate the implementation of the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership.
Surely the final goal is the overall normalization of relations between the Armenia and Turkey but that process comprises lot of issues. Let me turn again to this particular one – the border issue. May I ask -does the Association Agreement that was successfully negotiated between the EU Armenia contain any particular provisions in this regard?
The Association Agreement as negotiated is a document of strictly bilateral nature between the EU and Armenia and any particular provision of the document can’t be disclosed or publicized at this stage. Therefore I would emphasize once more the EU official position: the relationship between the Armenia and Turkey should be normalized, and the process should advance without any pre-conditions.
It’s not about WHAT but HOW
Mr. Ambassador, the other question that interests me is the picture around the Armenia-EU Association Agreement. Back in September, 2013 the EU refrained from initialing the Association Agreement with Armenia because the President Sargsyan voiced a wish to join the Moscow-led Customs Union and that meant Armenia may assume some international commitments incompatible with AA regulations. Thanks to God almost a year has passed, there were oceans of words about joining the CU but no action was taken so far. How do you assess this development?
We are closely following Armenia's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. This will naturally have to be taken into consideration when rethinking the EU-Armenia relations.
We are endeavouring with the Armenian authorities to identify more precisely what their limitations are as a result of their EEU commitments and then we will certainly be in a better position to develop EU-Armenia ties in the future. We respect Armenia's sovereign decision to join the EEU.
Despite the decision not to initial of the AA/DCFTA with the EU after more than 3 years of intense negotiations and hard work on both sides these years and negotiations were not in vain. Both sides continue to acknowledge Armenia's path of economic and social reforms with EU support and expertise.
May I ask a question about the Exchange of Letters between the Lady Ashton and Foreign Minister Nalbandian during the Vilnius Summit? Is it correct that through the exchanged letters the negotiated Association Agreement and the DCFTA were jointly recognized an authentified text that may be applied further should the political circumstances allow so?
Let me not go into the content details of the Letters. Actually their content is rather brief, just several lines and in general outlines through the exchange of letters, we have 'frozen' the negotiated but not initialled draft bilateral agreement for possible future use as a reference point. In light of Armenia's upcoming commitments arising from its EEU membership we could draw some inspiration from the already negotiated text; however it is necessary to define what aspects are compatible with the legal obligations of Armenia's EEU membership.
There are talks and even variations for titles of future Armenia-EU agreement. Some call it “Association Agreement Light”, the others talk about “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement Plus”, some others think the farce with CU sooner or later will end and the Association Agreement itself will be signed. So which document and title is the most probable?
Here I’ll refrain to make any speculation. I’ll refrain to speculate even on the name of documents, given to the nuances that each of them carries.
Despite not being able to pursue the AA/DCFTA, the EU is ready to take forward its relations with Armenia: politically and economically. We can build on what we have achieved so far, while adjusting the opportunities and ambitions of our future cooperation to Armenia's future commitments deriving from its Eurasian Economic Union participation.
We are looking into the future legal basis of EU-Armenia relations and should start to seriously reflect on this jointly with Armenia soon. We do not have to define WHAT but HOW.
EaP Moves Forward Sustainably and Successfully
Mr. Ambassador let me get to the most pleasant theme – the remarkable advancement of the Eastern Partnership.
I may say that after the Vilnius Summit, when only Georgia and Moldova initialed the Association Agreements with the EU, I saw many think-tank analysis, media articles, even speeches of politicians who forecasted a sooner death of the Eastern Partnership. Still despite such forecasts, nothing happened to Eastern Partnership.
The EU and Armenia at the Vilnius summit reconfirmed their commitment to further develop and strengthen their cooperation in all areas of mutual interest within the Eastern Partnership framework, stressing the importance of reviewing and updating the existing basis of their relations.
In the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, all Summit participants reaffirmed the sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union based upon the "more for more principle". Overall the EU is committed to enhancing its relations with Armenia within the framework of the Eastern Partnership.
- We are on half way from Vilnius Summit to next Riga Summit that will convene in February, 2015 under the EU Latvian Presidency. How would you assess the advancement of Armenia on this way?
At the Vilnius Summit we welcomed the conclusion of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements with Armenia and we look forward to their effective implementation. In this regard we hope to make the next steps with Armenia towards increased mobility between the EU and Armenia. We also encourage Armenia's participation in the new “Erasmus +”, ”Creative Europe” and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie strand within Horizon 2020 open to all countries of the Eastern Partnership. We continue to welcome active Armenia's observership in the Energy Community and its involvement in the EU's nuclear stress tests. Armenia continues to actively cooperate with a number of EU Agencies including the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Frontex. We also continue to encourage the closest possible involvement of Armenia in the Covenant of Mayors programme. So it’s a half full glass and huge amount of work.
Dear Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for the interview, for your detailed answers to some pretty misunderstood and misinterpreted issues. I wish the remarkable advancement of EU EaP to go on even with greater speed and achievements and Armenia to join the club of EU Associated members at least in Riga Summit. And my last question is – do we wait any visits of high profile EU officials to Yerevan in near future?
Very soon we expect the newly appointed EU Representative for South Caucasus and for the Crisis in Georgia pay a visit to Yerevan. Then the summit of EaP leaders will convene in one of EaP capitals. Also along the year we’ll have the summits of EU-Armenia Cooperation Council and Cooperation Committee that engage the level of Ministers and Commissioners. All those meetings are important but most importantly we should work over the programs of Vilnius Summit Declaration referring to Armenia and reach to EaP Riga Summit with considerable achievements.