Mediamax’s exclusive interview with the Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Switalski.
- Mr. Ambassador, in joint press statement issued on June 22 after the first meeting of the Partnership Council the “EU welcomed the Armenian Government’s clear commitment to fight against corruption and the concrete action the Armenian Government has taken in this field”. Does this mean that the previous governments were not taking concrete actions?
- The fight against corruption was one of the main topics discussed recently in Brussels. Indeed, at the Partnership Council the Armenian side made a very strong statement concerning its determination to fight against corruption, as one of the most important priorities of the new Armenian Government, and the EU side declared its readiness to provide every necessary support to help the Armenian government and Armenia to implement the ambitious goals concerning the fight against corruption. This is very significant.
The political will is the key and now we can say that Armenia has created this necessary political will. The Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated that fight against corruption is now irreversible in Armenia, which again encourages us to be even more committed to help. We believe now there is a window of opportunity to really make a breakthrough.
There are also other necessary elements to be successful in the fight against corruption - good laws, legislation, institutions, public support and awareness. On all these elements EU has tried to do its outmost to help Armenia to achieve results. It is very interesting that the current developments, including the arrest of some of the people, is based on the existing legislation, which means that already now there is a strong legislative basis to fight corruption.
However, we believe it can still be enhanced. We have concrete ideas in which direction this legislative development should go and we are ready to provide support. In September the European Union will be organizing in Armenia a so called “preer review" on corruption, which means that experts from the European counties will come here and share the European experience, in particular legislative and institutional solutions.
The new government has announced its intention to create an all encompassing anti-corruption agency. We as the European Union welcome it, because it's something we have advocated for many years. This institution we believe deserves support and we will be discussing with the Government to what extent we can support, if, of course, there is an interest.
- Some Republican Party representatives claim that the recent anti-corruption measures and detentions have “political background”. What is your opinion on that?
- What is necessary is the independence of judiciary, because when you deal with corruption, independent and strong courts are the guarantee that this is not about selective justice or “vendettas”. I have no reason to believe that the recent actions have any political background. All the actions were taken with full transparency and there were grounds to take actions. But in order to have all the necessary safeguards to exclude the political factor, you must have independent courts, judges. I believe Armenia can do it as well.
- How do you see the EU’s role in the fight against corruption taking into consideration that current Armenian authorities emphasized that “they will take no grants supporting the fight against corruption from any international organization, because they find that eliminating corruption requires political will firstly, and the new government has that will”.
- I agree that in terms of building the political will or having it, the money factor plays no role. When it comes to implementing this political will into concrete action we stand ready to help. So it is up to the Armenian government to decide to what extend it wants to cooperate with the external partners. We believe that such cooperation makes sense at least on the number of points like sharing the experience of the European countries concerning the functioning of the institutions and developing good laws. Armenia will have to choose its own way or model, and we are ready to share the experience.
- Can we say that European investors today are more interested in discussing concrete projects in Armenia?
- We have pointed out that if you are successful in fighting against corruption sooner or later it will encourage foreign investors. We received signals from European investors that this is something very important.
I can give you one example. In the past we received informationfrom the managers of one Western supermarket chain that they were not treated equally, and the new government immediately solved the problem. This uneven treatment was something that was deterring other potential investors, because everybody knew about it, but nothing was done. I am very confident that investors will come if you have a really open door policy, if you really prove that these investors will be treated fairly.
- There are currently discussions in Armenia about the best date for the snap elections. Do you think it makes sense to have them sometimes in autumn, or this is not realistic taking into account the need to reform the Electoral Code?
- We are ready to assist in the preparations and conduct of the elections. I think it is good that the discussions have started in the parliament, as it is very important to conduct a real dialogue among all political forces of Armenia concerning the next elections. The Armenian government has already established very close contacts with potential donors, including the EU. So, we understand that the process is on track. When we see the new Electoral Code and what kind of technical implications it will have for the conduct of the elections, then we will be discussing how we can help.
- There were media reports that PM Nikol Pashinyan is going to meet the EU leaders in Brussels in July. Whom he is going to meet?
- All I can say that the Prime Minister will be warmly welcomed in Brussels. We believe that his intentions, concerning the fight against corruption, independence of judiciary, equal treatment of economic entities are something what the EU is welcoming and is ready to support. We believe that Armenia has a good programme now, which can bring good results. We have CEPA, the new Agreement, which can be an important channel in providing the assistance to Armenia.
Taguhi Hovhannisyan talked to Piotr Switalski