BRUSSELS (RFE/RL) — The European Union on Thursday voiced “full support” for sweeping reforms promised by Armenia’s new government and praised anti-corruption measures that have already been taken by it.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, also said the 28-nation bloc is ready to help the government implement the “very ambitious” reform agenda and hold fresh parliamentary elections sought by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
“We agreed on the importance of combatting corruption … and the concrete action that is already taken by the government in this field,” Mogherini said after holding what she called “extremely productive” talks with Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian in Brussels.
“I was glad to hear about the government’s determination and very ambitious agenda, with a focus on public administration and on the judiciary, which is an agenda that has our full support,” she told a joint news conference. “I reassured the minister on the EU intention and readiness to accompany this process every single step of the journey.”
“Upcoming visits of our European Union teams to Armenia will discuss now how the European Union can support the reforms in the country,” she added.
Mogherini and Mnatsakanian spoke to reporters after chairing the first session of the EU-Armenia Partnership Council, a body tasked with overseeing the implementation of a landmark agreement signed by the two sides last November.
The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) offers the South Caucasus state the prospect of a closer relationship with the EU in return for major political and economic reforms. It also commits Yerevan to gradually “approximating” Armenian economic laws and regulations to the EU’s legal framework.
Mnatsakanian reaffirmed his government’s stated commitment to the CEPA. He described the 350-page accord as an “important instrument for Armenia to advance its reforms.” Accordingly, he called on EU member states to quickly ratify it.
The Armenian parliament ratified the CEPA in April, paving the way for the deal’s provisional entry into force this month.
“The Partnership Council welcomed the peaceful nature of the recent protests in Armenia, which led to a democratic change of government in accordance with the Constitutional framework,” read a joint statement released after the meeting.
It said the EU side welcomed the Armenian government’s “clear commitment to fight against corruption” and “expressed its readiness to assist Armenia with the organization and monitoring of new elections.”
Pashinian, who led the massive protests, has repeatedly made clear his intention to force such elections in the months ahead since being elected prime minister on May 8.
Mogherini reaffirmed the EU’s 2017 pledge to allocate 160 million euros ($185 million) in fresh assistance to Armenia over the next four years. She would not say explicitly whether the EU could provide extra financial aid to the new authorities in Yerevan in support of their reform effort.
Mogherini was also non-committal on the lifting of the EU’s visa requirements for Armenian nationals sought by both the current and previous Armenian governments. She argued that visa liberalization has to be ultimately approved by the European Council, the EU’s top decision-making body directly representing the member states.
The issue was also on the agenda of the Partnership Council meeting, with Mnatsakanian saying that the two sides “exchanged views on starting a visa liberalization dialogue.” “We insist to be judged on our merits,” he said, adding that visa-free travel would strengthen Armenia’s links with Europe.
EU leaders said at a summit in 2015 that such a dialogue is contingent on the “full implementation” of an EU-Armenia agreement on “readmission” of illegal immigrants.
The agreement was signed in April 2013 shortly after the EU eased some of its visa rules and procedures for Armenians. Armenia unilaterally abolished its visa regime for EU citizens around that time.
Mogherini noted on Thursday the readmission agreement is “being well implemented.”