Monday

20th May 2019

Opinion

What Armenia's new agreement with the EU means

  • Yerevan. Building a truly democratic and corruption-free European state will mostly depend on the Armenian government's political will. (Photo: Dmitry Karyshev)

At the fifth Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on Friday (24 November), Armenia and the European Union signed a new framework agreement, dubbed the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (Cepa).

The Cepa came in to replace the old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) from 1999 - long overdue, since Yerevan wasn't able to sign its earlier negotiated Association Agreement, including a 'deep and comprehensive free trade agreement' (DCFTA), back in 2013, due to a Russian blackmail to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

It took Yerevan and Brussels two years to reopen negotiations and two more to negotiate a new agreement, often referred to as an 'Association Agreement-lite', which has kept most provisions from the old AA.

Cepa doesn't contain free trade arrangements, however, as that is now beyond Armenia's jurisdiction and within that of the EAEU's.

The new agreement is thus a compromise between the old AA and Armenia's new commitments following accession to the Eurasian Economic Union.

Following the fallout of the Eastern Partnership initiative and an overhaul on the part of the EU of its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the new agreement between Yerevan and Brussels was cautiously calculated to avoid a possible repetition of 2013.

The common sense is that Moscow has been kept informed all along to make sure that it is on the same page with Yerevan - although, arguably, that had been the case with the failed Association Agreement as well, so tension remained until the deal was done.

Low profile

Both Yerevan and Brussels have kept a rather low profile - characteristic to EU-Armenia relations in general - throughout the negotiations.

Cepa was initialed unexpectedly, without prior notice or indication, in March 2017, and the agreement's text was officially made public in October 2017, a month before the Eastern Partnership summit. This was perhaps intended to avoid speculation about the contents of the agreement.

Political context has played its role too.

Armenia in 2013 was the first 'clashpoint' between the EU and Russia in what escalated further with the events in Ukraine.

By 2017, with Armenia in the Eurasian Union, Moscow perceived the signing of the new agreement between Yerevan and Brussels as less of a threat.

The signing of the Cepa is a milestone in Armenia-EU relations. Politically, both Yerevan and Brussels 'win', in having reached a middle ground that combines Armenia's EAEU membership with an upgraded agreement with the EU.

This gives Armenia a degree of its long-nurtured political balance. And Brussels demonstrates adaptability in ensuring that the EU and EAEU can co-exist in the post-Soviet space.

Ahead of Minsk and Baku

Second, Cepa pulls Armenia out of the group of Eastern Partnership 'laggards', namely Belarus and Azerbaijan, where it found itself after failing to sign the AA together with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Minsk and Baku are either not interested or have not yet signed similar agreements with the EU. Cepa thus embodies the principle of differentiation - a key element in the reviewed ENP - which implies a tailored, rather than one-size-fits-all, approach in the EU's relations with its neighbours. This sets the Eastern Partnership's current format to 3+1+2.

However, for Armenia the Cepa is also the second best option; it is still a departure from the more sophisticated Association Agreement which contained more benefits.

Importantly, the underlying causes that hindered the latter's signing still continues to pose a challenge to Armenia.

While Armenian policy-makers are likely to boast that they have, after all, managed to achieve their original policy goal of 'and/and' (as opposed to 'either/or') vis-a-vis European and Russian integration projects , the balance is tipped in the direction of EAEU, which ties Armenia's hands in trade arrangements with third parties.

While in strategic terms Yerevan acquires a degree of diversification by signing a new agreement with the EU, the mere signing of Cepa will not alter the balance of power in Armenia's foreign policy.

There is a risk that for Armenia the bar will be lowered, as regards foreign policy diversification, to the Cepa-signing only. The Armenian government will have to work in other directions as well to truly achieve this goal.

Ultimately, Cepa's rewards are hidden in its implementation. It offers EU tools and money to facilitate reform across different sectors.

Among Armenia's civil society and progressive circles, EU is seen as the only driver of the country's modernisation, while Cepa is expected to create an enabling environment for reforms.

The EU, in turn, will need to continue to empower Armenia's civil society for the latter to have a bigger say in policy decision-making and carry out oversight of Cepa's implementation.

But adhering to 'common values' and building a truly democratic and corruption-free European state will mostly depend on the Armenian government's political will, and it still needs to prove that all this is not mere rhetoric.

The clauses of conditionality in Cepa are not strong, and they are anyway unlikely to be invoked for political (in)expediency reasons.

But the Armenian government needs to heed another 'conditionality' – the one enshrined in the social pact between the state and Armenian citizens.

Anahit Shirinyan is an academy associate with Chatham House

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Eastern partners, eastern problems

The EU must hold out the olive branch of possible membership in the distant future - but the current domestic problems in the ex-Soviet states, let alone their links to Russia make more than that difficult.

Europe's far-right - united in diversity?

Europe's far-right is set to rise in the next European Parliament election. This vote will not yet allow the populists to build a majority. But it may become another milestone in their process of changing European politics.

The ECB Song Contest?

One can't help feeling that the race to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank has taken on the flavor of the upcoming final round of the Eurovision Song Contest.

EU must hold Qatar to account for World Cup deaths

The EU has a unique opportunity to push its labour rights agenda in the Gulf state, with the tournament throwing the country's dismal record on migrant workers firmly into the spotlight.

News in Brief

  1. September elections in Austria after Strache scandal
  2. Swiss voters approve tighter gun controls in line with EU
  3. Report: May's fourth Brexit vote a 'retread' of old ideas
  4. Turkey insists on right to drill for oil off Cyprus coast
  5. Anti-Salvini banners become new trend in Italy
  6. EU flies rainbow flag on anti-homophobia day
  7. EU to freeze money and visas of foreign cyber-attackers
  8. EU reassures US on arms sales

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us