In November of last year Paruyr Hovhannisyan was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia with responsibility for relations with the European Union. This week he was in Brussels where he had meetings with officials from the EU institutions. Commonspace.eu spoke with the Deputy Foreign Minister on the current state of Armenia-EU relations and prospects for the future. Hovhannissian described relations as very diverse, multifaceted and dynamic.
CS: You have recently been appointed Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia with responsibility for managing relations with the European Union. What do you see is the most important task in your job?
Armenia-European Union relations are very diverse, multifaceted and dynamic. The deepening of partnership relations between the Republic of Armenia and the European Union is one of the priorities of Armenia's foreign policy. The cooperation with the European Union has substantially contributed to the implementation of reforms , in economy. justice, public administration, as well as the consolidation of a democratic society, and strengthening institutions in charge for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Armenia's cooperation with the European Union develops at the bilateral level through the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), and at the multilateral level through the EU Eastern Partnership program.
Our decades-long successful partnership with the European Union was reinforced by the signing of a landmark document - the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which entered into force a year ago, on March 1, 2021. I will elaborate on the CEPA a bit later.
Armenia joined EU Eastern Partnership at its launch in 2009 and continues to stand for its founding basic principles and commitment to shared values. Reforms aimed at the respect for human rights, fight against corruption, rule of law and consolidation of good governance should constitute the basis for the future of the Eastern Partnership. These are the areas where the Eastern Partners can and should put genuine efforts, if we want our peoples to fully benefit from the reform agendas of the respective governments.
The 6th EaP Summit held in Brussels on December 15, 2021 provided a good opportunity for the exchange of ideas on the future of our partnership. For the first time since the 2017 Summit, the parties managed to agree and adopt a Joint Declaration, which specifically highlighted one of the main guiding principles of the Partnership - “more for more” and “less for less.”
The reinforced sectoral cooperation is high on our agenda. I believe many will share our understanding that under the current geopolitical situation in the region , the imperative of strengthening resilience of our country and society becomes even more urgent.
And the most significant initiative - the ambitious Economic and Investment Plan and its flagship initiatives introduced in the Joint Staff Working Document of the European Commission “Recovery, Resilience and Reform: post-2020 Eastern Partnership Priorities” are set to strengthen this resilience and generate concrete benefits to our people.
CS: Relations between Armenia and the European Union are governed by the provisions of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) signed in 2017, and which came fully into force in March 2021. How do you assess the progress of the CEPA implementation? Is this framework providing the right tools for the EU-Armenia relations to expand?
The CEPA indeed encompasses a wide range of areas of the Armenia-EU cooperation, and we are keen to expand and strengthen our partnership as envisioned by the provisions of the Agreement.
In 2019, the Armenian Government approved the CEPA implementation Roadmap and amended it in 2021, when the Agreement entered into force. The Interagency Commission chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia oversees the implementation of the CEPA in accordance with the timelines stipulated by the Roadmap. It consists of more than 300 actions and activities related to the promotion of reforms in the various spheres such as economy, public life, education and science, health, social protection, infrastructure, economy, environmental protection, as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Moreover, what is highly important is that the Agreement addresses the peaceful and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It emphasizes the significance of negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship format, also recognising the need to achieve that settlement on the basis of the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, reflected in all declarations issued within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship since the 16th OSCE Ministerial Council of 2008; and noting the stated commitment of the European Union to support this settlement process.
CS: Last year the EU increased its support program for Armenia to 2,6 bln euros over 5 years. A large part is earmarked for major infrastructural projects. Is the process of disbursement of these funds on track, and how do you see this support impacting Armenia’s future development?
I want to stress that the Economic and Investment Plan and its deriving flagship initiatives are not an assistance package. As European Commission officials sometimes prefer to say, “there is no cash on the table.” The amount you mentioned (2,6 billion euros) is also not the not set in stone.
The amount depends on the tangible results and success registered by Armenia in its implementation of the mutually agreed flagship initiatives. During the discussions on the initiatives, it was emphasized that in case of successful delivery of the programs, the EU can mobilize up to 2,6 billion euros to Armenia in the form of grants, guarantees and loans.
The priority projects within the flagship initiatives span from supporting a sustainable, innovative and competitive economy, boosting connectivity and socio-economic development, investing in digital transformation, innovation, science and technology, investing in energy efficiency to building resilience in the southern regions and improving access to education. I believe this abridged list of the agreed projects answers your question on their impact on Armenia’s development agenda.
CS: In December, 2021 the President of the European Council Charles Michel hosted a trilateral meeting with the participation of the Prime Minister of Armenia and the President of Azerbaijan, Is there a role for the European Union in building lasting peace in the South Caucasus?
We appreciate President Michel’s continued efforts to address the most important humanitarian issues and create an environment conducive to progress towards peace and reconciliation. Through his direct and personal engagement some of our captives were returned home. However, I regret to state that there are still dozens of the Armenian POWs held in captivity in Azerbaijan, and Baku illegally rejects to return them. Some of them were even sentenced to long imprisonment based on completely fabricated charges. In this regard, I would like to urge the international community to speak up and raise their voices in the face of such a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions. The humanitarian calls should not be selective and should address every flagrant violation of such sensitive issues. I would like to commend in this regard the principled stance of the European Parliament.
To answer the second part of your question, for decades the European Union has demonstrated interest towards the South Caucasus, repeatedly stating the EU’s commitment to foster security, stability, and further implementation of the reforms in the region, as well as expressing readiness to contribute to shaping a durable and comprehensive settlement of the existing conflicts. It was indicated that the EU stands ready to play a greater role in the region by using applicable tools and mechanisms combined with significant financial and technical support and even more significant assistance pledges.
Armenia has always been in favour of the programmes aimed to establish confidence-building measures, though the same cannot be said about the Azerbaijani side: you may recall that some of the representatives of the esteemed international organizations involved in the confidence building programmes in the region were at some point declared “persona non grata” in Baku.
Moreover, Armenia has always underlined that such cross-border projects aimed at bridging societies and neighbors torn by war can be beneficial for creating an atmosphere of trust between the conflicting parties. We strongly believe that there cannot be sustainable peace in the region without preparing our societies for peace.
However, regretfully that the Azeri side continues to opt for even more destructive actions on our borders and also in Artsakh, which by no means can encourage those who are in favour of CBMs.
CS: You visited Brussels this week for meetings with the EU institutions? How do you assess the results of your visit and what is next on the agenda for EU-Armenia relations?
The visit was quite constructive and informative. I had a pleasure to meet my former colleagues and get acquainted with the new ones. I was privileged to know some of them from the Council of Europe as my former position was the Permanent Representative of Armenia to the Council of Europe. We discussed issues of common interest and touched upon the next steps of our partnership.
As you may know, on April 28 we will host the 3rd session of the Partnership Committee in Yerevan. Later, in mid-May, the highest political body under the CEPA - the Partnership Council will be held in Brussels. These meeting will be good opportunity to discuss in depth and evaluate the process of the CEPA implementation. We will focus on the issues of our utmost concern and will try together to find solutions wherever there is a problem or concern.