President Serzh Sargsyan, who was recently on official visit to Brussels, announced that the negotiations between Armenia and the European Union on the new legal framework agreement have been concluded. In a comprehensive interview to Tert.am Deputy Foreign Minister Garen Nazarian, who was Armenia’s chief negotiator in recent talks, elaborated on the essence of the new document and its benefit for Armenia. Speaking of the fact that Armenia is a member to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Deputy Foreign Minister noted that the new legal document with the EU does not fall into contradiction with the obligations assumed by Armenia at the EAEU.
At the same time, Garen Nazarian noted that in the course of negotiations Armenia didn’t circumvent interest displayed by her traditional partners. According to him, it’s not about the Russian side alone. “There took place consultations - and not only with the Russian side but other countries interested in the process – to present as clearly as possible the objective and the process of the negotiations. However, there is no legal obligation to seek an approval of a third party with regards to the document - this is a bilateral, interstate process’” he added.
Question: Мr. Nazarian, with your permission, I would like to start the interview with the question which we repeatedly hear in our public and political circles. Why did the negotiations over the new legal framework agreement take such a long time given that part of it - the political component – had already been negotiated as part of the association agreement with the EU?
Garen Nazarian: I’ll try to open up brackets a little regarding the timeframe, so that the reader is able to comprehend the dynamics of the entire process. In general, this process with the EU was launched back in December 2014. Its format was called a scoping exercise aimed at identifying the scope, framework of the new legal document regulating the EU-Armenia relations and outlining the issues which were to be incorporated into the document. That process lasted about four months that coincided with the election period in the EU, followed by the formation of the new European Parliament, appointment of the new Commission and the new the EU Council President. Eventually, the EU Council granted the mandate to the Commission and the High Representative to start the negotiations with Armenia in mid-October 2015. As early as the beginning of December of the same year, the Armenian Foreign Minister and the EU High Representative announced the official launch of the negotiations.
The entire negotiation process lasted 16 months, and I think the parties managed to work meticulously over the period. Compared to the previous ones, these negotiations were more demanding and required considerable professional skills and expertise. Our objective was to reconcile legal commitments under the new framework agreement with the EU and the obligations stemming from our membership at the Eurasian Economic Union. I think, we have succeeded on this, and at the joint press conference in Brussels last month President Serzh Sargsyan and President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced the completion of the negotiation process.
Question: Has the political chapter in the association agreement been fully retained in the new agreement or have there any reductions made?
Garen Nazarian: I would put it this way: The negotiations over the new agreement were anchored in the recent developments in the relations between Armenia and the EU, reflecting their depth and priorities. Certainly, we relied also on the progress recorded in the past and the commitments and agreements reached during the previous negotiation process. By the way, some of them are formulated in the Eastern Partnership documents, memoranda. It would not be correct to state that at the core of the negotiations was only the previously negotiated text. The new agreement reflects the positions and approaches of the parties built on the international and regional developments. It is a comprehensive document which highlights the entire spectrum of the Armenia-EU relations over the past 25 years, and outlines the prospects for their future development.
Question: Understandably the document which is called the comprehensive and enhanced partnership agreement is of a lower status than was the association agreement. Any way, as the chief negotiator would you tell how Armenia will benefit from this agreement? Efficient cooperation has been going between Armenia and EU even before, what is going to change, additional bonuses?
Garen Nazarian: I wouldn’t not compare this agreement with the previously negotiated text for one simple reason: we sought to lay a new legal foundation which would reflect the depth and essence of the Armenia-EU relations. And I can say with confidence that we did succeed in our efforts. From the substance point of view, the new document is comprehensive, we speak about enhanced partnership. Structure-wise it is, indeed, like the previous negotiated text, with the Preamble, General and Institutional Provisions, a big chapter is devoted to the political dialogue, reforms and foreign policy. A separate chapter outlines our approaches to justice and freedoms. We attach a great importance to the objectives set forth in the economic and sectoral cooperation chapter that includes about 30 different sectors (transport, energy, information society, tourism, agriculture, social policies, healthcare, territorial development, education, etc).
Apart from the mentioned above, the new Agreement contains also a chapter on trade and trade-related issues, which has come to replace the previously negotiated Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Compared to the previous document, I would say, that is was the most amended part which now covers the key trade component and outlines the mutual steps to be taken in this field. Through the implementation of this new agreement, we are aiming at applying the EU standards to our everyday life, approximating, where possible, our legislation with that of the European Union, expanding, so to say, the cooperation based on common values, providing for Armenia’s active participation in the EU programs and projects through the enhancement of the political and economic dialogue in several key areas. We have repeatedly stated that our cooperation with the EU is based on shared values. We have, on the highest level, declared our readiness to further our cooperation. This agreement does offer us an opportunity to move forward with a solid legal base, mutual obligations, and commitments. The document is also called to outline the key directions of our cooperation in the years to come. It is a unique guideline for future developments.
Question: Obviously, as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) member state, we can not economically develop a deep cooperation with the EU. What are the boundaries of economic cooperation set by this agreement, and aren’t they contradicting armenia’s commitments within the EEU?
Garen Nazarian: In my response to your previous question, I already touched upon the main and principal difference between the previous document and the current agreement. We are talking not about a boundaries of or restricted economic dialogue but about excluding deep and comprehensive free trade area component, since as a member of the EEU, we cannot possibly combine its free trade provisions. But as for the economic and sectoral cooperation, the new agreement offers an enhanced engagement, because it is compatible with our commitments within the EEU. For those who think that the negotiations took more time than they should have, I will say that it happened because our experts worked hard in identifying the elements compatible with our commitments within other integration formats. A task that they completed successfully.
It would not be correct to say that there are economic restrictions or incompatibilities in our cooperation with the EU. We will continue joining different EU program and projects and successfully cooperate, for example, with the COSME (aimed at assisting the small and medium size enterprises), Horizon 2020 (science, research and innovation), Creative Europe (culture). Recently, we have started negotiations to join the European Common Aviation Area Agreement that will open the aviation markets of 36 European countries for us, etc. By the way, this is of particular importance for Armenia - a landlocked country under the imposed blockade. The EU has already issued a mandate to kick off negotiations on the Common Aviation Area Agreement, and we hope to conclude it successfully this year.
Question: On September 3, 2013 when Armenia did not initial the Association Agreement with the EU, there appeared comments that under russian pressure Armenia stepped back from the three and half years of talks. Today, concerns are voiced that the Russian Federation may again hinder the initialing of the document. now, when Armenia is in the EAEU, do we have the consent of Armenia’s partners, Russia with regard to signing the agreement with the EU?
Garen Nazarian: First of all, let me answer the first part of your question. It was repeatedly underlined that Armenia’s decision to join the EAEU contained first of all and still contains an important economic component. Our task was to expand the export market for Armenia which today has become a reality. I would advise against using the word “pressure”, since when Armenia announced its intention to join the Customs Union, it announced at the same time its readiness to sign the negotiated Association Agreement with the EU. However, the EU said that these processes were incompatible, whereas, only the provision on the DCFTA was incompatible with the provisions of the Customs Union and later of the EAEU. We were ready to sign the political part, but the European Union considered it impossible to separate the political part of the agreement from the provision on DCFTA. After deliberations, we came to the conclusion that it was necessary to reformulate our approaches, renegotiate a new legal document, which has become a reality: negotiations on this are over. In the process, we did not neglect the interest shown by our traditional partners, and I don’t mean the Russian side only. In developing our relations with the EU, we have never conditioned that process by our relations with third parties. There were consultations with all partners that have shown interest towards the process with the aim of briefing them to the extent possible on the objective and the process of negotiations. But there is no legal obligation to seek an approval of a third party with regards to the document - this is a bilateral, interstate process.
In general, in this interconnected world, or more accurately, in current international relations to speak about separated processes in some cases is simply unrealistic. Even large states, while planning and implementing their foreign policy, take into account the process and the quality of their strategic relationships with the partners, third and fourth countries. In this context Armenia cannot be an exclusion. There was certain interest, we negotiated, discussed it, and that was it.
Question: And this agreement is not problematic for the Russian side?
Garen Nazarian: There is no partner country which would consider foreign policy of the Republic of Armenia problematic either for that particular country or from its perspective. As you know, Armenia’s foreign policy is multi-vectoral: our goal is to conduct and maintain an efficient and balanced dialogue with our major partners.
Question: Is the newly negotiated agreement between Armenia and the European Union fits into the declared policy of “and-and”?
Garen Nazarian: Yes, the President of Armenia has spoken about this multiple times. We believe that Armenia should cooperate with the EU, including in the bilateral and multilateral formats, in line with the principle of “and-and” and not ”either-or”.
Question: Are there any obstacles or factors that may hinder the initialing and signing of the agreement?
Garen Nazarian: You are right in using the word “initialing”. There are several steps that follow after the negotiations are concluded: initialing, legal scrubbing , then signing, the latter most probably will happen this fall. The negotiation process is over, and I do not see any obstacle that might hinder initialing or signing of the document. There are all preconditions for the smooth implementation of those steps.
Question: There is a preliminary evidence that the initialing will take place in may, is it correct?
Garen Nazarian: We are trying to finalize the dates for initialing the document. It depends on the working schedule of the EU European External Actions Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia. We are discussing the dates now.
Question: Does Armenia wish to initial the document before may?
Garen Nazarian: It depends more on the schedule and not our wishes. We are ready.
Question: There is an opinion that the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia may affect the Armenia-EU relations, in particular, with regard to signing the agreement. Piotr Switalski, the EU ambassador to Armenia and Karen Bekaryan, Deputy from the Republican faction, have spoken about this, indicating that if any of the EU member-states had reservations on the elections, which are to be held in a free, just and transparent manner, then it can delay the process of ratification.
Garen Nazarian: I would not like to comment on any opinion, especially at this important domestic political juncture. This is not the job of the Foreign Ministry; we are not required to comment this or that statement made in the context of internal political developments. I don’t want us to be pessimistic or link different processes with each other; after all, we are speaking about an international agreement. I would advise anyone - an ambassador or a politician - against linking future processes related to the Agreement with the internal political developments. Central to our relations with the EU is the process of reforms being implemented in Armenia. The European Union has been with us in these twenty-five years, has provided technical, financial assistance which amounts to approximately 1 billion Euros. We are grateful for this invaluable support.
In three weeks’ time parliamentary elections will be held in Armenia. These are the first elections since the constitutional reforms have been made. To prepare for the elections, the electoral system has undergone most serious changes, a new Election Code has been adopted, which has set a basis for holding open, transparent, more fair and more democratic elections. The European Union provided additional support for the implementation of the provisions of the new Electoral Code, as well as for carrying out extensive political and economic reforms. I hope that these positive dynamics will be maintained, especially at this stage when we are discussing the partnership priorities with EU for 2017-2020.
Question: Let’s talk about visa liberalization, one of the most important issues that interests the society. Is it true that in the agreement the issue of visa liberalization is defined as a long-term goal?
Garen Nazarian: The launch of the dialogue on visa liberalization is not defined in the Agreement as a long-term objective; on the contrary. It (I mean the dialogue) will be launched in due course. As you know, the agreements on visa facilitation and readmission have entered into force in January 2014, and the launch of the dialogue with the EU on visa liberalization depends on their implementation. As a result of this process, Armenian and EU will establish a visa liberalization regime in the near future. Joint commitment assumed by the parties at the Riga Summit is formulated in the Agreement. I refer to the opening of the process on the visa liberalization with the European Union. I mean that the agreement specifies that the dialogue on visa liberalization with Armenia should be launched in due course. We hope to start the process which implies the drafting of a relevant action plan by the end of this year.
Question: Is there any wording on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the agreement?
Garen Nazarian: Indeed, the document mentions the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We attach importance to the consolidated approach of the European Union with regards to the settlement of the conflict. The European Union supports the mediation of the OSCE Minsk group Co-Chairs and stands for the exclusively political settlement of the issue, which is formulated in the document. Unfortunately, I cannot provide more details, but the Agreement will become public after signing and you will have an opportunity to learn the details. But I can say that there is nothing extraordinary, the document reflects the well-known principles of international law which constitute the basis for the settlement of the conflict, as well as the approaches of the European Union and Armenia in this regard.
The clear-cut position of the European Union, which we have witnessed recently, is important for us. Back in December, there was a reference to the April aggression in the communication document of the European Council, and it was stated therein that Turkey had sided with Azerbaijan, supported it. We consider it important for the European Union and our other partners to constantly keep this issue in their focus. Clearly addressed or targeted statements are important for curbing further assaults and adventurism of Azerbaijan in the region. In one of its documents the European side clearly speaks about Turkey’s closing the border with Armenia and also about the 1915 Genocide.
Question: How would you like to conclude our interview?
Garen Nazarian: I would say that Armenia has never made its unequivocal commitment to strengthening the democracy and the rule of law conditional on any external factor - geopolitical, economic, or other. We will not deviate from the present agenda, will continue to adhere to our vision of regional stability, strengthening of peace and sustainable development, will try to implement the commitments assumed in the framework of the Armenia-EU relations and relations with other partners.