by Ami Chichakyan
‘You cannot do one-size-fits-all Eastern Partnership Policy’
The European Union developed its own policy, working with partners in the South and the East to cooperate in key priority areas, for instance, promotion of rule of law, democracy, human rights. The European Union and its neighboring countries work both bilaterally and regionally. There are 16 European Neighborhood Policy countries: Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia in the South and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine in the East.
Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia signed Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade agreement with the European Union. Despite the fact that Armenia was among those countries, which negotiated the Agreement, on September 3, 2013 the country stepped back announcing a willingness to join another political and economic union – Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU). Armenian officials declared that the country can become a bridge between the two unions. Later Armenia was given a chance to sign a revised agreement which does not run contrary to the country’s commitments to the Eurasian Economic Union.
The new agreement – Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) – was prepared and officially signed during the Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels on November 24, 2017. According to the Agreement, Armenia will benefit from the opportunity to have more jobs, fairer rules, more business possibilities, better money for money, more safety and security, a cleaner environment, better education and more opportunities for research, strengthened democracy and human rights and visa liberalization.
Reinhard Honighaus, Spokesman for the European Commission’s Representation in Germany, during the meeting with reporters from Armenia, referred to the EU-Armenia relations, EU’s Eastern Neighborhood Policy, and its perspectives. According to him, the format of cooperation may change and turn to a more individual approach. “Eastern Partnership is a very important format, which is not static, it’s being developed further, gaining from the experience that we have had with this engagement within the last Eastern Partnership summit. It showed that the Eastern Partnership approach is also developing with a very individual approach to each of the Eastern Partnership countries. Of course, you cannot do one-size-fits-all Eastern Partnership Policy,” Honighaus said adding, “I am quite confident that by 2020 we will see considerable engagement from the European Union towards the Eastern Partnership countries whatever the name of the framework will be by then.”
With regard to the cooperation between the European Union and Eurasian Economic Union, Reinhard Honighaus said that there have been lots of engagements on technical level in the Ukrainian context. “There has been some interest from the Russian side. Again we have heard about this idea of free trade agreement from Lisbon to Vladivostok, but there is very little follow-up from the Russian side, when it comes to making things concrete. This could work. We are open to these exchanges, but there is not so much engagement from the Eurasian Union side, as I can see, to develop these two unions.”
Talking about further cooperation with Armenia, Hoinghaus said: “There is still a lot we can do in engaging these countries, for example, what the EU is doing with Armenia despite the fact that Armenia is a member of Eurasian Economic Union, which is Armenia’s choice. There is still a lot we can do on governance reforms, private sector developments, when EU is engaging with financing SMEs for economic development, as well as for people’s exchange – participation of Armenians in Erasmus program, research innovation programs. There have been about 1,300 Armenian participants in Erasmus program in recent years. We can engage these countries in many other directions even if they are not going for Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.”
As we have already mentioned, within the framework of Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement liberalization of visa regime with Armenia is envisaged by the European Union, however Mr. Hoinghaus did not mention any dates: “It’s a policy that the European Union basically applies to all countries, visa dialogue is a very powerful incentive, since it is in the interest of citizens to have visa liberalization. There are pretty tight conditions, but we have seen countries that have managed to fulfil them,” he said underlining that the visa liberalization process also includes security issues. “There is also a mutual interest: it’s not just something for the European Union to give away. But it is in the interest of the European Union to facilitate people’s exchange, to make it easier. And there is much to be done on the security of documents and passports, as well as IT systems. So we also gain security in the European Union with the countries, which get visa liberalization, because our systems control the flows much better. Thus, it is hard for me to predict when this will be the case, but the European Union will very much be engaged towards this end.”
Asked about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh, Reinhard Hoinghaus replied: “It is certainly a challenge for our relations with the Eastern Partnership countries. But it is not entirely in our hands to solve this. Whenever the European Union can be helpful, we and our colleagues, EU representatives, will be open to hear views on how the European Union can help with facilitating people’s contacts. But certainly those unresolved border issues, frozen conflicts are huge challenges for the countries most concerned about. Unfortunately, it is something that the EU cannot solve alone.”
Ami Chichakyan is a journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. A graduate of Yerevan State Linguistic University, she started her career in Aravot Daily as a journalist in 2013. Currently, she is the editor of the English version of Aravot Daily. She has cooperated with the international media, such as Euronews, Voice of America.