The new Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was signed on November 24, 2017 on the sidelines of the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels. It can be considered a milestone in the history of modern Armenia and in Armenia-EU relations, managing to overshadow the failure of September 2013, when Armenia backed out of a landmark accord with the EU at the last minute.
While CEPA is indeed a milestone, what should Armenia’s next steps be?
The Brussels Summit, similar to ones before, underscored existing issues both within and outside of the EU. Speaking about EU relations with the six neighboring countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) following the Summit, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council said, “We are reuniting Europe step by step.” However the EU, today more than ever, is divided. Brexit cast a shadow over the Summit which became yet another platform for a discussion of the internal issues of the Union. British and European journalists used every opportunity to ask European leaders about the fallout from Brexit and possible future developments. On the other hand, despite European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's statement that "this is not an enlargement summit," all the Ukrainian and Georgian delegations at the Summit could think of was whether there was any ray of hope for their EU membership sometime in the future.
The Armenia-EU agreement, which was the main outcome of the Summit, may be considered the biggest success story of the Eastern Partnership. Through CEPA, Armenia has managed to maintain good relations with its neighbors and achieve the formation of a unique possibility for trilateral cooperation. Although many, mainly European leaders and analysts say that this agreement “omits free trade and is less ambitious than the Association Agreements (AA) secured by Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine,” it is the most realistic and feasible one for Armenia at this juncture.
Months of discussions and negotiations between Armenia and the EU on a possible new framework attempted to find a workable formula for deepening bilateral relations and forming the new agreement- CEPA. In this case, the accord may be coined a triple win, since it also potentially benefits the Russian side providing it with the possibility of “approaching” the EU via Armenia.
Russian media closely followed the negotiations leading up to the Brussels Summit and the signing of CEPA itself. The Russian media have addressed several contentious issues contained within the agreement such as the closure of the Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant in the future (one of the stipulations of CEPA), which could potentially harm Armenia’s energy sector and hence its economy. Another issue raised by Russian media outlets was the stipulation in CEPA that producers of Armenian cognac, in 25 years, must phase out the word “cognac” and substitute it with “brandy.” According to the new agreement, the EU would provide Armenia with technical and financial assistance for the implementation of this phase out.
At the same time, no official Russian reaction was given concerning the agreement. Taking into account the visit of President Serzh Sargsyan to Moscow one week before the Summit, it can be construed that Russia gave Armenia the green light for CEPA, especially that the main obstacle in the previous 2013 agreement that was effectively blocked by Russia - the formation of a free trade union - is now absent.
Another important outcome of the Summit for Armenia was the initialing of the Armenia-EU Common Aviation Area (CAA) agreement which aims at cooperation between the EU and the partner country in the aviation sphere, with the latter gradually adopting the part of the Acquis (EU legislation) containing European aviation rules, starting with safety requirements. The agreement will give wider choice for consumers and higher level of safety and environmental standards.
Other than this, some of the important points discussed at the Summit referred to the challenges posed by the Belarusian nuclear power plant, a feasibility study on a possible Ukrainian EU membership application (as announced during the post-Summit press conference), and the signing of a High-level Understanding on the indicative maps of the Trans-European transport network between the European Union and Azerbaijan.
It is worth mentioning that leading up to the Summit, efforts were made by Azerbaijan to scuttle Armenia signing CEPA, due to the proposed wording used in the final declaration in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan also tried to make the declaration one of the main points of discussion, but their efforts were ignored.
Firstly, the agreement is the long-awaited basis for a new level of cooperation between the EU and Armenia. The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) of 1999, which was the legal base for bilateral relations up until now, has finally been updated, involving an even wider range of topics from trade to strengthening of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and fight against corruption, reform of financial sectors, strengthening fields of research and innovation, education and training, etc.
Secondly, this agreement, both for Armenia and the EU is more beneficial for the Union than the AA and DCFTA with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. In those cases, only the signatory countries benefited from closer ties to the EU, which included receiving substantial assistance. With CEPA, Armenia being a full member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) may provide the EU “access” to the EEU market and become a possible alternative platform for dialogue and cooperation between the two powers. Ultimately, Armenia managed to find the balance between its EEU obligations and its willingness to have more ambitious relations with the EU.
Thirdly, it is important to stress the role of civil society in this process, which demanded deepening of relations with the EU and having a more ambitious and beneficial partnership. From this perspective, the signing of the agreement is symbolic because it illustrated that societal demand could lead to favorable results. This type of cooperation can also become a model for other member-states of the EEU in their relations with the EU in the future.
Finally, Armenia can now become a mediator not only between the EU and the EEU member countries, but also non-EEU members, such as countries of Central Asia or the Middle East, which have not reached the level of relations necessary with the European Union.
Having said this, now more than ever, it is important to look ahead and deliberate future steps, be it in the spheres of trade, the fight against corruption or bringing about social change. From the Armenian perspective, this agreement is a clear statement of intention that the country is open for the Western world and although clearly within Russia’s sphere of influence, is attempting to assert its sovereignty. Thus, it is crucial that the country reaffirms its commitment to European values and progress through adoption of reforms, in order to foster visa liberalisation talks as an ultimate goal for this phase of relations.
After signing the agreement, the next step should be applying a detailed roadmap for implementation of the agreement. This will underline the priority sectors of cooperation and set the timeframe for reforms. Now that the agreement has come into force, Armenia should look to “lessons learned” from its neighbours, who already set off on the path of deeper relations with the EU. Sufficient results can be achieved with maximum efficiency.