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Thank you Mr President,
First of all, let me thank the rapporteur and all the colleagues that have been working in these years, that have been very intense, not always easy, but that we can today celebrate with an agreement that can be defined as historic.
It was for me a great pleasure, just a few days ago, to welcome the new Foreign Minister of Armenia [Zohrab Mnatsakanyan] to Brussels, very soon after the new government took office, in what was a smooth, democratic, peaceful transition, for our first Partnership Council with Armenia.
Let me say that we could not have chosen a better moment to have this first meeting and it was indeed for me a pleasure to conclude, in one way, a long journey and at the same time, begin a new journey together.
As you all know, last November we signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with Armenia. Last April, the Armenian Parliament ratified the Agreement unanimously, with the then-government and the opposition voting together.
I can say, having worked both with the previous government and now the new one, I really personally believe that all Armenian parties understand very well that a partnership with the European Union is something vital for the country.
It is not about geopolitics, it is not about spheres of influence, it is not a partnership against somebody else, it is a partnership for, first of all, our citizens – the citizens of Armenia, our own citizens in the European Union –, for economic growth, for job creation and for better and stronger democracies. It is a partnership that can help advance the demands raised by the Armenian people, also in this latest month.
The Foreign Minister [Zohrab Mnatsakanyan] informed me of the ambitious - very ambitious - reform agenda of the new government, and the first concrete action it has already taken in the fight against corruption. During the Partnership Council we also agreed on the importance of an effective and independent judicial system, also as a precondition for economic and social development. This is the right time for Armenia to work on a new Criminal Code and a new Criminal Procedural Code.
These are important reforms – not because the European Union asks for them, but because the people of Armenia ask for them. They have been asking for these reforms for long and now, I think, we have the instruments – including this agreement – to accompany and encourage a government that is putting these reforms at the core of their action.
Our new Partnership provides the perfect framework to support the reforms and the European Union will invest €160 million in the next four years. We are ready to support many different fields of action - and just to name a few examples - from Small and Medium Enterprises, to helping to improve the business environment or investing in energy efficiency. And the list could continue.
And we are ready to use our new External Investment Plan to incentivise private investment in strategic sectors for the Armenian economy.
In November, in parallel to the signature of the agreement, we had our Eastern Partnership Summit and we agreed there on 20 concrete actions to improve daily lives within our Eastern Partners. And I have seen the strong determination of the new Armenian government to cooperate even more and to try to deliver together on this very ambitious agenda.
Our first contacts with the new government have been really very productive. The atmosphere at our first meeting could not have been more positive and friendly and constructive.
The Foreign Minister also informed me that the government intends to hold early elections after reforming the electoral code. Your draft resolution rightly stresses the importance of helping Armenia in the electoral process, and I am convinced the European Parliament can really accompany and facilitate this process with its expertise and through electoral observation.
The new elections should build public confidence in the electoral process, particularly by addressing recommendations by the OSCE and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. So - as always - not only do I believe that tomorrow will be an important moment – your vote – but let me also say that your daily work will be extremely important and helpful in this particular context.
As always, I count on the precious work of this Parliament to accompany the strong partnership and friendship we have with Armenia, in particular in this extremely important moment for the country. I thank you very much.
First of all, let me say how glad I am to see a united Parliament on this, supporting this agreement we have reached with Armenia. I can tell you it was not an easy decision in 2015 – I think neither on our side nor on their side – to open negotiations on this agreement. I believe it was the right choice to take at that time and, as you said, it is proving to be even more important today, because this allows us today to have the right to accompany a very ambitious reform agenda that the government is firmly determined to put in place. I think it was the right political choice at that time.
I have to say that both on our side and on the Armenian side I think we managed to manage the negotiations wisely and we managed to achieve a good result and it was a really good moment when we managed to sign this agreement last November. Today we really have all the potential instruments we can use at full speed and with all determination.
One point that was raised by some of you, the beginning of a visa liberalisation dialogue: we discussed this during the Council that we had a couple of weeks ago. You know that the Visa Facilitation and Re-admission Agreement with Armenia being implemented is a sort of technical pre-condition for taking the decision by the Council to start the visa-liberalisation dialogue. I have to say that we had four meetings of the EU-Armenia Joint Committees and we see that the Visa Facilitation and Re-admission Agreements with Armenia are being satisfactorily implemented. So the technical pre-condition is met. Obviously, we still see the need for closer cooperation between us in the area of return and readmission, but the track record is good, which means that now it is a political decision to be taken by the Council. And, obviously, this Parliament can have a role in that as well to have your voice heard also with the other institutions.
Having said that, I thank you very much for all the support and I will try to make good use of it, including on beginning the work on an Electoral Observation Mission, when the time will come. I count on your availability to do that work together. Thank you.