of EaP Civil Society Forum’s Armenian National Platform
17 September, 2013
With this statement, the Armenian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Civil Society Forum (CSF), reconfirms its support for the enlargement of multilateral ties between the Republic of Armenia, foreign states and international organizations. At the same time, we express our disagreement and deep frustration regarding the statement of the President of the Republic of Armenia on joining the Customs Union and participating in the formation of the Eurasian Union.
For about three and a half years, the Armenian authorities were negotiating the Association Agreement with the EU in the framework of the Eastern Partnership, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Agreement. It seems that the Armenian authorities had shown absolute commitment to the drafting and implementation of this crucially important document. However, the announcement by the Armenian President came to prove exactly the opposite.
The intentions of the Armenian authorities to join the Customs Union to the detriment of the Association Agreement with the EU contradict their numerous statements where they have declared European integration as a foreign policy priority.
It makes meaningless the huge efforts and expense by the Republic of Armenia and the EU in recent years directed to holding negotiations and drafting documents. Numerous projects aimed at implementing reforms in different spheres of life and strengthening relations with the EU, which demand significant resources, have now become useless. Completed projects will not lead to any results and the current projects are now jeopardized.
It is an unprecedented phenomenon, when a country having a far lower level of political and economic development than the European Union, practically refuses to be integrated in the largest economy of the world and deepen multilateral cooperation with the most sustainable region on the planet, and specifically, when this refusal took place in the context of joining the Customs Union, which at this point does not justify itself even for those countries that have already joined it and which prospects are quite vague.
Serzh Sargsyan’s surprising announcement, which had such consequences, caused unrecoverable damage to Armenia’s international reputation as a trustworthy partner.
The claims of officials, politicians and some “too loyal” experts in our country, who tried to put the blame of the failure of the Association Agreement initialing on the Brussels’ shoulder, cannot stand any criticism. We find the decision by the European Union not to consider about 80 percent shortened (without deep and comprehensive free trade agreement) document completely substantial and normal, because no prior consultation and negotiation were held around this new approach.
Moreover, the assessments about the economic calculations and security risks sound quite inconclusive. If such kind of concerns could be an obstacle on the way of association with the European Union, then they should have been revealed and studied much earlier and not at the end of negotiations. In that case, the preference that Yerevan gave to the Customs Union would be considered as more worthy and acceptable by all international partners and Armenian society. However, now all grounds are there to talk about national humiliation.
Even if we assume, that by joining to the Customs Union the RA authorities received some immediate benefits for security and other spheres, there are, however, many reasons to suspect that for a long-term perspective country will become more vulnerable in terms of external threats. And the biggest of these threats is the tendency to neglect the interests of Armenia by international community and the uncontrolled process of concession of sovereignty.
Today, with the difficult social-economic situation there are new factors arising, which only strengthen emigration, one of the most pressing and painful problems in the Republic of Armenia.
The rumors that are being spread presumably not without the direct involvement of the Armenian authorities, implying that the decision was made under pressure, cannot justify the denial of previous constant assurances about the irrevocable path towards the Association Agreement. When such a crucial decision for the country is being made, external factors, of course, exist, and all Eastern Partnership countries have faced it. However, the decisions that are most stable and protected from risks are those based on the consensus in the society about the realization of national interests. The Armenian government has done nothing to inform the society about the content and benefits of the Association Agreement as well as the European Integration in general, leaving the stage for cheap speculations about imaginary “European values”.
All the above mentioned circumstances allow us to confirm that the decision about the Customs Union was made based on the narrow interests of a small circle of people, who were not intending to implement the broader package of reforms designed within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, more specifically, the Association Agreement.
For the current situation, the international organizations, particularly the EU institutions have their share of responsibility. They have been going beyond the limits of tolerance in their relations with the Armenian authorities, many times going along with the imitation of fulfilling obligations and choosing a “more for less” formula. Apparently this served as basis for the Republic of Armenia’s poltical elite to treat the EaP process without proper seriousness and responsibility.
Another negative factor was the absence of real partnership, understanding of mutual priorities and benefits as well as the willingness for mutual assistance between the Eastern Partnership countries. As a result, each of the countries was acting alone considering the failures and drawbacks of a neighbour as their own advantage. We hope that Armenia’s undesirable precedent will reveal the need for change of relationships inside the “Six”.
The intention to join the Custom’s Union and the failure of initialing the Association Agreement is a serious turnover in the areas of internal and foreign policy, socio-economic development and many other fields. Decisions of such importance should not be made without discussions in the National Assembly, government, Security Council and public debates. The lack of formal consultations sets background for us to perceive the Armenian President’s statement on September 3rd as a part of one-man policy which we cannot consider unchangable.
In the current situation we demand from the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia to convene parliamentary hearings and invite special session, which will evaluate the latest announcement of the President of Armenia. We call on the MPs to be above political affiliations and demonstrate a trans-partial position on the issue of joining the Customs Union and refusing the Association Agreement, as this choice goes beyond the interests of certain political parties and predicts the future of Armenia for a long-term period.
We invite the representatives of the Armenian authorities to take part in the conference of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum’s National Platform, which will take place in hotel “Hrazdan”, on 19 September 2013, 14:00-17:00; and present the justifications for Sargsyan’s announcement and the failure of the initialing of Association Agreement.
We are sure that for every single citizen of the Republic of Armenia who knows the consequences of this choice, who values the independence which was gained through big losses and appreciates the democratic development of the country, the decision announced on September 3 cannot be accepted.
The situation can be improved only by consolidation of non-indifferent layers of the society and by civic activism. Irrespective of the developments of the coming months the Armenian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forums will be faithful to the European integration process and invites all the interested people for close cooperation.
Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Eastern Partnership countries
Yerevan, 13 September 2013
Dear Commissioner, Dear Ministers,
The Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP-CSF) thanks you very much for your invitation and opportunity to report on our situation and present our point of view on matters pertaining to the Eastern Partnership.
We are all aware that we are meeting at an important time for the Partnership. The Vilnius summit will take place at the end of November this year and the Civil Society Forum will be holding its fifth annual meeting in Chisinau at the beginning of next month. Progress in the Eastern Partnership will be assessed at both meetings in an atmosphere of some uncertainty.
Even a few weeks ago it seemed that Association Agreements would be initialed with three of the Partnership states in Vilnius and attention was concentrated on the chances of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine being signed. But the future of the Partnership seems less clear with the sudden decision by Serj Sargasyan, President of the Republic of Armenia, to join the Russian sponsored Customs Union and constant political and economic pressure by Moscow on EaP states to abandon their pro European policies. This pressure was criticized yesterday by the European Parliament which called on the Russian Federation “to refrain from exerting more pressure on the Eastern partners and to respect fully their sovereign right to pursue their own political choices”.
The Eastern Partnership was designed to further the rule of law, build market economies as well as fully functioning democracies in the partner countries. We see the role of our non-governmental organizations as providing an authentic and alternative voice on the subject of these reforms including education, which is the subject of this informal meeting, and is an important component as it has the power to change the way societies think and behave.
The CSF Steering Committee stated at a similar ministerial meeting in Tbilisi last February that governments can rely on our support, wherever and whenever, they show a genuine desire to reform and modernise their countries.
The Steering Committee has stated that it supports the position of its Ukrainian national platform which supports the signing of the Association Agreement thus giving Ukraine a framework for reform and placing it on the path of European integration.
Georgia and Moldova appear to be on track for the initialing of their Association Agreements with the government of Georgia preparing an action plan together with the Georgian national platform to support the changes which will be required. Georgia will be holding a presidential election next month which we trust will be free and fair thus putting this country in the forefront of the Eastern Partner states. Moldova appears to be determined to push ahead with reforms before next year’s elections to get as much done as possible in case there is a change of government. Moldova of course, is hosting the Civil Society Forum next month and we are grateful to the government for its support.
We look to the government of Belarus to free its political prisoners and start a constructive relationship with the Belarusian national platform on the EU’s modernization initiative. Early next month will see presidential elections in Azerbaijan which will be observed by local and international monitors. This we hope will provide a fair assessment of the way the election is conducted by the authorities. Here too we hope that political prisoners are released and human rights are respected in full.
It is worth spending a little time on the situation in Armenia as it is a model case of what can go wrong as soon as there is weakening of a country’s commitment to reforms. Last July, the Armenian National Platform of the CSF (ANP-CSF) expressed its support for the signing of the Association Agreement as “a step serving the common interests of the Armenian state and society”. The ANP-CSF expressed “its readiness to engage in dialogue and cooperation with all stakeholders and the general public toward enhancing effective participation of Armenia in the EaP and the AA processes…”
This offer now appears redundant in the light of the President’s decision. And instead of being involved in a process of ‘dialogue and consultation’ the ANP-CSF came under physical attack when two of its members Haykak Arshamyan, from the Yerevan Press Club (YPC) and Suren Saghatelyan, from Transparency International-Anticorruption Center Armenia (TI Armenia) were beaten on September 5 by a group of ‘unknown assailants’ as they returned from a demonstration in support of the Armenia-EU integration process.
It can be assumed this was no random attack by a gang of hooligans. The victims were targeted because of who they were and because of the civil society activities they were engaged in.
The Yerevan Press Club, where Mr Arshamyan is a project coordinator, is at the centre of the ANP-CSF. It specializes in defending media freedom which is one of the CSF flagship initiatives. Mr Saghatelyan is a board member of TI Armenia which is part of a global network devoted to fighting corruption, another CSF flagship topic.
The YPC and TI-Armenia were also heavily involved in election monitoring in the elections in 2012 and 2013. Election monitoring is another flagship issue for the CSF and we will be watching the forthcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan and Georgia carefully for signs of malpractice.
The aim of the attack was to signal to our colleagues that they should tone down their activities in these CSF areas which are crucial to the success of reforms. Free and fair elections give legitimacy to the policies and legislation which underpin reforms, corruption is a canker which threatens the development of societies and an independent media facilitates a dialogue between rulers and ruled and open debate on policy options as well as exposing misdoing.
There have been reports of attacks by ‘unknown assailants’ as well as intimidation by police officers of civic activists who have been protesting about transportation price rises. All of these incidents are the subject of an appeal by Armenian NGOs to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to intervene and persuade the authorities to put an end to these incidents and to catch and punish the perpetrators. The CSF supports this appeal.
On September 19, at its general meeting, the ANP CSF will present its statement concerning all the issues above and the general evaluation of Armenia’s unsuccessful path towards AA and the expected future.
We wish Commissioner Stefan Fule, the European Commission and European External Action Service every success in their efforts to defend the Eastern Partnership against its enemies and to keep the policy on track in Armenia and elsewhere. There is much more at stake than just signing free trade agreements. It is about building stable societies in which everyone feels they have a stake in their future and which are ruled through a process of dialogue and debate rather than the power of the fist. It is about the long term security of the societies which have emerged from the Soviet Union and which have earned the right to a happy future. The CSF, which now has an institutional base thanks to its secretariat in Brussels remains firmly committed to the programme of the Partnership. We are continuing with monitoring reforms and advocacy for them as well as support for the Eastern Partnership. Our secretariat in Brussels is working well. However, the latest violent incidents in Armenia show what happens when countries turn away from the EaP. This is the strongest argument for continued support for the EaP by EU member states and people of good will in the Partnership countries.
Thank you for your attention
The EU is not in the business of building walls but in the process that could eventually lead to a free trade zone between Lisbon and Vladivostok, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle has said following the 3rd meeting of the informal Eastern Partnership dialogue in Yerevan.
“The Vilnius summit is a game changer as it offers political association and economic integration,” the Commissioner told the media after the meeting with the partner countries’ Foreign Ministers, which had focused on the preparations for the Vilnius summit and the recent developments in the region.
The Commissioner reiterated the EU’s pledge to advance the Eastern Partnership with all six partner countries. “Our intentions and policies are clear, transparent, predictable and differentiate – reflecting ambitions of our partners and their commitment to values and principles that form the basis of our relations,” he stressed.
The development of the (Russia-led) Eurasian Union project must respect our partners’ sovereign decisions, Füle insisted, with any threats from Russia linked to the possible signing of agreements with the EU being unacceptable.
“The European Union will support and stand by those who are subject to undue pressures,” the Commissioner said.
He concluded by citing the EU’s deep concerns over the recent violent incidents against activists and human rights defenders in Yerevan. (EU Neighbourhood Info)
Commissioner outlines way forward for EU, Russia and Eastern Partners but says pressure on partners unacceptable
Any threats from Russia linked to the possible signing by the Eastern Partnership countries of agreements with the EU are unacceptable, European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle has said, addressing the European Parliament at the plenary session in Strasbourg.
This applies to all forms of pressure, he said, including:
- the possible misuse of energy pricing;
- artificial trade obstacles such as import bans of dubious WTO compatibility and cumbersome customs procedures;
- military cooperation and security guarantees;
- the instrumentalisation of protracted conflicts.
The (Russia-led) Customs Union membership is incompatible with the DCFTAs, which the EU has negotiated with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, the Commissioner said, but “not because of ideological differences.” The reason is purely legal, he stressed, “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.”
The Commissioner made the following five points in his closing remarks:
- The Eastern Partnership aims to promote values and boost transformation in the partner countries, with the Association Agreement/ DCFTA being the most powerful instrument of transformation. “I’m not in the business to create new walls – quite to the contrary…. I am a believer in win-win games, particularly in dealing with such a strategic partner as Russia,” the Commissioner said.
- The relationship between the Association Agreement and the Customs Union should be better communicated to Russia, and the point should be made “again and again” that the Eastern Partnership as well as the is not against Russia or Russia’s interests. Moreover, the EU stands “ready to help the partners and eventually also Moscow to find policies (that) our partners could align with as long as they are not in contradiction of the agreements on DCFTA.”
- While Russia may see the extension of EU standards and norms as problematic because “they are currently not always identical with those of the Customs Union,” the EU is now actively cooperating with Moscow on the alignment of many norms and standards. This is a key element of the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation, Füle said, and the future EU-Russia agreement (to replace the PCA of 1994) should include provisions for greater convergence of the regulatory framework between the EU Russia.
- The EU does not see any reasons that would justify Russia’s ban of Moldovan agricultural products, the Commissioner said, adding that the Union will look into the possibility of further increasing the wine quota for Moldovan exports to the EU and show signs of solidarity towards “other partners which are subject to undue pressure.”
- As a result of Russia’s decision to build the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union, taken after the launch of the Eastern Partnership in 2009, partner countries are now confronted with a choice between two projects for regional economic integration. “It is inconceivable that through a decision, made freely, our partners should be punished,” the Commissioner said. (EU Neighbourhood Info)