First steps lead to big strides: Armenia in the European Union

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 The steps have been taken.  The Baltics took them nearly 10 years ago, now it’s Armenia’s time.

The desire for Armenia to eventually enter the fold of the 28 member big league, The European Union, is soon to be decided.

The pre-Association Agreement negotiations will soon be over, and the hope that a signing will take place in November in Vilnius, Lithuania, where EU ministers and candidate countries will meet.  This is the topic of conservation in the capital, Yerevan, Armenia, today.

Armenia will eventually sign the Association Agreement, some 1,500 pages of agreement text according to Deputy Foreign Minister and Chief negotiation Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who is on the record as saying: “We have two rounds to undergo by the end of the year and few in the coming one.  We are planning to move forward in a speeded-up way.”

The President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan is schedule to meet the current President of the European Union, Dalia Grybauskaite in Vilnius this November.  What started in 2010 – negotiations on Association Agreement for eventual EU entry – will continue, possibly into the future.  Russia has different aspirations for Armenia, and currently Russia lists Armenia as a “Eurasian Economic Community Observer”, Vladimir Putin answers to the European Union.

President Sargsyan will represent his country whereby Armenia may agree to begin the more serious process of meeting the requirements to be considered by fellow member states, worthy to join the international community as an EU member, and the benefits that go along with it.

The process has been three years in the making so far, and will continue to be long and arduous.  Can Armenia ever succeed?  The answer to this question of course, is unknown – at this early stage.

The criteria to join the EU as a new member state is based on three basic principles.

”Political stability; existence of a functioning market economy; the acceptance and ability to take on obligations of membership, including adherence to the monetary union”.  All of these, and more according to Accession criteria established by the Copenhagen European Council, are requirements for consideration.

 Many a local critic would argue that Armenia is not yet quite ready for this Next Step, the signing of Association Agreement.

Croatia has just succeeded and became the 28th member of the EU earlier this month, and brought to the fold a country approximately the same in population and size as Armenia.

Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003.  The European Commission recommended making it an official candidate member state in early 2004, on the road to full EU membership – some 10 years later.  How long will it take Armenia?

Armenia first got into the Eastern Partnership ‘game’ in 2009, and five other former Soviet Union republics were offered the opportunity by the EU, with the aims of tightening the relationships between the EU and Eastern partners.

The goal was to deepen their political co-operation and economic integration.  The Eastern Partnership neither promises nor precludes the prospect of EU membership to the partner states.

In the meantime, Armenia is at junction to sign up, now in the final stages of negotiation as addressed by the Deputy Foreign Minister.

 European Union History

The European Union was officially born on 18 April, 1951.  The six founder nations of today’s EU, in the beginning, were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.  However, the idea of a European Union was first expressed in May 1950 by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Schuman, who declared in a speech to seek economic integration with Germany in the steel and coal sector whereby “other European nations can join” this Union-to-be.

With this Europe Declaration signing Agreement of 1951, these western European countries agreed “’to transform their age-long rivalry through the unification of their essential interests, and, by the inauguration of an economic community”, the agreed declaration stated, and thus the European Union was born.

As we know today, two world wars in less than 25 years were enough to convince European leaders at the time, to ‘do something about it’, back in post WWII recovery.  The Marshall Plan for Germany – and the greatest financial support coming from the United States – and for Europeans, the desire to create a ‘border-less economic playing field’, was the goal to encourage member states to work for a common good of their citizens, and eliminate war as a solution to issues.

Eventually, other western European countries joined as well, and the EU grew to some 15 members by the turn of the century.

 But Europe changed dramatically in May 2004, with the acceptance of 10 new member states – eight of which were former Soviet Union Republics.

The big catches then were the common border states of, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.  That year saw the EU bloom to 25 Members.  Since then, two new EU member states have been accepted in the forms of Romania and Bulgaria.  Latvia will hold the presidency the first half of 2015, and Estonia will assume the same role come 2018.

Now it is Armenia’s and others’ turn to stand in line.  Already in line are Turkey, Georgia and now independent country that use to made up Yugoslavia, with hat in hand

The European Union was originally set up with the aim of ending war between neighbouring states which saw the culmination of two World Wars and over 55 million military and civilian casualties, not to mention countless hundreds of billions in economic losses.  WWII ended, and the nuclear weapon was born.  The world simply became a more dangerous place, with the advent of US and USSR nuclear weapons, Europe needed to get its own house in order.

The European Union was Europe’s answer to bring harmony and stability to a continent that has seen the vast majorities of all wars over the last thousand years. First with bows and arrows, and eventually, with 20th century military machinery and armies.

But what exactly does ‘joining the European Union’ mean, and how does a country go about it in today’s world?

Since its inception, the European Union has been about unified means to achieve economic ends.  The EU’s goal is to create a barrier-free trade zone and to enhance economic wealth by creating more efficiency within its market place.  The EU wants to participate in the world economy as one economic unit and operate under one official currency, the Euro.

This is not as easy as it may seem.  In the post Soviet world of a divided Europe between ‘east and west’, Western Europe is the focus by which ‘others’ want to achieve economic and political parity.  With the growth of the EU to 28 countries in 60 years, the EU today has become the world’s leading trading block – equaling the United States with turnover of some 16 trillion USD, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book.  The EU’s population stands at about 500 million compared to the US at 315,000,000.

Now little central European country Armenia want to get into the big leagues with its neighbours to  ‘the West’.

East and/or West today

Even at this late stage of pre-requirements for EU consideration, Armenia is at a junction.

The Russians will simply not let go, and have their own ‘international economic organization’ known s the Eurasian Economic Community.  Russia does not necessarily like the idea of yet another potential EU country so close to its ‘sphere of influence’, following the Baltic States entry in 2004.

In this part of the world, Turkey is a long way off from ever being considered for EU acceptance, and neighbour Georgia could not get accepted fast enough to please the President, Mikheil Saaksavili.

The Eurasian Economic Community formed in 2000 includes ‘Big Brother’ Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  Uzbekistan was included in 2006, and is now out, suspending its membership in 2008.  Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine, all have observer status.  The stated goal of the EEC is ”common customs borders and foreign economic tariff and price policies” according to their official web site.

So, there you have it, Armenia looking over its shoulder to the East and at the same time, looking to the West for European economic integration.  Come November in Vilnius, Armenia will single out which way it is headed.

Local Attitudes. 

 For Armenia, the pundits are mixed.

From the strong supporter and public voice for EU integration, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan says ”we will be aimed at deepening Armenia’s relationship with the EU on several sectors.  It will cover particularly co-operation criteria addressing democracy, trade and economic (co-operation), human rights, justice and several other sectors”, the Deputy Foreign Minister is quoted as saying at www.taet.am

Other like-minded voices include Gagik Makaryan, head of the National Union of Employers who states Russia’s ”Eurasian Economic Community cannot be a counterbalance on Armenia’s way towards signing Association Agreement with the EU.”

Deputy parliament Vice-Speaker Eduarfd Sharmazanov told recently a group of at the Public Administration Academy, European Regional Educational Academy, the Institute for Law and Politics of the Armenian-Russian University, ”in connection with the Armenia-European Union, the Armenia-Eurasian Union, relations, foreign policy pursued by the Armenian authorities stems from the interests of our country, and it is based not on the ‘or-or’ but ‘and-and’ principle,” he stated.

Former parliamentarian Ashot Manucharyan, a former member of the Karabakh Committee says, ”Europe and Russia have become major challenges for Armenia, but the biggest challenge is the situation in Armenia”.

Manucharyan says, ”Armenia should maintain friendly ties with Russia, and Armenia’s signing of the EU Association Agreement will be a slap to Russia, and will lead to a response from Russia”.  He added, ”I am against expansion of any kind of system.  With its standards, this will lead to a drastic economic decline for Armenia”.

The Near Future

The prospects for eventual signing of the European Union Association Agreement, are nevertheless good.  The Association Agreement is simply ‘another step’ for the country of 3,300,000 citizens to continue the process of ‘de-Soviet-isation’ and traverse the avenue of acceptance in the western world.

Geography plays an important part in the inter-political issues of Central and Eastern Europe; and Armenia’s time has come to move in the direction of fellow Soviet states and welcome the neighbors to the west as their common European ally.

Years of negotiation await the professionals and diplomats of Armenia, the cradle of Indo-European civilisation, to join the western world in the 21st century.

The Baltics will likewise welcome Armenia with open arms, yet the road ahead for Armenia will be long, but worth the journey.

 

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