BRUSSELS, Belgium (RFE/RL)—The European Union and Armenia finalized a new agreement on deepening their political and economic ties on Monday more than one year after the South Caucasus state’s controversial accession to a Russian-led trade bloc.
“I am very pleased to announce today the conclusion of negotiations on the new EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, the EU’s top decision-making body, said after talks with Armenia’s visiting President Serzh Sarkisian.
“This new agreement will broaden the scope of our relations, taking into account the new global, political and economic interests we share and challenges we want to face together,” Tusk told a joint news briefing in Brussels.
“The EU is already the first trade partner of Armenia, its first international donor and strongest supporter to reforms,” he said. “We intend to expand these relations further in the coming years.”
“During the 25 years of Armenia’s independence the EU has always stood by our side and provided substantial financial, technical and moral support, the results of which are now visible in a wide range of areas,” Sarkisian said, for his part. The Armenian government is “determined to further this partnership,” he added.
The accord initialed during Sarkisian’s visit to Brussels will serve as a less ambitious substitute for an Association Agreement negotiated by Armenian and EU officials in the summer of 2013. Sarkisian precluded its signing with his unexpected decision in September 2013 to make Armenia part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The U-turn was widely attributed to strong Russian pressure.
The alternative deal apparently contains the main political and some economic provisions of the cancelled Association Agreement. But it has no free trade-related component due to Armenia’s membership in the EEU.
Tusk emphasized that “commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” is at the heart of the new deal. The EU is also aiming for close economic ties with Armenia and, in particular, “new opportunities in trade and investments,” he said.
The deal is likely to be signed in May, at least one month after Armenia’s parliamentary elections slated for April 2. The EU allocated recently 7 million euros ($7.4 million) to enable the Armenian authorities to take significant measures aimed at preventing vote rigging. The bulk of that money will be spent on the purchase of electronic equipment for verifying voters’ identity and providing live online broadcasts from the vast majority of polling stations.
A senior EU diplomat said late last week that Brussels expects the authorities in Yerevan to hold “good elections.” Sarkisian reiterated on Monday that his administration is committed to that.
Russia’s ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Volynkin, indicated earlier this month that Moscow does not object to Yerevan’s efforts to forge closer links with the EU.