Armenian and EU flags © Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

Armenian and EU flags © Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

European Parliament resolution highlights Armenia’s growing relationship with the EU, but many questions remain

21/03/2024 -  Onnik James Krikorian

Last Friday, European Union spokesperson Peter Stano announced that Armenia could apply for membership. The statement came after a non-binding resolution from the European Parliament on 13 March called on the organisation’s higher bodies to consider Yerevan’s membership application if one were to be submitted.

"Should Armenia be interested in applying for candidate status and continuing on its path of sustained reforms consolidating its democracy, this could set the stage for a transformative phase in EU-Armenia relations”, the resolution read. Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan was more guarded.

"When Armenia has the intention to apply for EU membership, you will be the first to know about it", he said. Nonetheless, and though most analysts in Armenia dismiss the possibility, the resolution highlighted the growing relationship between Armenia and the EU in light of the ever worsening relations between Yerevan and Moscow, Armenia’s traditional political, economic, and security partner.

Yet, whether this would extend to Armenia applying for EU membership in the future remains questionable. Though last week Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met MPs from his Civil Contract party to discuss the issue, some were reported to have serious misgivings about such a move.

Yerevan is known to be irked by Moscow’s position in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, but diversifying its security policy has been out of necessity, with Russia still preoccupied by Ukraine and hardly able to provide hard security or weapons. The economy, however, is a different matter. Not only does Russia own and control key sectors in Armenia, but it is also the main market for exports.

Many families in Armenia also rely on Russia for remittances. In October, during an address to the European Parliament, Pashinyan only stated that Armenia wanted to move closer to the EU only “as much as the EU finds it possible”. Its current membership of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) would prove a major hurdle to overcome.

In 2013, for example, then President Serzh Sargsyan chose not to sign an EU Association Agreement (EU AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) in favour of one with the EAEU. Since then, including under Pashinyan, there has been no shift in the importance of the EAEU to Armenia. Few believe the EU could replace it in the near future.

Indeed, Armenia also relies on heavily subsidised Russian gas sold at prices well below market rates, something that might prove impossible to replace or compensate for. Moreover, Armenia’s new Economy minister, Gevorg Papoyan, could only offer Egypt as an example of potential new markets and even then with no financial data to back up such claims.

According to Eurasianet last year, around 40% of Armenian exports went to Russia which in turn is relied upon for imports of grain and petroleum. In 2022, money transfers from migrant workers in Russia to Armenia reached $3.6 billion.

For now, it is also unclear whether Armenia would be expected to end its relationship with the EAEU before, during, or after any talks on membership candidate status. There is also the matter of how long such a process could take. Neighbouring Georgia signed its EU AA in 2014, but only at the end of last year did it finally receive the coveted status and, even then, likely reluctantly.

Nonetheless, Pashinyan welcomed the non-binding resolution. He also spoke of making the issue of EU membership a “subject of public discussion in Armenia”, something that will be crucial before any decision can be made now or in the future.

Armenia’s Ambassador to the EU, Tigran Balayan, put it in clearer terms during a conference in Brussels on 16 March. ''Armenian foreign policy is neither a turn towards the West nor a turn towards the East”, he said. “Armenian foreign policy is a turn towards the state interest of Armenians”.

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