Piotr Switalski, Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, said this during the press conference at Media Center, on January 24.
As Switalski acknowledged, the year of 2016 was productive for the EU-Armenia relations. "Important events and an intensive political dialogue took place. They enriched Armenia-EU relations. Federica Mogerini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, visited Armenia. The informal meeting of EU Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers was held in Yerevan," he recalled.
The Ambassador noted that the negotiations of the new EU-Armenia Framework Agreement are held in the accelerated procedure. "According to the EU standards, this process is very quick," he said, expressing hope that this year the Framework Agreement will become a reality. "The negotiations are in the final stages, I think the negotiators are close to an end. I cannot mention a specific date, but if it happens, it will be a great event. Once it is finalized, the main directions of the collaboration and the obligations of the parties will be marked," the Ambassador said, avoiding talking about the terms of the contract.
According to him, there are still technical issues that have to be coordinated. "These problems had arisen after 2013 (when Armenia refused to sign the Association Agreement with the EU and joined the Eurasian Economic Union - ed.). Now, some problems arose within the EU concerning the protection of investment. Therefore, there are the agreements of Armenia with the Eurasian Economic Union on the one hand, and discussions on the protection of investments within the EU on the other hand," he said.
Now, according to the Ambassador, the main directions of Armenia-EU cooperation are the following: raising the transparency of electoral processes and the fulfillment of the agreements, the fight against corruption for which the EU provided 15 million Euros, human rights issues and independence and efficiency of the judicial system.
The Ambassador said that last year the EU increased the amounts targeted at Armenia's development programs. "Last year, 62 million Euros were transferred from Brussels to Armenia for the development assistance. For comparison, it is worth to mention that 25 million euros were transferred in 2014. Funds were directed to the improvement of public finance management and border infrastructure," the Ambassador said, recalling that last year Armenia also joined the "Horizon 20-20" and Kosme programs that provide great opportunities for the country's development.
Referring to the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia, the Ambassador said that the EU supports the implementation of the electoral arrangements made by the government and the opposition. "We have provided around 7 million euros for these needs. It refers to the electoral procedure and its improvement and increasing transparency," he said.
Noting that the European Union is not bound by any domestic developments of Armenia, the EU Ambassador underlined that the proper conduct of the upcoming parliamentary elections is very important for Brussels in terms of the future of Armenia-EU relations. "The voter identification equipment will be brought to Armenia soon. They will be tested in February," he said. As for the question of the installation of cameras at polling stations, on which the opposition and the government agreed earlier, the ambassador said the discussions are still ongoing.
“There is no final decision yet, the discussions are still ongoing. I think they are very useful discussions. There was a problem that the applicant had very high requirements that are impossible to meet. But I think these issues can be resolved,” the Ambassador said.
According to some media coverage, the government of Armenia made some problems concerning the installation of cameras at polling stations. RA government wants to charge VAT on the amount of 800 thousand dollars from the import of cameras, which caused the concern of the EU embassy. The Ambassador neither rejected, not confirmed this but expressed hope that RA government will not raise problems.
“We encourage the stakeholders to find a reasonable compromise option to decide on this issue. The solution will not be perfect and everyone will not be satisfied completely but from our perspective it is better to go and pursue the implementation of these solutions, even if they are not 100% perfect," the diplomat said, expressing hope that the government will have a constructive approach and will not hinder the resolution of this problem. "All of our programs are exempt from VAT. This program can be considered EU program and be exempted from VAT. I think the government will adopt a constructive approach and the resolution of this problem will be without any obstacles," he hoped.
As a reply to the question if the elections do not meet the expectations of the EU, how it will affect Armenia-EU relations, he did not answer, indicating that everyone is now trying to address this issue finding "an effective solution." "But the next elections will be important for the future of Armenia. Many are talking about it, and I think that all sides of the Armenian political elite realize this. The same is our perspective. Good, fair, transparent elections will help to create a good environment for the future of the EU-Armenia cooperation," Switalski said.
The European Union is greatly interested that the upcoming elections are "free and fair". "We have made a large investment in the form of money and political support, and have great expectations in this process. The purity of elections and campaign is important for us, not the content. The content is the internal affair of Armenia. Our problem is the exclusion of political corruption," he said.
Arshaluys Mghdesyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
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