On December 7, 2015, the European Union and Armenia announced that they open talks on the signing of a new bilateral agreement. The High Representative of the Union Federica Mogherini explained that the future agreement between the EU and Armenia will contribute to overcoming the ‘uncertainty’ generated by the events of 2013. The European official referred indirectly to the sudden decision of the Armenian President Serj Sargsyan to abandon, after three years of negotiations, the Association Agreement / Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement in favor of the Eurasian Economic Union. That radical twist wasn’t accidental. Armenia took such a decision under the pressure exerted by Russia, to which Mogherini refers indirectly when she reminds about the ‘uncertainty” of 2013. The EU’s attitude to Armenia’s nonlinear past is rather moderate and this points to Europeans’ precaution in relation to Russia, which, since 2013, has shown aggressiveness to the EU’s actions in the ex-Soviet area.
For now, Armenia’s announcement to reopen the talks on a new agreement that will be based on ‘common values’ and on important economic aspects didn’t generate negative reactions on the part of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at least in the period between December 7 and 10. Russia’s muteness generates bewilderment. Isn’t the Russian side bothered at all by Armenia’s decision to strike a new agreement with the EU, which will incorporate the European values and, as Mogherini said, will include some of the elements of the Association Agreement that was abandoned in 2013?
What will the new agreement between Armenia and the EU contain?
The intention to reopen the dialogue between Erevan and Brussels is important, given that the last bilateral agreement dates from 1999 (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement), while the Association Agreement was abandoned by the Armenian side before the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit of November 2013.
The current resumption of negotiations is due to the decision to mandate again the European Commission to negotiate a new agreement with Armenia, taken at the Riga Summit of this May. The new arrangement is to incorporate the European values (democracy, human rights, rule of law) and to revive some of the economic (foreign trade, investments) and sector elements (energy, transport, environment) of the deceased Association Agreement. The dialogue on the mobility of citizens is to be stepped up, but the liberalization of the visa regime is not yet mentioned.
The planned agreement will be tailored by exactly following the principle of differentiation, which was extended further in the reviewed European Neighborhood Policy. This context is fully new for the Europeans, who are put for the first time in the situation to negotiate an agreement that retains the echo of an Association Agreement/DCFTA that was abandoned in favor of the entry into the Eurasian Economic Union. Most probably, the negotiators on the new agreement with Armenia will take into account the positive experience in the relations with Kazakhstan, with which the EU initialed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Partnership Agreement in January 2015.
Russia’s mute position to the opening of new talks between the EU and Armenia generates confusion given the pressure exerted by this country on Armenia in 2013. The assessment of the current situation helps identify the reasons behind Russia’s muteness after this reacted aggressively to the EU’s rapprochement with the ex-Soviet republics during the last five-seven years.
So, the first and most important reason resides in the fact that the EU wants to negotiate a new agreement that will take into account Armenia’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union. This fact suits Russia. Also, the Russian officials can have pragmatic reasons. Being in an economic impasse and unable to offer something, Russia could be interested in the EU’s offer because this implies financial and technical assistance for Armenia, which the Russian side cannot afford to offer. Moreover, Russia seems to be promoting a hybrid policy in the EaP countries. According to this policy, the countries are allowed to calmly develop their relations with the EU, but only after they become a component part of the Eurasian Union and concede a part of their sovereignty to Russia (at least in terms of commercial regime).
Anyway, Russia cannot prevent the signing of bilateral agreements between the EU and the member states of the Eurasian Union and this fact was confirmed by Kazakhstan. But what counts for the Russian officials is that the accords with the EU cannot exceed the limits acceptable to Russia, which are set through the Eurasian Economic Union and other Eurasian bodies.
Is future EU-Armenia agreement a precedent with hidden risks or not?
The initiative to negotiate a new agreement between the EU and Armenia seems innocent. But its implications for the countries that signed Association Agreements and DCFTAs with the EU, in particular Moldova, are for now neglected. But the precedent set by the EU’s agreement with Armenia can become an attractive example for the pro-Russian forces in Moldova, which want to push the country towards the Eurasian Economic Union and to obtain the review of the Association Agreement with the EU. Also, the given case can become a source of inspiration for Russia, which will thus be able to show that an EaP country can simultaneously form part of the Eurasian Economic Union and develop a complex dialogue with the EU. The question is if the EU anticipates the (geo)political impact of the new accord with Armenia on the other EaP countries, in particular those that already signed the Association Agreement and the DCFTA.
Instead of conclusion…
The aspects explained above deserve to be seriously analyzed by the Europeans so as avoid unpleasant surprises in the countries that signed Association Agreements and DCFTAs, such as Moldova, where the European course is very unstable. In this connection, solutions are needed to minimize the risks that derive from the precedent set by the future EU-Armenia agreement. Among solutions, there should be the improvement of the communication instruments with the population about the European integration and efficient combating of the Russian propaganda. Moreover, it is imperative to use the benefits deriving from the DCFTA and to condition the reforms related to the justice sector and corruption fighting. Ultimately, Armenia’s example can be ignored by the Moldovans if the Association Agreement (DCFTA) brings visible and irreversible results.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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