YEREVAN (Combined Sources)—The European Union and Armenia are building a strong relationship based on political association, economic integration and deeper people-to-people contacts, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said following his meeting in Yerevan with President Serzh Sarkisian.
“Democratic institutions, independence of the judiciary, political pluralism, media freedom and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms are the lifeblood of our partnership,” Barroso stressed, adding this had been his key message in the meetings with Armenia’s political leaders, parliamentarians and civil society.
The European Commission President hailed progress in the negotiations on the Association Agreement (including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area), due to be concluded in time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013.
Barroso also cited headway in the Mobility dialogue, with the expected signature of the Visa Facilitation Agreement on 17 December, followed, at a later date, by the signature of the Readmission Agreement.
He also commended Armenia for the good conduct of the Parliamentary elections in May 2012, saying he was reassured by the President’s personal commitment to address the shortcomings raised by the OSCE/ODIHR mission.
The EU fully recognizes Armenia’s commitment to reforms and the efforts being made, said Barroso, adding the EU was determined to support Armenia, in particular by stepping up its assistance to the country this year with an additional €15 million for an existing project on the reform of the Judiciary and for an on-going operation on Vocational and Education Training.
President Barroso stressed the EU’s commitment to peace and regional stability, in particular through efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the framework of the Minsk Group, and reiterated the EU’s readiness “to provide enhanced support for confidence building measures if the parties so wish.”
In Yerevan, President Barroso said the EU attached great importance to Armenia as a country and to the Eastern neighborhood as a whole. He told an audience at the National Manuscript Museum in Yerevan that the EU and Armenia were discussing the possibility of replacing the ENP Action Plan with an ‘Association Agenda’ – “a more focused tool which will prepare the road for the implementation of our new Agreement.”
In his speech, President Barroso focused on the role of civil society in the reform process. He said the EU had developed a new instrument – the Neighborhood Civil Society Facility – “to provide additional grant support and encourage concrete actions from civil society.” He also voiced hope that the EU’s support to NGOs will continue through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights and through thematic programmes for non-state actors, as well as other EU instruments.
“But beyond the instruments what is important to note here is the political will – the political commitment to work together with your country. We believe that Armenia is a European country, that you belong to the European family of nations and that we have everything to gain from working even closer,” Barroso said.
“The Armenian people have always been steady in their aspiration to have a government system anchored on European values – freedom, democracy and rule of law. We view the cooperation with European structures as an important factor for Armenia’s institutional reinforcement and implementation of effective reforms,” Sarkisian told reporters after meeting with Barroso.
He reiterated Armenia’s resolve to deepen and develop the Armenia-EU cooperation. “We aim to complete the negotiations on the Association Agreement, including the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, before the summit in Vilnius scheduled for November 2013 and thus raise our relations to a new level.”
“During the meeting I expressed our conviction that it’s necessary to deepen the cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership format. Closed borders, threats of use of force, xenophobia and racism have no place in the 21st century. All our statements and actions become imperfect, if against their background one of the partner countries calls the people of another partner country an enemy. This is a classical and disgusting example of hatred,” explained Sarkisian.
“We cannot pretend that it’s normal that Turkey, which is a member of the G20 and bids for EU membership, illegally keeps the border of its Eastern partner Armenia closed. This does not only contradict the simple logic of partnership, but also violates the basic principles and norms of international law. In Europe borders should not be used as dividing lines,” said Sarkisian.
“Armenia has declared on many occasions that Nagorno Karabakh is part of the European family, the bearer of the same values. Therefore, we attach importance to the immediate contacts of EU representatives with Nagorno Karabakh, particularly their periodic visits,” he said.