Štefan Füle: EU has a clear goal of forging deeper relations with Armenia

Štefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, had a public meeting with students, civil society media and think tanks in Yerevan, Armenia. Commissioner Füle’s remarks at the meeting are provided below.

Chairman, Distinguished Guests,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you today. It is always a pleasure to visit Armenia, and to see the roots of a flourishing culture which has had such an impact across the globe.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the increasingly fast-paced globalisation brings new opportunities; opportunities that go well beyond countries simply seeking to survive, prosper, or furnish citizens with jobs and ensure that their basic needs are met. Globalisation reaches well beyond this: it creates conditions to unlock and fulfil the creative potential inherent to each of us individually, and aggregated in societies – civil and political.

To fulfil this unique potential we need a vision. And we need instruments – essentially a roadmap – to reach it. But in this increasingly interdependent world, even that may not be enough – what we all need are partners who share and understand our vision, and with whom we can agree on joint instruments, a joint roadmap. Partners who are predictable, reliable and have shared rules of the game.

I believe we are at a significant moment in European Union-Armenia relations. We are developing a partnership which is both wider and deeper than it has been up to now. We are very close to finalising our Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. I am confident that this will bring concrete benefits and new opportunities to all citizens.

In addition to offering an important trade partnership with the EU – a market with 500 million consumers, the Agreement addresses many concrete issues which affect everyday life. As a result, for example, consumer protection, both in terms of product safety and value for money, or road safety, or air quality are improved. What is more, it will also strengthen the links between the people of Armenia and the people of Europe.

For the European Union, partnerships are not only about economics, business and regulatory frameworks. If we are serious in implementing our commitments, as we should be, our political and trade relations will become much stronger: through the regulatory convergence of our partners with the European Union and the effective sharing of values. Human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms will be so-called “essential elements” of our new Agreement, in other words the absolute core that both sides must respect and promote.

The Association Agreement, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area which it includes, have taken a long time to negotiate. We have worked with our Armenian partners to define a set of reforms which will not only open up new opportunities in terms of market access, mobility and co-operation, but which will allow Armenia to exploit those opportunities with strengthened state institutions, labour market, and infrastructure.

One of the reasons I am so keen that we complete our negotiations is so that we can prepare the Agreement in its final form and share the contents with citizens – I do believe that it will open a new chapter not only in European Union-Armenia relations but also in Armenia’s own development.

And we are ready not only to provide financial support of our own, but to encourage other international donors to support reform projects. This can be a foundation for solid medium-term planning, focusing on a common set of goals and under government leadership.

Let me add a couple of words on the broader context of our partnership. As you know, EU-Armenia relations are developed through the Eastern Partnership, that is to say the Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. This policy framework is of great value both to the European Union and also its partners because it is allowing us to bring our relationships to a new level.

In addition to the political aspects of our dialogue with and between our Eastern partners, there is also very practical sectoral cooperation that is underway, in areas ranging from transport to education. In September this year for instance, your beautiful country will host an informal dialogue of Eastern Partnership ministers of education, which Commissioner Vassiliou and I will attend. There we will jointly seek to further enhance opportunities for cooperation between the EU and our partners on higher education.

Ultimately, the Eastern Partnership allows our partners to join forces with the European Union politically and economically. And jointly, the European Union and its partners will be in a better position to face the challenges and opportunities. Needless to say, I see a strong case for participation in a multilateral format of this sort for a country with no access to sea, whose borders with two of its neighbours are currently closed.

Let me also use this opportunity to dispel a myth: The Eastern Partnership, some say, uses a one-size-fits-all-approach leading to uniform relationships in which the individuality of each of the partners gets lost. However, exactly the opposite is true: While we do use a common tool box, including mobility, approximation to European Union standards and values, we work with partners to find tailor-made solutions. Differentiation is a key concept in the Eastern Partnership, and Armenia is no exception.

During my visit I have been discussing with government, parliamentarians and civil society how to address some of the main priorities in our current relations. Let me mention six of them.

  • Democracy: good progress has been made, but we should continue work to implement all recommendations made by the OSCE after recent elections, including changes to the legislative framework.
  • Human rights: we should ensure effective implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy, which is a basic building block for the shared values we want to encourage in our Association.
  • Fundamental freedoms: to give one example, legislation on broadcasting needs to be modernised in compliance with the recommendations of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
  • Equality: where steps need to be taken harmonise legislation with the European Union acquis in the areas of gender equality and non-discrimination.
  • Intensifying the fight against corruption: this is a cross-cutting issue with an impact on every aspect of national development.
  • Reforming governance and strengthening institutions: central among these would be measures to reform the law enforcement and judicial sectors, especially to increase public trust in the independence of the judiciary, to improve the training of judges and to review the code of criminal procedure.

I cannot end today without a word on the conflict. I know this is a painful and difficult subject but it is one that the European Union cannot hide from, either in Baku or here in Yerevan. I urge Armenia to step up efforts with Azerbaijan to reach an agreement on the Madrid Principles, in accordance with the commitments made by the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan within the Minsk Group. We will continue to provide assistance to encourage progress in conflict settlement, and to support related peace-building activities.

Let me conclude my remarks by underlining that the European Union has a clear goal of forging deeper relations with all Armenians, across the political spectrum, from business, from civil society and among the population. In other words: an inclusive partnership.

The EU model of development and integration operates on the basis of “what you see is what you get” – in terms of setting clear goals in the different areas of co-operation: what we expect from Armenia and what the European Union should be offering in return. One of the key strengths of this model is that it makes the progress of our relations and of key reforms easier to visualise and easier to monitor, and the result is an important boost for accountability. That means all of you will have a role to play in making it a success. We are in this together.

The vision I mentioned earlier is a vision of Armenia’s modernisation and the fullest use of all its potential; a vision which will strengthen Armenia and its positive impact in the globalised world; a vision that will through this unique partnership also strengthen the EU. It is a win-win for all, the EU and Armenia but also its direct and further removed neighbours, irrespective of their size.

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