It was an active year from the perspective of bilateral relations between Armenia and France in 2016. Mrs. Girardin, Secretary of State for Development and Francophony, visited Armenia in January. This was followed by the visit of Mr. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, in April. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, visited Armenia in October, and in December, the third conference on decentralized bilateral cooperation was held on the level of local self-government bodies, which predetermined the dynamic development of the bilateral relations. Mr. Jean-Francois Charpentier, French Ambassador in Armenia, said this during the press conference at Media Center on February 14.
Loans and Aid from France
In economic terms, the parties made progress and achievements during the past year. The diplomat first mentioned the contract signed with the French "Veolia" company providing water supply to the entire territory of Armenia. “In addition, important events also took place in financial terms; in particular two contracts about the provision of loans were signed. The first is 75 million euros from the French Development Agency provided for the construction of a reservoir in Vedi, the other is a budgetary loan of 40 million, which was provided to Armenia,” the Ambassador reminded.
Developments also took place in the field of education. Jean-François Charpentier mentioned the French University in Armenia, which celebrated the 15th anniversary of its foundation this year. “It has already created a network of alumni with the aim of maintenance of a permanent contact between the alumni and the current students,” he said. What concerns the general policy of development and cooperation, the ambassador said that France has allocated $ 20 million in assistance to Armenia in 2016. “This proves that the guided support has increased by 5 times, and in this respect, France is the third in the world after the United States and Germany,” he said.
At the same time, the French ambassador added that there were many programs that will be discussed on the highest level of the government officials during the meetings. “This was the statement by the President of France, according to which Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was invited to France on March 8,” Charpentier said, adding that in addition to the meetings with government officials during the visit, Sargsyan is expected to meet with the French business community. “This is a good opportunity to present the attractiveness of Armenia to the French businessmen for investments,” the diplomat said. In this context, he stressed the importance of an effective fight against corruption and monopolies in Armenia.
The French Ambassador said that the negotiations over Armenia-EU new framework agreement will be completed soon, which implies signing a new contractual agreement. “There are still a few provisions on which the EU and Armenia should reach an agreement,” he said, adding that one of these issues is the geographical names of products of different "brands".
The point, in this case, is especially for the “Cognac” brand, which is a geographical name in France. The French side requires that Armenia does not produce this drink with the brand “Cognac”, which is unacceptable for Armenia.
“France's position is principal. France supports its brands of geographic names worldwide. Particularly as regards to Cognac, the annual turnover comprises three billion euros in France. Therefore, this fact should be taken into account. The brand also represents a great importance for Armenia. When we say that France's position is principal, it does not mean that we cannot come to an agreement on this issue,” he added.
At the same time, the diplomat noted that Armenia-EU talks are taking place under satisfactory conditions, and a mutually satisfactory agreement will soon be signed. “After signing the agreement, all possible areas will be expanded further, including cooperation with France, political dialogue, the completeness of any economic issues,” he said.
In his opinion, the negotiations with the EU are now moving into a new spirit and the framework agreement "will be different in its nature" from the Association Agreement of 2013.
“If the signing of the Association Agreement provides for the free trade zones in 2013 between the EU and Armenia, this provision is missing in this new agreement. This means that the agreement is expected in the future will be very different in nature. Despite being quite different, it does not mean that the new EU-Armenia agreement is not expected to be of great importance for both the European Union and the Republic of Armenia,” the head of the diplomatic mission of France in Armenia explained.
Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and France
The Ambassador touched upon the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, noting that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries are sparing no effort to establish a basis for a dialogue in the negotiation process. “Three co-chairs are convinced that the conflict has no solution apart from the peaceful settlement. The current situation cannot be acceptable to the parties because there are victims on both sides and not only during the April events but till today,” the Ambassador said, adding that this situation cannot continue anymore.
In this context, he highlighted the implementation of agreements between both sides on different levels. This refers also to the implementation of agreements made during Sargsyan-Aliyev meeting in Vienna and Saint-Petersburg.
He ensured that France is willing to organize a new meeting for the official representatives of the conflicting sides. “France is ready to support and host such meetings as President Francois Hollande said during his recent speech,” he said adding at the same time that the conflict regulation depends on the parties, not the mediators. It depends on the political will of the conflicting sides,” Jean-Francois Charpentier said.
At the end of the press conference, the Ambassador touched upon the processes in the EU on the background of the election of Donald Trump as the US President and Brexit.
“Change of elite’s position occurred in the western part of the Earth, as in many cases people express such wishes in the boxes that may have been left out of people's attention analyzing such processes. All these developments gave rise to surprise. Anyway, be optimistic. The essence of optimism is that democracy operates. When a voter is not well-pleased with any situation, it is immediately expressed in the voting. The ballot results may be surprising but on the other hand, it proves that this mechanism works,” the French Ambassador said.
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Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
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