Building Bridges Westwards: Armenia-EU collaboration

EUAG
During an EUAG Advisory Board meeting

Armenia’s ever deepening integration into the global economy is creating new openings for social, economic and political relationships. The dynamism of the country’s public institutions is an important factor in realising these opportunities. As part of its partnership with the European Union, the Armenian Government has initiated an ambitious reform agenda. UNDP examines the institutional support for these changes and the next-steps for Armenia-EU collaboration.

The European Union Advisory Group (EUAG) is structured to provide policy advice and support to key Armenian institutions in designing and implementing their reform agendas within the framework of the EU-Armenia European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan (ENPAP).

“The EU Advisory Group allows radical reforms in the economic, legal, judicial, educational, social, and agricultural sectors to be implemented in Armenia, and also fosters economic and political cooperation between the Armenian government and EU,” says Arthur Baghdasaryan, Secretary of RA National Security Council.

The EUAG directs its policy advice at three core areas:

•           Supporting reforms in the field of justice, liberty, security,

•           Human rights and fundamental freedoms and enhancing democratic structures and

•           Enhancing the economic integration of Armenia into the European Union’s internal market.

Funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP in Armenia, the EUAG has made good progress in all three areas over the last year.

“With the support of UNDP, the EUAG has brought best-practices in public administration to Armenia.  I hope that this exemplary project will continue to deliver such promising results,” says Dafina Gercheva, UN Resident Coordinator/ UNDP Resident Representative in Armenia.

Justice, Liberty, and Security

Some Highlights

  • The European Union Advisory Group (EUAG) is structured to provide policy advice and support to key Armenian institutions in designing and implementing their reform agendas within the framework of the EU-Armenia European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan (ENPAP).
  • With the support of UNDP, the EUAG has brought best-practices in public administration to Armenia.

With support from the EUAG, the Ministry of Justice and other state agencies have taken steps to set-up a probation service in Armenia. In this context, the EUAG hosted a high level seminar in June 2012 to provide clear recommendations on how to facilitate this service - which would allow a convicted person to be released from confinement but still remain under the court’s supervision. As an essential tool to protect human rights, probation should ensure that court decisions are enforced and that favourable social conditions are created to allow offenders to effectively reintegrate into society.

“We encourage the seminar delegates to see how Armenia is reforming its penal legislation and bringing it in line with EU best practices,” says Traian Hristea, Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Armenia

In the field of Migration, the EUAG is actively cooperating with the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Migration Service to negotiate the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements between the EU and Armenia. These agreements will provide visa facilitation, but not visa liberalization, for Armenian citizens. Current provisions include lower visa fees for all citizens, fee waivers for certain individuals (e.g. family members, pensioners), a maximum processing time of 10 calendar days, simplified supporting document requirements, wider issuance of multiple-entry visas for certain people (e.g. business travellers), visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic passports, and enhanced mobility in a secured and well-managed environment. In addition, readmission agreements will facilitate the return of nationals staying without authorization in either EU or Armenian territory.

Democracy and Human Rights

In the area of Democracy and Human Rights, the European Union Advisory Group has focused on regional and EU cooperation from Armenian political institutions as well as strengthening the role of the Armenian Human Rights Defender.

The EUAG has continued to encourage deeper political integration between Armenian parties and their European Union political families. Three of the Armenian parties that applied for integration into their respective EU political families successfully received observer member status in the European People’s Party earlier this year. This historic milestone for the EU-Armenia relationship allows Armenians to share their views directly with a majority of the European Council Members, including the Council’s President and the President of the European Commission, ahead of every EU Summit.

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly aims to increase political association and economic integration between the European Union and the Eastern European Partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine).

“Parliamentarians recognize that EURONEST provides Armenia with the ability to increase its influence in the EU co-legislative Institution. Moreover, the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly’s Working Group of the Rules of Procedure represents the first and only international political body co-chaired jointly by Armenia and Azerbaijan,” notes Eduardo Lorenzo Ochoa, EUAG Policy Advisor on Strengthening Democratic Structures.

Following the recommendations of the EUAG, the National Assembly hosted a EURONEST meeting in February 2012, which was the first of its kind outside the premises of the European Parliament.

“The meeting of the EURONEST Standing Committee on 22-23 February 2012 in Yerevan resulted from the outstanding teamwork of the Armenian delegation in cooperation with colleagues from the European Parliament, the parliaments of Eastern Partnership countries, and the EU Advisory Group to Armenia,” reported the Secretariat of the RA National Assembly to the EURONEST PA.

In the area of Human Rights, activities were focused on increasing visibility and raising awareness of the role of the Human Rights Defenders Office. The EUAG supported the Defender’s office as it prepared to visit the four administrative regions (called marzes) of Kapan, Yeghegnadzor, Gyumri, and Ijevan in November 2011. In each region, the Defender met with non-governmental organizations, regional government bodies, and local town administrators to promote his presence in the region. During the meetings, participants discussed the possibility of establishing regional Human Rights Defender offices, and rural citizens consulted with the Defender about relevant problems they had encountered.

“The opening of six Human Rights Defender’s offices in the regions ensures better outreach, accessibility and human rights protection throughout the country. The implementation of this project will affect the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections as well as the long-term human rights climate of Armenia,” emphasises Karen Andreasyan, RA Human Rights Defender.

Economy and Trade

In the last core area, the DCFTA between the European Union and Armenia has been the centre of attention.

This year the EU launched negotiations towards a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Armenia. The plan will be an integral part in bringing Armenia economically and politically closer to the EU. The agreement comprises 15 chapters and provides substantial legislative and administrative reforms in areas such as the protection of economic competition, customs administration, sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues (SPS), intellectual property rights protection, and technical barriers to trade (TBT).

The first round of negotiations began in Brussels on 19-20 June 2012 and covered matters deemed crucial to a modern, transparent, and predictable trade and investment environment. The EUAG Policy Advisor on Trade, Willem van der Geest, participated in four sub-working groups of the first negotiation rounds. His presence assisted the Armenian delegation in connecting with senior European Commission officials on appropriate policy issues.

“Armenia must demonstrate tangible progress to the European Commission member states in order to gain a closer economic relationship with the EU. As Trade Policy Advisor I am an honest broker, discussing how to compromise feasibility and desirability for both sides,” stresses Willem van der Geest, EUAG Policy Advisor on Trade

A key element of the DCFTA negotiations has been removing and avoiding technical barriers to trade. The EUAG provided input for the Armenian draft laws on metrology, accreditation, standardization and technical regulations in order to prevent new technical barriers from surfacing and to foster further DCFTA negotiations.

The EUAG further supported the Armenian authorities regarding the ongoing SPS reform process with a view to ensuring the effective implementation and enforcement of relevant legislation as well as improving the practical performance of the food and feed safety control system. Regarding intellectual property rights, the EUAG finalised a comprehensive analysis providing the Police with recommendations on the proposed reform of IPR-related provisions in the criminal and administrative codes.

"In recent years European integration processes have been deepened and strengthened.  The launch of Association agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area negotiations opened significantly enhanced phase for EU-Armenia cooperation dialog. The EU AG has an important role in these processes from the perspective of activating and increasing the effectiveness of the EU-Armenia cooperation. It’s an interesting tool to bring the best European experience, advice and help Armenian authorities in their reform agendas" says Garegin Melkonyan, Deputy Minister of Economy.