Mediamax’s interview with Dr. Nicu Popescu, Senior Analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS)
- How deep is EU’s disappointment in Armenia’s September 2013 decision, and do you think there were different reactions in the European capitals and in the European Commission?
- Everyone in the EU wanted a closer relationship with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. There is no doubt about it. Also, the EU free trade area was designed in a way as to be compatible with the free trade area with Russia and other post-Soviet states. So, in this sense, the Association Agreement was compatible with the existing trading relationship between Russia and other post-Soviet states. We also have an example of a country - Serbia - which has free trade area with Russia and with European Union simultaneously. So it’s possible, and what Europe used to offer Armenia was not at the expense of Armenia’s relationship with Russia.
At the same time Russia’s Customs Union was designed in a way that limits the right of Customs Union member state to develop their own trading relationship because under the Customs Union they give up the sovereign right to decide what their tariffs are for, let’s say, German cars.
So it is the Customs Union, which created this situation of incompatibility, and it was also quite obvious that Armenia preferred the Association Agreement. Armenia has been getting signals from Russia well before September 2013. It was clear that Armenia wanted to sign the Association Agreement but of course at the last moment Russian preferences prevailed.
I wouldn’t say that people were really shocked. I think quite a lot of people were surprised not so much by the fact that Armenia gave up on Association Agreement but rather that Armenia advanced so far in discussing Association with the European Union.
But apparently, everyone also understands that it was done not because Armenia wants or likes this or that geo-political entity but because of its security situation, which has developed around Armenia. Having said this, there is also an understanding that Armenia was pressed not to have Association, and Armenia depends on Russia for security, but Armenia is also a player in security terms and neither Armenia, nor Azerbaijan have done their best to solve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. And this security dependence Armenia has on Russia is also at least partly a result of policy choices Armenia has made over the last 20 years.
- And so, what’s next? Following September 3 decision Armenia proposed the European Union to sign only the political part of the Association Agreement, which the EU refused. A couple of weeks ago when the political part of the Ukraine Association Agreement was signed there were again voices in Yerevan and the answer was again “no”. Do you think Armenia and the EU can agree on some other type of document that will fix everything related to political issues, reforms, etc?
- If you look at the map of the world, the EU has relations with every country in the world, probably 200. You don’t have to have an Association Agreement or a Free Trade area to have good relations with the European Union. But at the same time, Association and the Free Trade Area are designed for countries which are closer to the EU than other countries. So in this sense there is definitely a way and future in EU-Armenia relations, but of course these relations will be much less special than the relationship the EU would have had with Armenia or will have with countries that sign the Association, like Georgia and Moldova.
And from this perspective, of course, the logic is that Armenia opted out from most of the Agreement and therefore it wouldn’t be logical to call it association because it’s not real association, it’s more a bilateral relationship in which we cooperate here and there but it’s nowhere near the degree of commitments that Moldova or Georgia would undertake under a similar agreement. And, it’s relatively unfair in diplomatic terms and signals to just give association to whoever no matter what the substance of this agreement is. So in this sense, I would say there is a future for EU-Armenia relations, but I don’t think it can be regarded as association.
- And if we talk about regional approach, we will soon be facing a situation in the region, in which Georgia will sign the Association Agreement, Armenia will enter the Customs Union and Azerbaijan will do neither the first, nor the second. Do you think the EU can still have some kind of regional approach over this region or the situation will change completely, and the EU will have to adapt itself to this new reality?
- It’s both. There will be less chance for a regional approach if each country has a completely different legal framework of relations with the EU but at the same time, there are a number of things you can do in a cross-regional manner. If you want to facilitate customs procedures (not tariffs) and if you want to help countries cooperate better in policing and border guards you don’t need free trade areas for that, so in this sense, each country will have its own relationship with EU limits with potential for kind of regionalism based on some broader European norms but it doesn’t mean, there are hundreds and thousands of cooperative things you can still do on the ground even if countries belong to different trade blocks. But of course, the fact the countries belong to different trade blocks eliminates a lot of cooperative potential on issues like tariffs and trade, which is a very significant component.
- You said Armenia and Azerbaijan didn’t do enough to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh issue. Do you see any potential for bigger EU engagement - previously and currently the position of the EU is that “we support everything OSCE Minsk group Co-Chairs are doing”, which means that EU does not want to engage fully. Do you think this situation might force the EU to engage more to change the security environment?
- I don’t think the only way to influence and help the solution of a conflict is to be at a round table of diplomats. In this sense, OSCE Minsk group is one significant instrument and forum but it’s not the only way for the EU to help. The broader problem is that neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan are anywhere near the solution. You have Russia, U.S. and the Europeans who would want to see a solution and are trying diplomatically to push here and there but it’s not enough to compensate the entrenched structure of interests existing in both Armenia and Azerbaijan that makes currently the solution unlikely, if not impossible in the short-term.
It’s almost never the case that external actors can really influence a country no matter how small it is if this country perceives the situation as a life and death issue. And in case of Nagorno Karabakh, both Armenia and Azerbaijan perceive the situation to such a degree of securitization (and almost like a life and death issue) that foreign actors can help in emergence, can facilitate, supply the fuel and can oil the machinery but they cannot be the locomotive. And it applies to all international actors. If there is a real dynamic leading to the conflict settlement, the EU will play a bigger role. But the EU will not come in and force Armenia and Azerbaijan to do something that they don’t want.
Ara Tadevosyan talked to Nicu Popescu.