FPC-EPC joint event “Spotlight on Armenia”

On Thursday, 23 June 2011, EuFoA’s Senior Counsellor Paruyr Hovhannisyan contributed in quality of a speaker to the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) event ‘’Spotlight on Armenia” taken place in Brussels. The conference, organised in partnership with the European Policy Centre (EPC), was the last of a series of events held in The Hague, Washington D.C. and London following the FPC homonymous publication. ‘’Spotlight on Armenia” aimed both at outlining the main problems the country is being faced with and at highlighting policy recommendations for the resolution of its major challenges. The examination covered a broad range of issues from domestic to foreign affairs thanks to the different prisms of analysis provided by the contributors. Apart from Paruyr Hohvannisyan, the speakers included: Adam Hug, Policy Director (Foreign Policy Centre), Jacqueline Hale, Senior Policy Analyst (Open Society Institute), Aili Ribulis, Co-Desk Officer for Armenia and Azerbaidjan (DG External Relations, European Commission). The chair of the event was Amanda Paul, Policy Analyst (European Policy Centre).
The speakers particularly underlined the following points:

 

Adam Hug, Policy Director (FPC)
Adam Hug concentrated on the evaluation of the Armenian development towards being a democracy and the institutions which represent it, i.e. the nature of the government, the role of Law and the degree of freedom of the Media in relation to that of the public opinion. Despite acknowledging the growing interactions of Armenia with the Western liberal democracies, his overall analysis brings forward some critical considerations on the Armenian state. Hug points out that, since the March 2008 public demonstrations against the perception of electoral fraud, there has been a growing climate of distrust and disillusionment of the population towards the government. In fact it is argued that the volatile political situation of Armenia is due to the presence of a small but powerful elite which inhibits a genuine cultivation of the public interest. Decisions that apparently seem to be signs of a democratic harmonisation are actually just a façade of particularistic and sided advantages. For instance, the most recent welcoming of the ANC into the parliamentary debate is sceptically considered as a neutralisation of a disturbing oppositional force and its absorption into the government. Thus Hug argues that being the rule of Law and transparency in the decision-making process quite poor, assessing the state of Information system and the public opinion is a big challenge. The majority of the TV channels and print press are pro-government; the Internet, despite being less manipulated, is not accessible to the majority of the population. The exclusion of the popular voice in politics and media has contributed into a staling apathy.
Paruyr Hohvannisyan, Senior Counsellor (EuFoA)
Echoing Amanda Paul’s initial comment on a possible impact of the Arab Spring on Armenia, Paruyr Hovhannisyan focused at stressing the actual internal pushes for change that the state has been lately experiencing. Hohvannisyan argues that the Arab Revolution did not provoke a significant impact on the recent climate for reform in Armenia. For instance, the amnesty passed by the Armenian government this May for the liberation of the March 2008 protestors and the integration of ANC into government dialogue, is regarded as an outcome of the internal developments. Thus Armenia does present an internal and indigenous environment moving in a promising direction and willingness to reform. While these developments should be still followed, the Armenia’s case is for the moment probably the best example of civilised dialogue in the South Caucasus (to compare with violent clashes in Georgia and suppressed opposition in Azerbaijan). Despite being badly hit by the global financial crisis and continuous blockade of its transportation routes by Azerbaijan and Turkey, Armenian economy became more diversified and better planned one to adjust to current challenges. It is important that during the crisis there were no cuts on social spending. As for Armenian foreign affairs, it is argued that the country is getting higher on the European agenda as it can be also seen in the number of the European parliament’s reports and recent EP hearing on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

 

 

The EU-Armenia partnership presents a positive development as Armenia deeply commits in the fulfilment of the conditions put forward by the ENP Action Plan and EaP also in areas such as governance and human rights. Notwithstanding, progress in economic reform has to be faced more severely for a total implementation of trade agreements, namely the DCFTA. He was hopeful regarding the forthcoming Armenia-Azerbaijan summit with Russian mediation in Kazan, yet voiced concern regarding the Azerbaijani side’s continuous rejection of the one of the principles of the NK conflict settlement: determination of the future NK status through a legally binding expression of will. More pessimistic is Hohvannisyan’s account on the opening of the Turkish border as the country, unlike Armenia, does not show significant internal gestures for dialogue and changes in position for the preservation of the status quo.

 

Aili Ribulis, Co-Desk Officer for Armenia and Azerbaidjan (DG Relex,European Commission)

Aili Ribulis’ speech greatly portrayed the intensification of EU-Armenia relations started after the Georgia-Russia war in 2008 which made evident the crucial role that Western institutions can have in balancing stability in the Caucasian region. The analysis of the growing relations between the two actors is regarded on a number of factors. First, Armenia has been keen on committing in domestic structural changes involving issues such as institutional reformation for more accountability, implementation of fiscal regimes in order to meet the EU requirements for a closer economic co-operation. Secondly, Armenia has developed an agenda for a wider transparency on human rights issues (e.g. May 2011 Amnesty) which is permitting to get the country out of its isolation and to increase the diplomatic talks and visits. Despite the growing and mutual visibility of Europe and Armenia, Ribulis argues that there are still important challenges to be faced. On the one hand Armenia should work further on the democratisation, economic reforms and a resolution of the NK conflict. On the other, Europe’s presence in the country has to “sell better” in order to outweigh Russian geo-strategic interests in the area. Thus EU institutions should overcome the present technocratic regime of bureaucracy and make their presence more credible as a concrete vehicle for reform.
Jacqueline Hale, Senior Policy Analyst (Open Society Institute)
Jacqueline Hale’s analysis touched in particular the development of the Armenian civil society within the framework of the broader political transformation. Hale argues that the transition to a truly empowered civil society is stalling due to a consistently weak and corrupted judicial system where corruption and oligarchic interests prevail. In fact, the EU’s role as a soft power is visible in its decisive stimulus for the implementation and empowerment of societal horizontal relations (150 mln euros have been given to the 16 countries in the region for the development of CS). However, their spending results are rather fragmented. Furthermore, even genuine commitments to the civil society and democratisation issues are subject not only to direct internal problems of governmental lack of accountability, but also to indirect pressures generated by external threat of violence (i.e. Nagorno-Karabakh). Finally Hale outlines that the process of EU-Armenia approaching needs to be more digested and stronger strategies have to be developed in order to direction the Armenian reformation in a really lasting and stable way.
Conclusion
The FPC seminar “Spotlight on Armenia” has portrayed the complexity of the current Armenian development towards democratisation and integration in the European discourse. The political, economic and social reforms that Armenia has recently embarked have to face several deep and structural challenges, also common form the other countries of the Eastern Partnership but aggravated by Armenia’s difficult geo-political neighbourhood. The country maintaining its strategic relations with Russia, while conducting a complementary foreign policy resulting in an increasingly intensifying partnership with Russia, strong ties with the US and NATO, as well as good-neighbourly relations with Georgia and Iran. However, despite acknowledging such problems, it would be rather incautious not to recognise the actual shift of the Armenian governmental agenda from that of the previous decades. Europe acquires an important role in guiding and preserving such process of transformation in the frame of the partnership for reforms, which is currently the key issue in the EU-Armenia cooperation agenda.

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