Piotr Switalski, Ambassador, Head of European Union Delegation to Armenia, said this during the press conference at Media Center on May 8.
The negotiations between Armenia and EU over the new framework agreement draft launched 3 years ago after Armenia refused to sign the Association Agreement negotiated for over 3.5 years as it joined the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Several months ago, Armenia and the European Union initialed Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement which will become a new legal basis for bilateral relations. In addition to the political part, it contains a fairly comprehensive economic component.
As the Ambassador mentioned, the political component is almost totally taken from the Association agreement. “In January 2017, during the press conference here I said that the year of 2017 will be full of EU-Armenia cooperation events. And now I am glad that the document was signed. At this moment, our experts work on the technical verification of the document and I hope that it will be ready for signing in November. Here Armenia has nothing to do, this is the internal procedure of the European Union,” the Ambassador said.
The Ambassador acknowledged that Armenia is in a very unique situation within the Eastern Partnership. “The situation is quite specific, as “Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement” is initialed with EAEU member state,” Switalski said.
According to him, not the signing itself but the implementation of the document is important. “The key is the implementation,” he said, adding that this completely depends on the political will of the Armenian authorities. “In the case of Armenia's desire, Armenia-EU relations have serious grounds to deepen even on the basis of this document,” he said.
EU Revealed the Fraud Case
During the press conference, upon the request of journalists, the Ambassador spoke of the scandalous revelation of large-scale embezzlement case of the grant funds allocated by the European Union to Armenia.
“We urge the Armenian Government and law enforcement agencies to work transparently and reveal the fraud cases as we do within the EU projects,” Switalski stated, expressing confidence that the recent disclosure of the fraud case will not weaken but strengthen the Armenia-European Union relations.
A few days ago, the RA Investigative Committee informed that large-scale embezzlement of the grant funds allocated by the European Union to Armenia was conducted in connection with which a criminal case has been initiated, there are people arrested and under investigation. The embezzled amount comprises about 280 million AMD (535 thousand euros). However, the amount can increase.
These people are involved in the case as defendants: Tigran Sukiasyan, Gevorg Gazaryan, Rubina Ter-Martirosyan, Armen Bareghamyan, Anahit Avagyan, Sergey Balasanyan, Dina Manukyan, Karen Stepanyan, Tereza Dilanyan, Alexander Poghosyan, as well as Hrayr Gyonjyan, Garik Chilingaryan and Gegham Petrosyan. It is noteworthy that Marine (Monika) Papyan, one of the main defendants, does not accept the accusation according to the official sources.
As a reply to journalists' questions about the scandalous disclosure, the EU Ambassador paraphrased the press release distributed by the EU Delegation regarding this issue, separating an “important point”. “This incident was revealed by the European Union, as a result of the internal investigation. This is an important element that manifests the mechanisms of our work. This speaks positively about the EU,” the Ambassador said, adding that the crime was disclosed by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
The activity of this structure should become an example for Armenia. “It is positive that there is such an independent body. This shows how efficient such bodies work,” Switalski said, urging the Armenian authorities to use OLAF’s example and have such an independent body. “If RA Government is interested in how OLAF works, we are open to support and share the experience,” he said.
There were various references in the press about the scandalous case most of which were concerned about the impact of this case on EU-Armenia relations. The Ambassador said that he is aware of the publications but made the contrary conclusion. That is, after this case, Armenia-EU relations can become closer.
“I think Armenia and EU can become closer as OLAF and Special Investigation Service work together very efficiently to disclose this case,” he said, adding that all this time OLAF was aware of the activities of Armenian investigators. “It is of the interests of both sides to cooperate with each other, such collaboration will have good results. I hope that RA Special Investigation Service will affect all other signals coming from other organizations with the same seriousness,” the diplomat said, while refraining from making judgments on the perpetrators.
“I do not want to violate the presumption of innocence. All conclusions should be left to the court,” he said. Meanwhile, Switalski noted that the EU is open to talk about corruption cases, encourages the media to investigate and is ready to fight against this negative phenomenon. “Corruption causes a loss of one billion dollars annually in the EU. We know about this, moreover, we ourselves speak openly about it and alarm about this issue. We are also ready to fight against it,” he explained.
He also pointed out that the fraud in EU programs will not have negative consequences for relations between the EU and civil society institutions in Armenia. “This phenomenon can make us and our partners stronger. We will continue to work with the civil society. We are not disappointed,” he said.
About the Closure of OSCE Office in Yerevan
Piotr Switalski also referred to the imminent closure of the OSCE office in Yerevan, expressing sorrow for the situation. At the same time, he expressed hope that the OSCE will continue the programs implemented in Armenia.
He said that OSCE office in Armenia is a very important and vital partner for EU.
“We jointly funded programs which were useful. OSCE Yerevan office was committed to its mandate proving the importance of OSCE in a state the presence of which is really necessary,” he said.OSCE Yerevan office is expected to close during the upcoming months because of Azerbaijan’s position. Baku vetoed OSCE budget approval program requiring closing OSCE Yerevan Office as in their opinion it participates in demining operations which according to the organization and official Yerevan has nothing to do with the reality.
At the same time, the Ambassador added that the Armenian side can be the best example of being the state that has OSCE Embassy. “Many states put the OSCE's activities under question but Armenia has always supported the OSCE's activities and assesses it positively,” he said, expressing hope that the OSCE Office will continue the implementation of its useful projects in the future.
He repeated several times that OSCE Yerevan Office is a very preferable partner for them. “When drafting projects, first of all we were thinking about with who we can work with among the OSCE countries. I can confirm that from the local perspective the closure of the OSCE will be a great loss,” he said, expressing sorrow for the people who will lose their jobs in the case of the closure of the OSCE office, which would be a very big loss.
“However, we hope that OSCE will continue to organize events in Armenia as Armenia needs it. I can say for sure that OSCE also needs it so I think that the closer is a big blow for OSCE,” EU Ambassador said.
The EU and the USA representative from that organization issued a statement on the OSCE Embassy's closure, in fact, expressed disappointment about the position of Azerbaijan. To watch the video, follow the link.
Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
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