EU-Armenia Agreement on Nerves: Why Is Commissioner Hahn Visiting Armenia?

    • Politics - 01 October 2017, 01:27
On October 2 Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy, will visit Yerevan on the invitation of the Armenian foreign minister. Hahn will meet with Serzh Sargsyan.

Johannes Hahn’s visit is interesting in the context of the Eastern Partnership Summit which will take place in Brussels end of November during which the signing of the EU-Armenia framework agreement is expected.

Both the EU and the Armenian government announce that they are moving towards signing the agreement and there are no obstacles. At the same time, the more such statements are made, the more they look like loud shouting not to be afraid in the dark forest. In other words, intensive statements on lack of obstacles are rather evidence to fears of some obstacle, and the impression is that Europe and Yerevan each announce about their commitment to blame the other’s hesitation in case a problem occurs.

The new framework agreement with the EU has little to do with the association process and does not threaten the interests of Russia which is seen as the “main obstacle”, also considering that Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. At the same time, the Armenian government would hardly risk starting a process with the EU, not clarifying every step and agreeing it with Russia not to appear in the awkward situation of September 3.

On the other hand, September 3 is a “mystery” and it is not clear whether Armenia’s overnight decision was a surprise for the EU officials or not. Or for which European officials it was a surprise and for which ones it wasn’t. In this sense, Johannes Hahn’s visit reminded of the visits of Fule and Ashton to Armenia in summer 2013. They visited Armenia in summer 2013 and announced that the negotiations on the Association Agreement ended successfully, and the pre-signing was expected in the summit of Vilnius in November.

During their visit to Yerevan the statements of Stefan Fule and Catherine Ashton were ambiguous, produced an impression that the EU commissioners were preparing the ground for future excuses. Shortly after their visit September 3 happened. Then a long period of lack of understanding and uncertainty in the EU-Armenian relations followed.

A lot has been said and written about the political decision of the Armenian government. It is no less important what degree of responsibility the EU commissioners leading the process had. What signals did they pass to Brussels about the progress of the process? Did these signals reflect the reality and risks fully? Or were inadequate assurances sent to Brussels that everything was good, misleading Brussels by officials pursuing their own interests. Currently the new EU-Armenia agreement is an attempt to withdraw the EU-Armenian relationship from the lack of understanding, and this is the key political importance and significance of the agreement.

In this context, it is interesting to know the purpose of Johannes Hahn’s visit and whether Commissioner Hahn sends proper signals to Brussels.

At the end of the day, the problems are much milder for Russia but there are some circumstances relating to the domestic issues in both Russia and Armenia.

It is beyond doubt that despite the absence of strategic risks to Moscow there are enough groups in Russian circles which would celebrate the failure of another round in the European policy of Armenia out of their corporate interests. At the same time, these circles may have shared interests with people inside the Armenian government. They will find shared interests in Azerbaijan too. It is quite possible that ahead of November Russia may make vibrant efforts to form a political decision in the Kremlin and to introduce the EU-Armenia agreement as a strategic risk to Russia.

The statements by the diplomats of Armenia and Europe show the presence of such risk and the intention to neutralize it. Perhaps therefore the government reacted to the initiative of Yelq Alliance on leaving the European Union with fervent disclaimers not to anger Moscow.

At the same time, Commissioner Hahn’s visit to Armenia is interested in the context of a seemingly still small or maybe superficial incident. In a seminar held in Yerevan the Head of the EU Delegation Switalski called on Armenia not to wait for a formal process for a visa free regime and start doing the homework now. It was followed by the tough response of the Armenian deputy foreign minister Karen Nazaryan who said Armenia started work towards visa free regime a long time ago. In addition, Armenia has brought up some issues before the EU but has not received a response, he said. In fact, it was an accusation against Switalski or the EU and it is not ruled out that Hahn arrived in Armenia to prevent a scandal ahead of November.