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Traian Hristea: DCFTA does not preclude Armenia to develop its econo

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  • Traian Hristea: DCFTA does not preclude Armenia to develop its econo

    Traian Hristea: DCFTA does not preclude Armenia to develop its
    economic relations with any other third party

    ArmInfo's interview with Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia,
    Ambassador Traian Hristea. The interview was given before Armenian
    President Serzh Sargsyan said that Armenia is ready to join the
    Customs Union, but it is still topical.

    by Marianna Lazarian
    Saturday, September 7, 16:43

    Mr. Hristea, Armenia and the EU are expected to sign an Association
    Agreement at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November
    2013. What will be the next step of the Armenia-EU cooperation?

    The EU and Armenia are expected to initial the Association Agreement
    at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013. Please
    note this is not the same as signature. Initialling is a technical
    step that confirms the agreement of both sides on substance.

    To sign the Agreement, several procedural steps are necessary, among
    them translation of the text in all the EU languages, and the Council
    has to authorise the signature for the EU. This is an ambitious
    agreement, it is therefore legally complex and the EU is now a Union
    of 28 member states. Procedures do take time for all these reasons.

    The EU hopes to provisionally apply parts of the Agreement (especially
    the trade part) as soon as possible after the signing, before full
    ratification procedures are completed. We want Armenia to benefit from
    the agreement as soon as possible.

    What projects is the European Union currently implementing in Armenia
    and how effective are they?

    Within the framework of the Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument
    (ENPI), the 2011-2013 National Indicative Programme (NIP) put 157
    million at the disposal of Armenia to conduct a number of reforms in 3
    main areas: Democratic structures and good governance; Trade,
    investment and regulatory alignment; Socio-economic reform and
    sustainable development.

    In partnership with the Government as well as civil society, a number
    of EU-funded projects are being implemented or have been recently
    implemented in the following main areas:

    1. Trade and DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area):

    - The EU Advisory Group has successfully supported the DCFTA
    negotiating team on the Armenian side which resulted in the
    negotiations to be successfully concluded in a record time;

    - Three successive Budget Support programmes in support of DCFTA
    policy areas for a total amount of 69 million have started;

    - The Comprehensive Institution Building (CIB) programme (33 million)
    is supporting a number of Armenian public institutions through
    technical assistance and Twinning projects in the areas of
    Competition, Customs, Food safety, Consumer protection and
    Intellectual Property Rights. These projects have brought forward
    approximation to EU standards as well as institution building's best

    2. Justice:

    A first phase of support to Justice Reforms (20 million in Budget
    Support) has been successfully completed with the following results:
    adoption of a Justice Reform Strategy 2012-2016, improvements in the
    areas of independence of justice and corruption, access to justice,
    advocacy and educational institutions (e.g. School of Advocates and
    Justice School) as well as financial support to building and
    renovation of court buildings (also supported by the World Bank).

    A second Budget Support programme (29 million) is being discussed
    with the Government at the moment with the specific aim to address the
    independence of judges, to increase the quality of services to the
    general public as well as to introduce alternative punishment systems
    (in cooperation with the Council of Europe) and improvement of
    detention conditions.

    3. Elections:

    - A project in support of elections in Armenia in 2012 and 2013
    started in February 2012 to improve the technical and professional
    capacities of election commissions, improve voter's lists, build
    capacity among civil society for professional domestic observation as
    well as raise awareness of electoral rights and procedures. The
    project is implemented by OSCE and a number of civil society
    organisations through a contribution agreement. A project in support
    of women's active participation in local elections started in April
    2012, implemented by UNDP to encourage women's meaningful
    participation in decision making and engage in a constructive dialogue
    on gender with media and civil society.

    4. Vocational Education Training (VET):

    Our ongoing sector budget support programme (15 million) is achieving
    good results. The support is now based on the Government's `VET
    Reforms Programme and Action Plan 2012-2015' aiming to align the
    Armenian VET system with the European professional standards, increase
    the efficiency of the VET system, and further develop social
    partnership in VET. Furthermore, the adoption of the National
    Employment Strategy for 2013-2018, supported by the EU, clearly sets
    the direction for linking the results of the VET reforms to the
    changing requirements of the labour market.

    5. Support to civil society and media:

    - Two programmes for almost 3 million in support to civil society are
    being launched ("Civil Society Facility" and "Support to good
    governance and media"). They aim at strengthening the capacity of
    Civil Society to intervene in policy formulation by better engaging in
    policy dialogue with the government, public institutions and bodies.
    They also aim at improving professionalism of media outlets towards
    establishment of free and pluralistic media, as an instrument of
    achieving good governance outcomes.

    6. Infrastructure projects with the support of the Neighbourhood
    Investment Fund (NIF), EIB and EBRD:

    - Several ongoing projects include Metro Rehabilitation Project Phase
    I and Phase II with two NIF grants of 5 million, Armenian Small
    Municipalities Water Project with 7 million NIF grant, Kotayk Solid
    Waste Management, which has been put on hold in anticipation of the
    solid waste management strategy, Modernization of Bagratashen, Bavra
    and Gogavan Border Crossing Points (MBBG) with a grant of 12 million,
    North-South Corridor with another grant of 12 million, and Yerevan
    Water with 5.5 million.

    In its annual report for 2012, the European Union stressed the need to
    decommission the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant. What alternative to
    decommissioning of the nuclear plant could the EU offer to Armenia?

    The EU continues to request the earliest possible closure of Medzamor
    nuclear power plant (NPP), as it cannot be upgraded to meet
    internationally recognised nuclear safety standards. It is a matter of
    concern that Armenia has not yet drawn up a detailed decommissioning
    plan for Medzamor. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, Armenia
    undertook with the EU a comprehensive risk and safety assessment
    (`nuclear stress test') of the plant, the report of which will have to
    be submitted soon.

    The EU offers to Armenia support along with other development partners
    to the development of alternative and renewable energy and improve
    energy efficiency, notably through Programme such as INOGATE or other
    major projects funded by the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF).

    How effective are the on-going reforms in the system of justice in
    Armenia? What flaws could you point at?

    The Government of Armenia initiated a large-scale reform in the sphere
    of justice that already resulted in some improvements, particularly
    improvement of the implementation of court orders, ensuring
    transparency of transactions by implementing a comprehensive
    statistical system, providing a better service to the population and
    improve access to the justice system.

    Nonetheless, there is still substantial work to be done to restore the
    trust of the population towards the courts and judges and the European
    Union is currently discussing with the Government and civil society a
    new Budget Support programme to further support progress in this
    sector in order to improve the situation (particularly if we look to
    indexes such as Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions
    Index for Armenia), and address other concerns such as those related
    to the independence of judges, as evidenced by an EU - Council of
    Europe analysis of judicial reforms in Eastern Partnership countries
    strict application of the law and court rulings or detention
    conditions in prisons. In this respect capacity of law enforcement
    bodies need to be developed.

    The European Union will therefore support the Government in the
    following priority actions:

    - Introduction and implementation of clear-cut judicial independence
    and anti-corruption programmes;

    - Efficiency and accessibility of the justice sector by improving
    cooperation between all the stakeholders, by setting up proper
    training for advocates, judges and prosecutors and by increasing the
    quality of the judicial process in the first instance courts;

    - Revision of the Criminal Code and promotion of alternative
    punishment systems to decrease the level of incarcerated persons in
    line with international standards; improving detention conditions;

    - Increasing the quality of services to the public and businesses in
    the areas of arbitration, notarisation and civil registration;

    Nowadays Armenia is often urged to choose between the Eurasian Union
    and the European Union. Do you think Armenia can participate in the
    two integration projects simultaneously? If not, then what do you
    think might hinder it?

    In general, there is no conflict between increasing links with the EU
    and links with the Russian Federation and organisations in which the
    Russia plays an important role. Armenia can freely participate in the
    CIS multilateral free trade agreement and at the same time to conclude
    negotiations on the Association Agreement with the EU.

    At the same time, we have to make a distinction between Free trade
    agreements and a Customs Union. Within any Customs Union, a country
    surrenders its sovereignty over its trade policy, including the
    management of its import duties, and other elements, such as
    regulatory framework.

    We have said on numerous occasions that the DCFTA does not preclude
    Armenia to develop its economic relations with any other third party
    and we understand the importance of other markets than the EU for
    Armenia's trade. There is nothing wrong in seeking an establishment of
    close trade and economic relations between Armenia and the Customs

    Azerbaijan has repeatedly expressed its desire to change the format of
    the OSCE Minsk Group, which, it says, has run its course. What do you
    think of this initiative? Is the European Union ready to become a
    mediator in the Karabakh peace process?

    The European Union is not party to the official mediation efforts on
    the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The EU supports the OSCE Minsk Group
    Co-Chairs, namely France, Russia and the USA in their efforts to help
    the parties find a solution.

    In support of efforts towards peace, the EU conducts regular political
    dialogue with both partner countries, and has also appointed the EU
    Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in
    Georgia, Ambassador Phillipe Lefort.

    The EU stands ready to provide enhanced support for confidence
    building measures, in support of and in full complementarity with the
    Minsk Group, with a view to facilitating further steps towards the
    implementation of peace

    From: Baghdasarian