Europe's Neighbourhood Policy: A First Step Towards Armenia's European Integration?
Europe is at last focussing on its relations with Armenia. What prospects does that relationship offer? This file was prepared jointly by the Inside Europe, Les Nouvelles d'Arménie and Orer.
Last 14 November, the European Union and Armenia adopted a joint Action Plan as part of the implementation of the European neighbourhood policy (ENP). The official signing ceremony took place in Brussels on the occasion of the annual meeting of the EU are Armenia joint Corporation Council. The Armenian delegation was led by Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, while EU was led by Finnish Trade and Development Minister, Paula Lehtomaeki and the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus (EUSR), Peter Semneby.
When it launched its European Neighbourhood Policy, in 2003, the European Union's ambition was to create an intermediary's space between its member states and the rest of the world. It wished to grant states in its neighbourhood, including the three republics of the South Caucasus, some of the advantages of membership, and to integrate them, each in its own way, into the European economic system. This form of European integration is not entirely new: at the other end of the European continent, Norway and Iceland have already been integrated into the EU’s system of governance without actually becoming members. But, the Union’s western neighbours are stable and prosperous democracies; at its eastern border, by contrast, the EU’s challenge is to stabilise, economically and politically, the countries of its periphery by exporting a European model whose effectiveness seems to have been demonstrated during the EU's enlargement to the former communist states of central Europe.
The union also wishes to create the conditions for a better cooperation with its neighbours in such fields as the fight against organised crime, illegal immigration, environmental threats, nuclear safety and conflict resolution.
Armeniais the 8th country to sign an action plan with the EU. The Azerbaijani and Georgian Foreign Ministers signed their own Action Plan at the same time.
Armenia's action plan sets out the main axes of co-operation between the EU and Armenia for the five years to come and establishes priorities in the field of reforms to be carried out in Armenia itself. Until now, the main treaty binding Armenia and the European Union was a “Partnership and Cooperation Agreement” (PCA), which entered into force in 1999. Armenia is now implementing this partnership agreement and has adopted a national programme in March 2006 towards the harmonisation of Armenia's legislation with the EU standards.
But unlike the PCA, which sets out a complete long-term reform programme, the recently adopted action plan is a political document, and it focuses on concrete measures to be adopted within five years. It is supplemented by substantial financial support, to be focussed on the Action Plan’s priorities. In principle, the Action Plan should be a first step towards a closer integration of Armenia into the EU's economic system, and towards the closer a relationship with the EU.
The Action Plans has considerable political significance for Armenia. The European Union is indeed the only power that seems able and willing to provide a model for reforms in the country and among its neighbours, to actively promote those reforms, to help implement them, and, possibly, to help improve relations among neighbours. Generally speaking, furthermore, Europe is playing an increasing role in the region, partly as a result of Turkey's accession process. Europe has had a Special Representative for the South Caucasus since 2003, whose job is to supervise and coordinate its actions in the region. The post is currently occupied by the Swedish senior diplomat, Peter Semneby.
Foreign Minister Oskanian believes that the EU can contribute to promoting regional cooperation in the region: “European institutions provide an opportunity for good neighbourly relations today". The consistency in the EU's approach from this point of view is beyond question: for instance, Europe has objected to Turkish plans to build a railway line between Kars and Tbilissi, bypassing Armenia, and it calls for an opening of the Turkish- Armenian border. But it has not yet chosen to mobilise either resources or political will for this purpose.
Europe's commitment to the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights in Armenia is among the Action Plan’s priorities. Semneby, the EU’s special representative, emphasizes its significance: "the elections [that will take freight place in the spring of 2007] will be the first in Armenia since adoption of the action plan and they will determine the quality of our relations."
The action plan is particularly significant from an economic point of view. It provides for a substantial increase in the EU's financial aid, for a significant deepening of commercial and economic relations, for the harmonisation of Armenia's economic legislation to match EU standards, and for a lowering of non-tariff barriers to trade. This package of measures should encourage investment in Armenia, exports from Armenia to the EU, as well as economic growth. The EU's financial support to Armenia stems mainly from the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument adopted at the end of 2006.
The action plan also contains wording of more symbolic significance. For example, the EU."Takes note of the European aspirations expressed by Armenia." This is unprecedented. EUSR Semneby comments this phrase as follows: “the European neighbourhood policy does not provide from a membership perspective, but it does exclude it either. A rigorous implementation of the action plan would of course be an advantage from this point of view, and would demonstrate that the commitment expressed by Armenia is genuine."
On the subject of Nagorno-Karabakh, the action plan also mentions the need to take the principle of self-determination into account. But Azerbaijan's equivalent document mentions the opposite principle of territorial integrity! And on that other sensitive question, the future of the Medzamor nuclear power station, the Action Plan does not set a deadline on the installation’s closure, though the EU has long insisted that it must be closed down.
There is no doubting the importance of this action plan from the point of view of Armenia. For their part, the determination of Europeans to contribute to Armenia's development is limited by the fact that the EU has not yet identified interests sufficiently salient to justify a sustained interest for this country. By way of consequence, Armenia is very little known in Brussels, except maybe for ' it's ' genocide.
Integrating Armenia into the European system of governance is a major project, but it is a long-term project, to which Armenians in Europe, indeed, can contribute. The action plan that has just been adopted is a first step.
The action plan’s 6 priorities
In eight priority areas, the plan provides for (generally), concrete and an identifiable measures to be implemented in the next five years.
- Democracy, the rule of law, the judicial system and the fight against corruption
- Human rights
- Economic development, the fight against poverty and sustainable development
- Promoting investment
- Harmonisation of the legislative and administrative framework, according to European norms
- Energy and the closure of the Medzamor nuclear power station
- Regional Cooperation.