In institutional terms, Armenia's integration into Europe began the day Armenia and the European Union signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that regulates economic, social and other aspects of cooperation, thereby laying the legislative foundation of their mutual relationship. Armenia's PCA with the EU entered into force in 1999, the same year as Georgia's and Azerbaijan's, but two years later than Russia's. In January 2001, Armenia and Azerbaijan became members of the Council of Europe. In 2004, Armenia became one of the European Union's 16 neighbors (including Balkan states, former Soviet republics and Northern African countries) to be embraced by the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). In 2005, the EU put together a Cooperation Action Plan for the ENP that included steps in the areas of democratization, anti-corruption measures and civil society engagement.
In 2008, the EU tabled yet another cooperation project: the Eastern Partnership, involving cooperation between the European Union and six post-Soviet countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The Eastern Partnership program was adopted in 2009 in Prague, creating a new cooperation format based on a regional approach, complementary to the Northern Dimension, the Mediterranean Union and the Stabilization and Association Agreement for the Balkans.
In May 2011, the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly was established as the parliamentary component of the Eastern Partnership program. Euronest consists of 120 MPs, including 60 members of the EU Parliament plus 10 MPs from each of the six Eastern Partnership countries.
In late November 2013, in Vilnius, Armenia was planning to pre-sign an Association Agreement with the EU alongside three other Eastern Partnership member states: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
A Road Maр adopted on May 15, 2012 with an action plan covering the period until November 2013 included commitments in the area of democratic reform, human rights (including reform of the judiciary and support for independent media) and efforts aimed at the management of the conflict over Nagornyy Karabakh. In terms of Armenia's priorities, the crucial component of the potential Association Agreement was the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Negotiations between Armenia and the EU concerning the DCFTA involved reforms in the sphere of trade, improved regulations in the economic sphere and the potential opening of the EU market to Armenian goods.
However, on September 3, 2013, during a visit to Moscow, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan stated Armenia's intention to join the Russia-led Customs Union, becoming its fourth member alongside Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. In domestic public discourses in Armenia, this decision was widely perceived as a grave mistake, as membership in the Customs Union is incompatible with the DCFTA, which is the key and crucial part of the Association Agreement with Europe.
Sargsyan's announcement was unexpected, although the first signs that Russia was trying to affect Armenia's decision to enter the DCFTA had been manifest as already in summer 2013. Moreover, Russia had been clearly trying to change the minds of all four potential signatories of Association Agreements in Vilnius - Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – using the same set of tools in every case. Russia's toolbox typically included gas prices, customs and other tariffs, threats to restrict border clearance procedures for citizens of the four countries (including by introducing visa requirements)and, last but not least, restricting imports of particular goods (a painful measure given that Russia is a major market for many goods produced in those four post-Soviet states).
However, in terms of potential consequences, all these tools are financial, which means that their effect can be compensated by financial counter-measures. Of course, in the event that Russia makes good on any of its threats, losses will potentially be huge, especially in the case of Ukraine, due to this country's size and the structure of its economy. Still, potential long-term benefits from being allowed into the European market and building more constructive partnerships with European countries could be regarded as ample compensation and something to look forward to despite the short-term losses. What made Armenia different from the other three – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – was an additional cooperation format with Russia: cooperation in the realm of military security. Russia does not cooperate in this sphere with Georgia – any such ties between the two countries were broken off after the August 2008 war and Russia's ensuing recognition of the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As for Ukraine and Moldova, they are not facing any military threats of the kind that could make cooperation with Russia in the realm of security a matter of primary importance.
In Armenia's case, however, the existence of the conflict over Nagornyy Karabakh and the fact that Armenia's rival in the conflict - Azerbaijan – has a NATO member, Turkey, as its declared ally, mean that Russia is indispensable to Armenia in a sphere of obvious priority: military security. Once Russia changed its attitude to Armenia's potential DCFTA membership, Armenia's leadership had to face the security question. In a situation like this, there are no options. The reasons why Russia changed its attitude lie beyond the scope of this paper. Russia's logic probably had little relevance to Armenia proper; quite simply, of the four countries planning to go to Vilnius, there was only one to which Russia could make an offer that it could not refuse. Choosing between the Association Agreement and the Customs Union, Armenia had to choose the Collective Security Treaty Organization. In reality, it didn't have a choice.
The two red lines of Armenia's foreign policy - security and development – are usually institutionalized in the form of the Europe-Russia dichotomy. Although the two options do come across as mutually exclusive, one can still argue that some countries have managed to cooperate with both power centers of the Cold War. Finland provides a useful example: for over four decades from the end of the WWII and until the disintegration of the USSR, it made concessions to the USSR while remaining part of the West. Finland's ability to concede to its huge neighbor's strategic interests allowed it to win economic benefits and protect its sovereignty.
Since gaining independence, Armenia has been able to strike a balance between the interests of the West and Russia by keeping development separate from security. There have been quite a few setbacks, but the policy survived them, if only because there is no alternative. Therefore, the balancing game will continue. Sargsyan already announced that he would be going to Vilnius anyway and that Armenia would try to sign some kind of document reflecting its commitment to proceed with EU integration no matter what. The signing may not prove possible in Vilnius, or at all, in the short term, but cooperation is certain to continue, especially as impediments to it are external by nature. For Armenia, cooperation with the EU and with Russia are both indispensable.
As to public attitudes to European integration in Armenia, they correlate with long-term trends. The broader public lacks the diplomatic caution of politicians while also ignoring the complexity and long-term nature of the integration process. Almost a decade ago, in 2004, according to the data of the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, 64% of Armenians supported the idea of EU accession for Armenia . The Armenians' support for EU membership reached its peak at 80% in 2007 and has declined ever since. According to the CRRC Caucasus Barometer, 62% of respondents in 2011 were in favor of Armenia's integration with the EU. Trust in the EU also went down in 2011, when a record 18% told CRRC they did not trust the EU. Apart from discrepancies between methodologies used by different think tanks, the decline may stem from the global financial crisis, which in public perceptions is strongly associated with the West, and therefore, with Europe (for many people in Armenia, the two are synonymous). Should this explanation be correct, it also goes to show that for the public in Armenia - in contrast to the politicized elites - European integration is not so much about values as about material wellbeing.
On the ground, Armenia's economic cooperation with Europe is significant and certain to remain so. About half of Armenia's export goes to EU countries, more than to CIS states, even though exports to the CIS increased slightly in 2011 with the re-opening of the Russia-Georgia border. Armenia's imports from the CIS are slightly larger than those from the EU, and are growing; as per type of goods, the two are quite different, with Armenia chiefly importing consumer goods and industrial products from the EU and energy sources from the CIS.
In Armenia, and apparently in many other former soviet countries, the expression "integration with Europe" has a special meaning, wider than and different from the literal sense. The Armenian public is little informed about the actual process of the country's interaction and cooperation with Europe, and yet the media mention 'integration with Europe' so frequently that it has become a keyword in discourses about politics. The need to move towards greater integration with Europe is currently one of the least questioned policy issues in Armenia, at least where politicized intellectuals are concerned.
Meanwhile, the way it is presented by the media and politicians, "integration with Europe" has little relevance to Armenia's practical efforts to cooperate with the European Union in the legal, economic or political realm. Rather, it is about transition from one cultural realm into another: de-Sovietization and modernization. Becoming part of Europe implies replacing archaic Soviet values and practices with modern European ones. In more practical terms, Armenians' attraction to European values, European political culture and nation-building paradigms is about democratization, elimination of corruption, establishment of the rule of law, protection of human rights and the creation of efficient modern institutions and mechanisms. None of this is about foreign politics. Europe is seen as a role model rather than a geographical area or political entity, and integration in this context is not about mechanisms or bodies, but about "becoming like Europe": not integration but rather, Europeanization.
An important point that needs to be made here that attraction to European values is distinctly different from a pro-European political orientation; the two do not necessarily go together, and any combinations are possible. In the specific case of Armenia, its positive political relations with Russia do not at all imply that Armenians aspire to become Russians. Meanwhile, regardless of any current setbacks in European integration, many Armenians do aspire to become Europeans while also remaining Armenian and continuing to live in Armenia. There is no perceived incompatibility between being Armenian and being European; being both at the same time is often perceived as possible, desirable and prestigious. The cultural orientation clearly prevails.
The fact that European countries are rich and welfare-oriented also plays a part in forming Europe's attraction as a role model. Europe is a model for achieving material wellbeing by means of a particular cultural mechanism, and this is what makes the mechanism so attractive. Many in Armenian society do not appreciate European values per se but believe that they can be instrumental to achieving economic wellbeing and social welfare. For a poor country, this attitude is quite natural and may be instrumental to making practical steps in the direction of Europeanization.
- Introduction. The South Caucasus on the crossroads: Where will the road to Vilnius lead?
- Alieva, Leila. "EU-Azerbaijan: Driven by strategic importance, lacking value-based impact"
- Giragosian, Richard. "Armenian-EU integration: Missed opportunities & strategic mistakes"
- Haindrava, Ivlian. "Reaching out to the Abkhazians and Ossetians through the EU"
- Kochladze, Manana. "Last but not least: the Sustainable Development - the challenge to the Eastern Partnership"