Presidential elections next year to be a test for Armenia, President of the European Commission says

President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso visited the Matenadaran Institute today, where he delivered a speech on “European Union and Armenia: promoting our common values and forging stronger ties.” The full text of the speech follows.

“It is a pleasure to be here in Yerevan and in particular to be able to meet representatives of civil society, students and scholars. It is also an honour to be able to do so in such a venue: the national manuscript museum, the repository of so much of your national history and culture: a history and culture with so important links with other parts of Europe, links which are in fact stronger and older than is commonly believed.

The influence of personalities such as Aram Khachaturian, one of the great composers of the XXth century, or Arshile Gorky, a seminal figure in abstract expressionism, just to name a few, has indeed enriched not only Europe’s, but also the world’s, culture.

Armenian history has many tales of long difficult journeys and your country is currently embarked on another epic journey. Reform is never easy, in particular in these difficult global economic times. For reforms to succeed requires not just the will of the government but the support and hard work of the population at large, and civil society organisations play a vital role. And this is why it is so important for me to have this opportunity to address you directly here today.

Civil society acts as an advocate of the reform process, informing public opinion and mobilising the support of citizens; as a monitor of the progress made by government, calling them to account when they do not meet their objectives or the standards which you expect, and civil society also provides expertise, to help both government and your fellow citizens move forward with reforms, for example, on human rights or environmental standards.

This reform process is yours; it must be driven from within the country and owned by the people. But it is a process which we in the European Union wish to help and support. My visit here is one more sign of the importance which we in the European Union attach to Armenia as a country and to our Eastern neighbourhood as a whole. Civil society plays a crucial role in this process and I take this occasion to salute the 4th annual meeting of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum which has just taken place in Stockholm. I know that the Armenian national platform members have made a strong contribution to this important debate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before I speak in more detail about the European Union’s deepening relationship with Armenia, let me say a few words about the basis of this relationship: our common values.

The European Union is a union based on values, values shared by all the member states and by our 500 million citizens. The values of democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law, freedom, including, naturally, the freedom of expression. Some of these values are codified, for example in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights or European Union legislation. Others are deeply woven into the fabric of our societies.

It is, therefore, natural that the values on which the European Union is founded are also at the heart of our co-operation with third countries and are a central piece of the Eastern Partnership.

But what does this mean in practice?

First and foremost, it means that the European Union is especially motivated to work with Armenians to support Armenia’s democratic development. And the foundation stone of a democratic process is free, fair and transparent elections. In this respect the EU welcomes the Armenian authorities’ efforts to deliver elections with a more transparent and competitive character. But, at the same time a number of issues still need to be addressed to ensure Armenia fulfils its democratic potential.

The Presidential elections next year will put these to the test. In particular we need to see that the recommendations identified by OSCE/ODIHR are addressed in good time before the elections. But democracy goes well beyond election day. It is built every day in a number of different areas.

For instance, it is built by respect for the rule of law, reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption. Such reforms are above all in the interest of every Armenian and will have a positive impact on people’s day to day lives.

But they also mean that Armenia will be able to benefit from the European Union’s doctrine of “more for more” in terms of our cooperation – put simply: the more reforms you carry out, the more the EU will be able to support the Republic of Armenia.

I do not just mean financial support, although Armenia has already gained an additional 15 million Euro in resources through the Eastern Partnership Integration and Coordination programme. But the benefits go far beyond this. For example, work on the reform agenda has meant that the European Union and Armenia have been able to conclude visa facilitation and re-admission agreements. We expect these to be signed by the end of the year thereby allowing easier travel to the European Union for Armenian citizens from 2013.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are not stopping here.

Negotiations are underway for an Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, between the European Union and Armenia.

At its core, this Association is about sharing our values. It leads to a process of modernising Armenia through bringing your standards, laws and norms closer to those of the European Union and in deepening our co-operation on the world stage.

This process will support political, social and economic reform in Armenia. The DCFTA is an important element in this and will bring Armenia to Europe’s single market, which is the biggest integrated market in the world by value. The DCFTA is, so to speak, a quality mark: a sign that the Armenian economy meets certain standards. Experience elsewhere has shown that this opens the door to trade; to much needed foreign investment and to job creation.

Of course there is a major role for civil society in all of this work. The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum already helps us monitor implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy. I hope this role will expand – we are discussing with Armenia 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. Civil Society will be kept informed of this process and I am sure it will play an important role.

Our support to civil society has also a financial dimension. We have developed a new instrument – the Neighbourhood Civil Society Facility – to provide additional grant support and encourage concrete actions from civil society in support of the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership objectives. We also hope that our support to NGOs will continue through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights and through our 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me at this point say a few words about regional stability and conflict resolution. These are issues that we cannot ignore and which need to be addressed to allow Armenia and its neighbours to achieve their full potential. Aside from the personal tragedy of conflicts, the physical closure of borders brings obvious and significant economic risks – it holds back much-needed growth and revenue. Progress on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains one of the top priorities in our Neighbourhood.

I understand the difficulties and complexities of such work but we should all acknowledge that the ultimate benefits that peace brings far outweigh these difficulties. Some think that the conflict is frozen and that there is no possible solution to it. Though the task may be difficult, I believe that peace is possible. It is not only possible, indeed it is necessary. And the work of the politicians is to turn the necessary into reality; to make the necessary possible. We call therefore on the parties to remain committed to the Minsk Group process by words and deeds, and to return to the discussion of substantial issues. It is also important to exercise restraint in their statements and actions, so as to not to put at risk the existing format and the basic principles.

The European project was also built on the ashes of a terrible war and through reconciliation of former enemies. What we have achieved today would be simply unthinkable for our grandfathers who lived and sometimes died in the tragic years of the war. This project of peace, democracy and reconciliation was recently recognised by the Nobel Committee which has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. And this this example, I believe, can serve as an inspiration for all those in the world that are working for concrete developments in favour of peace.

The European Union remains ready to provide enhanced support for confidence building measures, in full complementarity with, the Minsk Group. We have adopted in June a new programme under the Instrument for Stability in order precisely to support the peaceful settlement of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. We have already the principles for this Agreement as agreed in Madrid, what it takes is political courage to implement them.

Distinguished guests,

I have briefly set out a vision as to how closer co-operation between the European Union and Armenia will benefit both sides. I know that within Armenia there is an open, active debate on how best to balance your country’s relations with its strategic neighbours.

Ultimately, how you manage your international relations is your choice and your choice alone. We are happy that the policy of the government is to “get as close to the European Union as the European Union will let us”. In terms of sharing our values, of being a part of our internal market we want you to be very close indeed.

This will take hard work and civil society will have an important role to play. Together I am certain that, here today surrounded by the manuscripts which chronicle the history of your country, we are setting out to write a new page in that history.

I thank you for your attention.”

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