Internet press-conference with senior research fellow and the head of the 'EU foreign policy' and 'politics and institutions' units of CEPS Steven Blockmans (Belgium)

On April 16 an Internet press-conference for Armenian media with senior research fellow in CEPS Steven Blockmans (Belgium) was held on following topics:  Current processes of the Eastern Partnership Program, as well associated with Armenia; Relations between Russia and the European institutions.
 
These "first-hand" comments Armenian journalists will publish in their media outlets.
 
The internet press-conference with Steven Blockmans was organized within the framework of the project “Topical Dialogues on the New Integration Agenda of Armenia” of  the “Region” Research Center supported by U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section.

David Stepanyan, www.arminfo.am
 
- Regardless of Armenia’s membership to the EEU, the European officials regularly speak of continuing the partnership with Armenia in a number of directions, practically as equal to other Eastern Partnership member states. Shall we expect impulses in the given direction exclusively within the frames of the Eastern Partnership or will other instruments be employed, too?
 
Answer–See answer below, to first question by the 168 Zham newspaper.
 
- The establishment of acustoms point on the border between Russia and Belarus once again revealed the shortcomings of the EEU and the gap between real politic and the integration projects with Moscow. Do you think we can say that the Eurasian integration is still topical and is it the major instrument employed by the Kremlin to counteract Eastern Partnership? 
 
Answer– The EEU was devised, in part, as a competitive regional integration project to that offered by the EU. Taking the data available for the early stages of the European integration process as a benchmark, the results for the Russian-led Customs Union and the Common Economic Space point to a rather unfavorable outlook for Eurasian economic integration. Politically, Putin’s Russia may have been able to sway countries like Armenia away from the EU and towards the EEU through the use of economic pressure and barely concealed security threats. But an integration process which is built on fear and extortion is unlikely to be more successful than a model which is based on shared interests and a willingness to pool and share the execution of sovereign powers.
 
- Do you think the agreements achieved on the Iran nuclear program in Lausanne by the Great Six will open up new possibilities for the regional policy of Tehran in relation to South Caucasus, the Caspian region, and its cooperation with the RF? And what is the EU’s reaction to this issue, in general?  
 
Answer– The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program) agreed to at the beginning of this month is a first step towards the conclusion of a final deal by June. It is, however, not certain whether the P5+1 and Iran will be able to agree such a final deal, especially if one considers the differences in how the JCPOA has been received between different constituencies in the US and Iran. If cool heads prevail and a solution is found on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear file, then this may lead a normalization of relations of sorts. Sanctions will be lifted, Iran will come out of the cold internationally, play a bigger political role regionally, and strike up new commercial ties with neighboring and EU states alike. EU member states will, without exception, welcome such developments and try to benefit from them. 
 
- The West currently accuses Russia of waging a “hybrid war” against Ukraine. In reality, it appears that Moscow has only adopted a technique that has long been used by the United States. What do you think the prospects for the resolution of the Ukrainian problem are that would not largely go against the interests of the European Union? 
 
Answer– For the EU, the Minsk II Agreement still presents the best scenario for returning to sanity and normality, even if constitutional reform by Kyiv, with decentralization to include special and permanent provisions for the separatist regions, is a tall order to complete before the end of 2015. The open question is whether Vladimir Putin is really interested in it - as against careering along thetrack of the embattled authoritarian leader who looks to ‘patriotic’, foreign military adventuresto sustain his popularity at home.The strategic context has changed since Minsk I, in economic and security terms. The sanctions,coupled with the huge decline in the oil price, are driving Russia into recession and rapiderosion of its financial reserves. Putin’s line seems to be that the recession will be over in twoyears, with recovery of the oil price, and in the meantime Russia has reserves enough. Butmajor economic figures in Moscow (such as the former finance minister Alexei Kudrin andformer economy minister German Gref) are warning that Russia’s economic-policy problemsgo far deeper. The Russian people may be prepared to endure hardship stoically but economicisolation while evading the need for modernization is ultimately unsustainable. Putin has to calculate the stakes and ponder the costs of his Novorossiya campaign and the law of unexpected consequences. And so the 17 hours of non-stop negotiation in Minsk through the night of February 11-12th may have been a turning point, when strategic perspectives came more vividly into focus while the local details of Minsk II were thrashed out. The sceptics have a lot of evidence on their side. But the strategic context has changed more than the wording of the texts.
 
Araks Martirosyan, The 168 Zham newspaper, www.168.am
 
- Mr Blockman, last month High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn launched a consultation on the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). They stressed that it is now essential to undertake a fundamental review of the principles on which the policy is based, to reconsider its scope and the way its instruments should be used in. Mogerini and Hahn emphasized the importance of a differentiated approach towards EaP countries. Taking into consideration this new formula, what can Armenia expect from the EU? 
 
Answer -Ever since President’s Sargsyan’s astonishing volte-face, the EU and Armenia have been in a process of trying to rework the failed Association Agreement. At this stage, it is difficult to predict how much of this agreement can be salvaged in order to replace the outdated Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. For now, the visa liberalization process and Armenia’s signing up to the European Common Aviation Agreement and the European Commission’s ‘Horizon 2020’ research programme are the sole deliverablesexpected from the Riga Summit on 21-22 May 2015.
 
- Armenia has already joined the EEU, but Armenia also wants to continue high political relations with the EU just asit was two years ago, when Armenia was negotiating over the AA with the EU. Now the AA is not possible any more, but to your mind what options are still available if Armenia wants to have high level relations with the EU unlike other EaP countries, for example Belarus and Azerbaijan?
 
Answer –The annual EU-Armenia Cooperation Council remains in place and continues to provide a platform for high-level talks between the Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian and High Representative Federica Mogherini, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU (currently Latvia). Armenia also continues to participate at the highest political level in the multilateral institutions of the Eastern Partnership.
 
- Armenia has decided to join the EEU because of its security problems (the NK conflict and its closed borders with Turkey) and Russa’s security guarantees to Armenia though they never work, as many experts say, Armenia still couldn’t refuse Moscow’s offer to join the EEU. We know that the EU is giving security guarantees to its members only, but shouldn’t the EU consider the possibility of giving garantees to EaP countries targeted by Moscow too? 
 
Answer– The EU is a soft power. It does currently not have the strategic autonomy and military capabilities to offer any hard security guarantees to EaP countries targeted by Moscow. That said, Russia’s shock to the European security order has triggered a new debate in capitals of member states and at the EU’s headquarters about the need to build up a military autonomy for the EU to protect its interests in its strategic neighborhood. The European Council in June is expected to discuss new plans for member states to pool and share their defense planning, budgets and capabilities. Just like we have seen the emergence of an Energy Union in February, partially in response to Gazprom’s unpredictable behavior over the past years, we may now be seeing the initial steps towards the creation of a future European Defence Union which acts complementary to NATO insofar as territorial defense is concerned and in an autonomous capacity insofar as unique EU interest in the neighborhood are concerned.
 
Tatev Harutyunyan, The Aravot newspaper, www.aravot.am
 
- Mr. Blockmans, do you agree with Andrej Didenko, Human Rights Focal Point and EU Liaison Officer on Human Rights at the EU Delegation to Armenia, that Armenia has made limited progress in the implementation of EU Neighborhood policy Action plan? Don’t you think that this is due to the fact that Armenia has joined the EEU and has to face some restrictions? 
 
Answer–
 
- Some American analysts claim that Armenia should not expect any security guarantees from the West for it has favored Moscow in its selection. Consequently, what expectations shall Armenia have from Europe? 
 
Answer–See my answer to the last question by the 168 Zham newspaper.
 
Artak Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia, www.armradio.am
 
- Mr. Blockmans,what do you think of the prospects of Armenia – EU relations in light of the reorganization of the EU Neighborhood policy? 
 
Answer - See answer below, to first question by the 168 Zham newspaper. In addition, I can say that the EaP summit at Riga will provide the first elements for the review of the European Neighborhood Policy which is expected to be unveiled in October.
 
- Do experts in Brussels think the development and deepening of the political dialogue and the conclusion of a new Action Plan, designed for the period until 2017, with Armenia possible?
 
Answer–Yes, but (in light of my answer to first question by the 168 Zham newspaper) I expect this bilateral political dialogue and future Action Plan to be far less ambitious than those with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
 
- To what extent may the contradictions between Brussels and Moscow in light of the Ukrainian developments affect the position of the EU in the countries of South Caucasus? 
 
Answer– In principle, the EU’s strategic and economic interests in the South Caucasus remain the same, irrespective of the dispute with Russia over the latter’s destabilizing role in Ukraine. However, the position of the EU towards Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia is liable to change negatively as a result of Russia’s actions on the ground (see the association and integration agreements with Abkhazia, South Ossetia) and in the Black Sea (i.e. de facto extension of territorial waters by Russia) or as a consequence of a different political outlook espoused by the leaderships of the countries concerned (see Armenia’s decision to pull the plug on the Association Agreement). On the other hand, after the debacle in Ukraine and the failure of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, the EU is keen to reaffirm its commitment to all Eastern Partnership countries and to prelaunch a positive agenda at the summit in Riga in May. 
 
Karine Asatryan, www.a1plus.am
 
- On what conditions will the EU sign a new cooperation agreement with Armenia? Armenian officials claim that the Europeans already demonstrate proper understanding of Armenia’s decision to join the EEU. Is there such a tendency and how is it displayed? 
 
Answer– See my answer to first question by the 168 Zham newspaper. The conditions for signing a new cooperation agreement will be essentially the same as those for the failed Association Agreement: an adherence expressed by Armenia to the values, freedoms and rights espoused by the European Union, as indeed general principles of international law, and a commitment to deepen political and security cooperation with the EU and regional partners in the Eastern Partnership.

 

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