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The overlooked success of the Brussels summit

At the 2017 Eastern Partnership summit the EU and Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. A lot will still depend on its implementation, however, the agreement is the most important event in EU-Armenia relations since 2013. The adopted document demonstrates that the EU has instruments to deepen cooperation with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union.

December 5, 2017 - Mateusz Kubiak - Analysis

Image by European Union

The latest summit of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was largely dominated by disappointments. First, just a few days before the event, Belarus officially confirmed that the EU’s invitation (the first one issued since 2009) would not be accepted by president Aleksandr Lukashenka. Thus, the unprecedented visit of the Belarussian leader at the EaP summit awaited by many did not take place. Moreover, just the following day, more bad news followed: Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, was also considering cancelling his participation because the draft declaration summarising the summit did not mention the prospects for Ukraine’s future membership in the EU. In the end, Poroshenko did appear in Brussels and signed the document in its original shape. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was clearly strained. Yet another bitter pill for the EaP was the absence of several heads of western and southern EU countries, including, in particular, the president of France.

In the context of the above-mentioned events, the fact that Armenia and the EU signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has gone virtually unnoticed. Negotiations on the detailed content of the CEPA began in December 2015 and lasted 15 months – until February 2017. The talks were complicated mainly due to Armenia’s geopolitical situation. In September 2013, following a memorable meeting between the Armenian President Serge Sarkissian and Vladimir Putin, it was announced that Yerevan would join the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and would participate in the development of Eurasian structures under the aegis of the Kremlin. This meant Armenia’s withdrawal from previous plans to sign the Association Agreement with the EU as well as the related free trade agreement (DCFTA). This situation led to a stalemate in the relations between Yerevan and Brussels. However, a lot seems to indicate that the impasse may finally be broken thanks to the newly signed CEPA.

Implementation is of key importance

The Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was designed as a compromise that would, as much as possible, preserve the essence of the Association Agreement rejected by Armenia in 2013 and also take into account the obligations that the Armenian side had towards the Eurasian Economic Union. At the same time, this meant that the CEPA did not include mention of the country’s aspirations to join the EU, nor did it contain solutions that would lead to the construction of a free trade area (which would be impossible due to Armenia’s customs union with Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). Nevertheless, the document manages to include a wide-ranging, ambitious programme for intensifying mutual cooperation.

The CEPA includes not only provisions obliging Armenia to respect the principles of the rule of law, fight corruption, etc., but also some very specific solutions. For example, it contains postulates of support for small and medium-sized Armenian enterprises, liberalisation of trade in services, or mutually opening tenders for public procurement. Finally, a key feature: there is a long list of EU directives regarding particular sectors which are to be transposed into Armenian legislation in accordance with the simultaneously adopted schedule.

Both the Armenians and EU decision-makers underline that it will be possible to talk of the CEPA’s success only several years from its signature, upon evaluation of the implementation of the agreement. The EU declares that to this end it will increase the development aid for Armenia in the next years by 25 per cent, but nevertheless, many still doubt if the current government will be willing to implement reforms. However, according to Armenian political scientist Hasmik Grigorjan (Analytical Center for Globalization and Regional Cooperation), one thing that inspires hope is that the agreement also includes plan for the creation of a bilateral Civil Society Platform, of which the goal will be to monitor the progress of the implementation of CEPA provisions and participate in the formulation of recommendations.

“We hope that even if there is a lack of political will in the current administration, activists will be able to influence the actual implementation of the agreement and ensure the rest of society is properly informed” – Grigorjan explained. Certainly, the social attitudes in Armenia are definitely pro-European. According to this year’s research, as many as 88 per cent of the country’s citizens would like to see a more animated Armenia-EU relationship.

What about the rest?

The special significance of the CEPA lies in the fact that it was signed despite Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union and its indisputable reliance on the Russian Federation. Thus, the signing of the agreement constituted an unprecedented event as well as proof that the EU is indeed able to present an attractive offer (which remains acceptable for the Kremlin).  also to the Eastern Partnership countries usually classified as the programme’s “second league”. The CEPA can, therefore, be considered a good example of the flexibility of EU’s diplomacy, which – according to the principle of differentiation – should be one of the pillars of the EaP.

The absence of a veto from Moscow, the ambitious CEPA programme and the enthusiastic reaction of Armenia itself (meaning decision-makers, experts and ordinary citizens alike) may constitute additional incentives that could positively impact the potential for presenting some of the solutions offered to Armenians as options to Azerbaijan or Belarussians in the future. On that note, it should be mentioned that from February 2017 the Azerbaijan has been conducting negotiations regarding a similar agreement, although it is far from having worked out its final shape.

The situation is different in the case of Belarus, which is the last of the Eastern Partnership countries that do not have its own framework agreement with the EU and still functions based on the 1989 treaty between the European Community and the USSR. The Belarusians themselves declare that they want to negotiate their own agreement as soon as possible, but at the moment only a basic document, much simpler than the “Armenian” CEPA, could be taken into consideration.

The signing of the CEPA by Armenia and the EU is an important event and perhaps the most important outcome of latest Eastern Partnership Summit. Although, in the end, a lot will depend on the actual implementation of the agreement’s provisions, we can already talk of a certain success. The EU has proved that it has a lot to offer also to partners who are closer to Moscow – it would be hard to think of a better advertisement of the European Union in these countries.

The publication of this text was co-financed with a grant by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the framework of Public Diplomacy 2017 – II component Eastern dimension of Polish foreign policy 2017 and in partnership with Eastbook.eu. The publication expresses the views of the author only and should not be identified with the official position of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Translated by Aleksandra Małecka.

Mateusz Kubiak is a graduate of Eastern Studies and International Relations at the University of Warsaw. He works as an analyst in Salvor i Wspólnicy.

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