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High time for Armenia’s Euro-Atlantic integration

Following the end of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, it is clear that Armenia is embracing the possibility of Euro-Atlantic integration. While the country still faces many internal and external problems, a desire for closer links is clear at the levels of both state and society.

April 29, 2024 - Valentina Gevorgyan - Articles and Commentary

Flags of Armenia, the EU and US in Brussels ahead of a meeting on April 5th 2024. Photo: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

It is now high time for Armenia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Armenia should be offered a real chance of being included in the next phase of EU enlargement, taking into account the experiences of regional partners: Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. Now, Armenia has supported the special resolution on EU-Armenia relations adopted by the European Parliament in early March 2024, which advocated for granting Armenia the status of a candidate for EU membership. Armenia has already made steps and looks forward to following up on the goal of submitting a realistic membership application to the EU. The Union has also learned that Armenia’s political willingness and the desire of the Armenian people for actual integration with the Union is now stronger than ever before. Regarding the next step in this relationship, Armenia should consider applying for EU associate status with the view towards membership: a similar path taken by neighbours with clear similarities to Armenia’s social, economic and political context. Currently, Armenia’s relations with the EU are regulated mainly by the bilateral Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (EU-Armenia CEPA), as well as a number of programmatic and budget-support formats by the EU. Relations must move on to the next level in the form of an Association Agenda, which should be followed by Armenia’s actual submission of an EU membership application.

Why is Armenia a similarly worthy candidate for the EU along with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, which are now planned to be in the next EU enlargement? Armenia is a preserver of Euro-Atlantic values and has chosen peace and development, every time. Ever since Azerbaijan’s war on Armenians in 2020 and Armenia’s major losses and traumas – and also regardless of both manifest and latent threats from Azerbaijan and Russia – Armenia has still chosen peace. Armenia’s consistent advocacy and action towards peaceful settlement demonstrates its commitment to dialogue, not violence, a popular means of consolidated authoritarians. Apart from numerous political and security problems, as a result of the war and Baku’s other encroachments on Armenia proper, the Armenian public and leadership exercise a demonstrable commitment to developing peaceful relations with their neighbours. Armenian citizens continuously demonstrate their loyalty to peace and development. For one, they have rejected any possibility of social upheaval, even in the circumstances of the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh and the major loss and traumas affecting the population post-war. There is no actual resistance in Armenia against Nikol Pashinyan’s government, with Armenian citizens opting, finally, for the possibility of peace in the region. Why is Armenia a worthy candidate for EU membership? Because the Armenian public has matured enough to understand the value of peace, development and exercising the possibility of an actual democratic transformation – a goal forgotten about during the country’s so-called post-Soviet period spanning the past three decades. It may not be an exaggeration to state that post-2018, but especially post-2020, Armenians underwent a cultural change, with the population possessing an improved understanding of the realities and urgency in modernizing its previously Soviet-style army. These changes in the perceptions, thinking and positioning of the Armenian public must continuously be studied to provide a clearer understanding of value changes within society. This is especially true regarding the powers representing a threat to Armenia. Most certainly, Russia’s continued efforts to spread propaganda within Armenia, not to mention the obvious similarities of Putin’s regime with that in Azerbaijan, have greatly contributed to the value change among Armenian citizens. This is clear not only among the citizens living in Armenia but the Armenian diaspora at large. With demonstrable developments following 2018, and in particular supported by the development of civil society, Armenia has proved it no longer belongs to the post-Soviet camp. It looks towards a new period, leaving behind the post-Soviet practices and title. Cultural, political and economic integration into the Euro-Atlantic community stands now as a priority for the Armenian public. Armenians no longer see the country’s future on the peripheral and ideological outskirts of Russia, as was the case for past decades.

Another significant reason why Armenia has become a candidate worthy of being seriously considered for EU association followed by membership, is that Armenia’s political leadership seriously considers and has implemented institutional steps towards economic, political and security reform. Armenia continues to implement these essential changes, a key part of cooperation with the Union. Armenia is a trusted partner in democracy, and keeps a good pace with implementing legal, judicial, anti-corruption, education and other essential reforms. The country understands that actual steps are needed towards upholding judicial independence, quality education, implementing anti-corruption measures, and preserving fundamental rights. Related reform is key to Euro-Atlantic integration. Armenia has chosen to remain on the course of reforms, improving the performance of law enforcement bodies, for example. Considering the actual possibility of EU association, Armenia’s leadership should continue to avoid fragmented and incomplete changes in the crucial reform areas. Also, for Armenia, a major next step in this framework is operationalizing the pre-accession process for the country. This should be done by establishing a ministry and relevant institutions responsible for coordination that oversees the application of standards and directives in different spheres. It is similarly important that Armenian civil society, although dissimilar and with internal problems of its own, is still able to join in efforts regarding the monitoring of the EU-Armenia CEPA implementation. It should take on the role also of a coordinator of the monitoring process. On the part of the EU, and in order for Armenia to maintain its level of reform implementation (by government institutions) and also monitoring (by civil society), the Union should continue providing direct financial and technical support to Armenia.

Armenia takes seriously its economic, energy and security integration with the Euro-Atlantic world and is initiating processes towards that aim. Firstly, and importantly, Armenia has already rejected a number of meetings, and ceased participation in any kind of military exercises, within the scope of Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Armenia deems it imperative to withdraw from the organization, which now goes against its interests. Armenia has also ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, demonstrating its commitment to joining the club of civilized countries upholding international norms and standards. Armenia has invited and already extended the mandate of the EU’s civilian monitoring mission to Armenia. At the same time, the country has demanded that Russian border guards be removed from Armenia’s international Zvartnots Airport. Armenia has implemented actions towards strengthening military-technical cooperation with individual EU member states, including France and Greece, as well as the United States, India, the United Kingdom and Canada. In short, Armenia has maximized its political, military and economic engagement with civilized partners, prioritizing democracy and development along with minimizing engagements with Russia-led formats.

The most recent developments include the organization by Armenia’s democratic forces (including members of parliament, extra-parliamentary forces, political parties and civil society) of a conference on Armenia’s EU integration agenda, demonstrating the dedication of the Armenian society and government to the EU integration process. In April 2024, the Armenian Parliamentary Standing Committee on European Integration held a hearing on the new prospects and challenges facing the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The Armenian parliament considers it a priority to make such hearings more frequent. In fact, the EU-Armenia Partnership Committee is currently working on new initiatives to advance cooperation, and to capitalize on the political imperative for Armenia’s integration into the Union. As mentioned during the hearing, the new agenda will be ready and made public already in May 2024. Following the hearing, in April 2024, the first trilateral Armenia-EU-United States meeting was organized. This included the involvement of Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Representative of EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, and the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The meeting was organized to showcase and confirm transatlantic support for Armenia. The powers offered to Armenia a new and resilient growth plan, which the country urgently needs considering the social and security shocks experienced over the period of three consecutive years. The meeting also confirmed investment and further support for Armenia’s key infrastructure, renewable energy, nuclear safety, and efforts towards trade diversification. In order to ensure better coherence and consistency in its policies, and also to capitalize on the necessary steps in the pre-accession process, Armenia should now consider institutionalizing its Euro-Atlantic agenda, among others, by establishing a ministry or institutions responsible for Armenia’s EU integration.

Azerbaijan is a close and strategic partner of Russia. The Russian and Azeri regimes share the same values, beliefs and methods. Azerbaijan does not share Europe’s democratic values. However, understandably, the EU considers cooperation with Azerbaijan necessary on energy resources. That EU policy, however, should not affect any deeper cooperation with Armenia. The Union’s offers and cooperation with Armenia should remain a separate agenda, unaffected by its other interests. However, considering Armenia’s currently fragile security situation, and the constant threat coming from Azerbaijan and Russia, the Euro-Atlantic authorities should make it clear to President Ilham Aliyev that if he does not want his energy and economic cooperation with the West undermined by serving the Russian agenda, then he should commit to peace. The policies and communications with this authoritarian should be framed around the message that the EU and the United States are also aiming for a coherent and wider policy in the region.

Armenia’s Euro-Atlantic integration is one among the very few ways to sustain Armenia’s independence and development. The relations between the EU and Armenia are now stronger than ever before in the history of the republic. Armenia is aligned with the EU and the Euro-Atlantic community in both its values and interests. It is now high time to pursue a policy-based integration. Armenia’s Euro-Atlantic integration is now an imperative to which all parties should commit.

Valentina Gevorgyan, PhD, is Assistant Professor at Yerevan State University, Department of Political Science, and Research Fellow at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

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