By Emil Danielyan
YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — President Serge Sargisian asserted Armenia’s European vocation on Wednesday at a meeting with the visiting head of an alliance of Europe’s leading conservative parties.
Sargisian and Wilfried Martens, a former Belgian prime minister leading the European People’s Party (EPP), met in Yerevan to discuss the country’s growing links with the European Union.
“We consider ourselves to be Europeans,” Sargisian was quoted by his press office as telling Martens. “We are seeking to live by the rules of that [European] family, the value system espoused by it, and in this regard, our orientation is very obvious.”
According to a statement by the presidential office, Martens agreed that Armenia is “a European country,” pointing to its membership in the Council of Europe and inclusion in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program. Sargisian assured him that his administration regards the scheme as a “window of opportunity” to bring Armenia closer to Europe and implement “large-scale reforms in various areas” in the process.
The Armenian leader’s stated commitment to “European values” is bound to be challenged by his domestic political opponents. They have long accused him of rigging elections and illegally enriching himself. They will also cite the deadly suppression of opposition protests and mass arrests of opposition members that followed Sargisian’s hotly disputed victory in the February 2008 presidential election.
Unlike the Council of Europe, the EU has avoided explicitly criticizing the crackdown on the Armenian opposition, however. EU diplomats said in 2008 that it has had little impact on Yerevan’s relationship with the 27-nation bloc.
The EPP currently comprises over 50 center-right parties from virtually all EU member states. Their leaders serve as heads of state or government in more than a dozen of those countries, including France, Germany and Italy.
The EPP also boasts the largest faction in the European Parliament. In addition, it has two dozen associate or observer members from other countries, including Turkey, seeking to join the EU.
In Martens’s words, Sargisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the two other parties represented in the Armenian government have applied for membership in the EPP. Sargisian’s office quoted him as saying that an EPP mission will soon visit Yerevan to “examine their membership bids and launch an accession procedure.”