October 8, 2013 - 18:35 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Armenia seeks to develop cooperation with the European Union based on the progress in bilateral ties achieved over the last years, yet not ignoring other integration processes Yerevan can benefit from, Foreign Minister said.
As Edward Nalbandian said at the meeting with the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Armenia hopes for the EU assistance in promoting reforms in the sectors of human rights defense, democracy and rule of law.
As he further noted, the Armenia-EU framework agreement singed in December 2012 will enable Yerevan’s participation in a number of the EU programs.
Ms Ashton, in turn, noted that EU wants to expand such ties with Armenia which would be possible in the light of the country’s decision to join the Customs Union.
Armenia completed technical talks on a ‘deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement' (DCFTA) with the EU in July and it was set to be signed at a summit with the EU in late November. In addition to a free-trade deal, Armenia has been working towards the signing of an association agreement with the EU, a framework agreement on co-operation that is seen as a first step towards political integration with the EU.
However, during a Sept 3 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenian leader Sargsyan said Armenia is ready to join Customs Union, with further plans to be involved in formation of the Eurasian Economic Union. Mr. Putin supported the initiative, vowing procedural assistance to Armenia.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt described Armenia’s intention as a U-turn in relations with the European Union. “Seems as if Armenia will break talks on free trade agreement with EU and integrate with Russia instead,” he said.
Linas Linkevicius, the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said Armenia “has blocked its chances of signing a free trade deal with the European Union by choosing to join the Russia-led union.” “We respect any choice of countries but they cannot enter both organizations at the same time because of different tariff requirements,” he said.
In a separate statement, Linkevicius and seven other ministers from Nordic and Baltic countries warned against Russian pressure on post-Soviet states. “Any economic threat or political pressure directed against Eastern partners because of their European aspirations and engagement with the EU is unacceptable,” they said.
The European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule said the Customs Union membership is not compatible with the DCFTAs which have been negotiated with Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia.
“This is not because of ideological differences; this is not about a clash of economic blocs, or a zero-sum game. This is due to legal impossibilities: for instance, you cannot at the same time lower your customs tariffs as per the DCFTA and increase them as a result of the Customs Union membership,” he said during the European Parliament plenary meeting in Strasbourg in a statement on “the pressure exercised by Russia on countries of the Eastern Partnership.”
“It may certainly be possible for members of the Eastern Partnership to increase their cooperation with the Customs Union, perhaps as observers; and participation in a DCFTA is of course fully compatible with our partners' existing free trade agreements with other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) states,” Fule said.
The Customs Union was formed in 2010 to include of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia; Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan later expressed willingness to join the Union.