Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and EU's representative of foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini. sign the agreement

EU, Armenia Sign Landmark Agreement

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BRUSSELS (Combined Sources) — The European Union and Armenia signed an agreement aimed at significantly deepening their relations at a ceremony here on Friday, November 24, held on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership Summit.

Signatures to the document entitled the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) were put by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.

The signing ceremony took place in the presence of European Council President Donald Tusk and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

In her remarks after the signing of the document Mogherini said that the CEPA “is based on our common commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law.”

“This agreement is the first of this kind that is concluded with a party that is also a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. It will now be very important to implement it,” the EU’s foreign policy chief said.

Nalbandian, for his part, described the “wide-ranging and ambitious document” as “our joint endeavor that opens a new chapter in the bilateral relations between the Republic of Armenia and the European Union.”

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“The Agreement establishes a solid legal basis for strengthening the political dialogue, broadening the scope of economic and sectoral cooperation, creating a framework for new opportunities in trade and investments and increased mobility for the benefit of our citizens,” the top Armenian diplomat said.

According to Nalbandian, “it is important that the Agreement reaffirms the stated commitment of the European Union to support the efforts and approaches of the Co-Chairs of the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] OSCE Minsk Group for the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict based on the norms and principles of international law, in particular, non-use of force or threat of force, equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and territorial integrity.”

“Armenia is determined to further develop and strengthen a comprehensive cooperation with the EU in all areas of mutual interest based on this Agreement,” Nalbandian stressed.

The ceremony became one of the focal points of the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit that brought together the leaders of six Eastern European and South Caucasus nations in the Belgian capital on November 24.

Since the launch of the Eastern Partnership program in 2009 Russia has regarded it as a potential threat to its geopolitical interests in the post-Soviet territory.

In the case with Armenia, officials in both Yerevan and Brussels have repeatedly stated that the deal does not contradict Yerevan’s allied relations with Moscow nor jeopardize Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russian-led trade bloc that also includes Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Russian pressure exerted on Yerevan is widely believed to have scuttled a more ambitious Association Agreement which Armenia and the EU nearly finalized in 2013. President Sargsyan precluded that accord with his unexpected decision to join the Russian-led customs union less than three months before the planned initialing of the document.

Russian Ambassador to Armenia Ivan Volynkin told local Arminfo news agency that “Armenia is a sovereign nation” and “has the right to participate in any pacts and associations that do not breach its existing commitments.”

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also attended the summit in Brussels, acknowledged Russia’s “central role” in countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan as she spoke to Deutsche Welle earlier on Friday.

Unlike the Association Agreement that Yerevan negotiated but did not sign with Brussels four years ago, the CEPA does not make Armenia part of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area” with the EU. Still, the 350-page document commits Yerevan to “approximating” Armenian economic laws and regulations to those of the European Union.

The new EU-Armenia agreement will open new doors and give a new quality to the relations between the bloc and the country, European Union’s ambassador to Armenia Piotr Switalski said on November 27, adding that he is “very optimistic” about the deal.

“We are now focused on working to have the agreement implemented in the best possible way,” Switalski said.

Under the agreement, Armenia takes up a number of responsibilities, including anti-corruption fight, judicial reforms, free competitive relations for business.

Switalski also announced that the EU plans to provide Armenia with up to 170 million euros ($200 million) in fresh economic aid by 2020. “But this does not include those opportunities that have been opened up by this agreement,” he said. “I hope that we will be able to use those funds very efficiently.”

Speaking at Friday’s signing ceremony in Brussels, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the CEPA “will broaden the scope of our relations.” “It will now be important to implement it in full, so it can deliver its full benefits,” she said. “We will work together on implementation and on monitoring the implementation we will bring forward.”