RIGA, Latvia (RFE/RL)—The European Union’s latest summit held in Riga, Latvia, paved the way for a new accord that will deepen its relations with Armenia, an EU diplomat and senior Armenian lawmakers said on Monday.
They pointed to a joint declaration that was adopted in the Latvian capital by leaders of the EU member states and six former Soviet republics, including Armenia, involved in the 28-nation bloc’s Eastern Partnership program.
“Summit participants welcome the common understanding reached on the scope for a future agreement between the EU and Armenia aimed at further developing and strengthening their comprehensive cooperation in all areas of mutual interest,” reads the document.
According to Traian Hrisea, head of the EU Delegation in Yerevan, this amounts to the green light to the launch of official negotiations on a legal alternative to the Association Agreement which the two sides were close to finalizing two years ago. The summit was therefore “a step forward” for Armenia, Hristea said.
The draft Association Agreement, which mostly consisted of economic provisions, was abandoned because of Armenia’s unexpected decision to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, last year accepted an Armenian proposal to replace it with a less far-reaching accord.
Sources told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that talks on the new agreement are likely to start as early as this summer.
Hermine Naghdalian, a pro-government deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, described the summit results as a major boost to Armenia. She said EU leaders showed proper “understanding” for Armenian efforts to combine membership in the EEU with European integration.
Mikael Melkumian, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, stressed the fact that the planned deal with the EU will have not only political but also economic components. He argued that the EU maintained a preferential trade regime with Armenia even after the latter’s entry into the EEU.
Under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), the EU collects no duties from 3,300 types of products imported from Armenia and applies reduced tariffs to 3,900 other goods.
Vladimir Karapetian, the foreign policy spokesman for another opposition party, the Armenian National Congress (HAK), was more cautious in assessing the outcome of the Riga summit. Karapetian said that the precise areas and depth of EU-Armenia ties to be regulated by the planned agreement remain unclear.
Karapetian at the same time pointed to EU’s decision to try to work out a new free-trade arrangement for Ukraine in collaboration with Russia. That, he said, could set a positive precedent for Armenia.
The Riga declaration also says that the EU is open to embarking on a “visa dialogue” with Armenia that might eventually lead to the lifting of its visa requirements for Armenian nationals travelling to Europe. It says that such a process is contingent on the “full implementation” of an EU-Armenia agreement on “readmission” of illegal immigrants.
The readmission agreement was signed in April 2013 shortly after the EU eased some of its stringent visa rules for Armenians.