EU-Armenia: high-level, but low-profile

Commentary

Armenia pragmatically tries to benefit from what the EU offers.

An Armenian acquaintance recently noted that Armenia is apparently the only Eastern Partnership (EaP) country that is really satisfied with the policy - all the other partners want either more, or less from the EU. Of course this highlights Armenia's limited (or realistic) ambitions vis-a-vis the EU. But also the fact that Armenia, instead of constantly complaining that the EU is not doing enough (like Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia often do), pragmatically tries to benefit from what is on offer from the EU.

At the beginning of this year Armenia became the first country of the Eastern neighbourhood where the EU deployed a mission of eight advisers across a whole set of state institutions. Because the project was considered a success the EU is about to send an additional six persons.

Initially EU's political ambitions were relatively high - it wanted to send not just technical advisors to line ministries, but also the presidency and the office of the prime-minister. This was scaled back, though, after Armenia backtracked due to alleged concerns by Russia that the EU is too intrusive. And it was not clear anyway how much ‘political' advice Armenia wanted, since its politics remain more autocratic than that of Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia.

The end result is that most EU advisors are technical experts working in the ombudsman's office, ministry of economy, ministry of finance (one working on customs, and another on fiscal policies), and the foreign ministry (helping the ministry to set up a diplomatic academy). The recently announced extension of the team should include a deputy team leader, a communications officer and more advisors to the ministry of finance (on tax audits) and economy (one on intellectual property rights; another on  on sanitary and photo-sanitary standards; and a third one on barriers to trade).

Even though the official name of the EU mission has the pompous name of "High-level EU advisory group" - neither the EU, nor Armenia boast about it. Both keep a low-profile.

A Russian proverb says that if you advance quietly, you make it further ("tishe edesh, dalshe budesh"). It might be, or might not be, the case of Armenia. Its politics is much centralised and in terms of values it is much further away from the EU than Ukraine, Moldova and partly Georgia. I also see no progress in the investigation of the post-election violence of March 2008 which left at least 10 persons dead. And anyway, so far Armenia seems more systematic in attracting European expertise to promote some reforms than the much noisier pro-Europeans like Ukraine and Moldova (Georgia is full of advisors from the US and some EU member states). Another friend of mine, Jana Kobzova, says that "Ukraine and Moldova have democracy, but no governance; while Belarus has better governance, but not democracy". Seems like Armenia might fit into the second category - less democracy, but better governance.

OFF TOPIC: A fact I find interesting (and surprising) about Armenia is that Belgium and Russia have roughly the same share of Armenia's foreign trade. Russia is a strategic ally of Armenia and is geographically close. And Belgium's position vis-a-vis the South Caucasus... no need to explain. Though the explanation is that Armenia is processing diamonds for Antwerpen's diamond industry.

This piece forms part of the Nicu Popescu's EUObserver blog.  

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

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