Official visit of President Serzh Sargsyan to Georgia (Source: Republic of Armenia)
In November 2017, the European Union Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Brussels culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive and Enlarged Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the EU and Armenia. The CEPA ended a four-year limbo that emerged after Armenia unexpectedly rejected an EU Association Agreement (AA) in 2013, allowing Armenian officials to celebrate the significance of the milestone. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan remarked that the CEPA is not “merely a legal document, but a reflection on the wealth of values of human rights and fundamental freedoms that we share.” Yet, the CEPA was not the only deal concluded in Brussels during the summit: on the same day, Armenia and the EU inked deals on aviation and on extending the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) network to the Republic of Armenia. While these developments alter the narrative on EU-Armenia relations, they also have wider implications for the South Caucasus region. What does EU-Armenia rapprochement mean for Georgia, Armenia’s ardently pro-European neighbor?
The EU and the Eurasian Economic Union: Armenia and Georgia Reframe the Narrative
Since gaining independence in the early 1990s, Armenia and Georgia have progressed similarly along the path of European integration, utilizing the same toolkit for developing bilateral relations with the EU. Both countries signed Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with the EU in 1996 and later participated in the European Neighborhood Policy in 2004 and the Eastern Partnership in 2009. They simultaneously launched negotiations regarding Association Agreements in 2010 and later signed agreements on visa facilitation and readmission of persons residing without authorization. It was not until the 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius that the two states chose radically different paths of engagement with the European Union: Georgia initialed the Association Agreement (which was then signed the following year), whereas Armenia decided to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
As neighboring states that have historically enjoyed high levels of cooperation, the newfound policy divergence left Georgia and Armenia to consider this impact on bilateral relations and how they would approach membership in opposing economic blocs. Georgian State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alex Petriashvili dispelled such uncertainty just days after Armenian President Sargsyan declared his intention to join the Russian-led Customs Union, the predecessor to the EAEU. During a visit to Yerevan, Petriashvili unequivocally stated that Armenia’s decision “will not hamper bilateral cooperation with Georgia.” Since then, Armenian and Georgian officials at the highest level have frequently emphasized that participating in different integration processes will not affect bilateral relations; the experience presents an opportunity, rather than a challenge. A joint press conference between the two countries’ presidents in 2014 illustrates the optimism with which they approached that new reality. Sargsyan remarked that Georgia’s AA with the EU “affords Armenian businessmen an opportunity to [participate] in the European market and make investments in Georgia.” Likewise, Armenia’s accession to the Russian-led Customs Union would open the Eurasian market to Georgian businessmen. As Georgia’s former Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said, “This might set a good example for the international community.” These statements do not reflect merely an adjustment to new realities, but a call to realize the untapped potential of the neighbors enjoying high levels of economic relations with both the EU and Russia.
The EaP Summit: Political Implications for Armenia-Georgia Relations
There’s no doubt that the Comprehensive and Enlarged Partnership Agreement heralds a new stage in EU-Armenia relations and promises deeper engagement in issues such as civil society, investment and trade, people-to-people contacts, transport, and energy. These developments are important for Georgia because it seeks membership in the EU and is thus highly interested in EU-related events in its immediate neighborhood. Turkey, another EU aspirant, currently has strained relations with the bloc. Most recently, in July 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution criticizing Turkey’s proposed constitutional reforms as evidence of backsliding in the rule of law and restricting freedom of the press. The resolution further called for a suspension of accession negotiations should Turkey accept the reforms without change. Another of Georgia’s neighbors, Azerbaijan, periodically faces criticism from the EU concerning its brutal crackdown on democracy. This sharp divergence in political values prevents Azerbaijan’s leadership from approaching the bloc too closely. Accordingly, Azerbaijan has expressed no interest pursuing an AA.
Given its geographic isolation from Europe, Georgia wants its neighbors to cultivate closer relations with the EU. Doing so will increase the “European presence” and direct more attention from the EU to the South Caucasus. As neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan has made any serious progress in European integration, the Comprehensive and Enlarged Partnership Agreement between the EU and Armenia represents the only significant achievement in Georgia’s immediate neighborhood.
Armenia’s renewed involvement with the EU will strengthen the Armenian-Georgian dialogue in European affairs and will allow the two countries to better advocate the interests of the South Caucasus. Perhaps the best illustration of this newfound political potential is Georgia’s relations with two other EaP participants: Ukraine and Moldova. Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia perceive themselves as a group “speaking with one voice” to complete the final step—membership in the EU. In September 2017, for instance, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova held a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers to elaborate “a joint vision before the [EaP] summit.” A couple months prior, their parliaments signed a joint statement calling on the EU to open the membership perspective for all three states.
Of course, Georgia and Armenia’s foreign policy goals have less in common than Moldova’s, Ukraine’s, and Georgia’s. Nevertheless, this example demonstrates the qualitative changes the CEPA can bring to Armenia-Georgia relations. The two states will now be able to switch their focus from “adjusting to differences” (as was the case since 2014) to “increasing commonalities.” Notably, this coincides with Armenia’s expectations for the EaP. As President Sargsyan has stated, Armenia believes that the EaP was launched to “serve as a unifying factor, thus removing the dividing lines.” As a land-locked state, facing blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia does not want to lag behind its neighbors in terms of regional cooperation, and the EaP is perceived as a comprehensive program that could fill this gap.
Practical Areas for Armenia-Georgia Cooperation
Setting aside the political implications for Georgia’s EU aspirations, the agreements signed at the EaP summit in Brussels present an updated agenda for cooperation that offer several new areas for Armenia-Georgia partnership. For instance, the extension of the TEN-T (an EU initiative to construct and upgrade transport infrastructure across Europe) to Armenia envisages closer cooperation and connectivity via joint infrastructure projects. Given the blockade that Turkey imposed on Armenia in 1993 in response to the Nagorno-Karabakh war, any plans to increase connectivity between the EU and Armenia necessarily involve Georgia, as it is the only transit zone between the two parties. Armenia and Georgia have already carried out several joint infrastructure projects supported by EU financial institutions, so the extension of TEN-T to Armenia will add great value to current projects. As Georgia is also interested in its own high-quality connection to European transport networks, the more effort Armenia and the EU put into their transport cooperation, the more Georgia will benefit.
Another prospective area for practical Armenia-Georgia cooperation is visa liberalization. The Joint Declaration of the recent EaP summit states that the EU looks forward “to consider[ing] in due course the opening of visa liberalization dialogue with Armenia,” a prospect that the President of Armenia has also endorsed. Though negotiations have not yet kicked off, the Armenian government desires to do so soon. Yet, securing a visa-free regime from the EU is not an easy task. Georgia, for instance, began its visa liberalization dialogue in 2012 and successfully completed it only in 2017. Drawing on this experience, Georgian officials can offer insights to their Armenia counterparts to help ensure that the latter conducts its own dialogue more efficiently.
Lastly, renewable energy offers a promising area for cooperation. The EU, Armenia, and Georgia are all highly dependent on energy imports. Raising the share of renewable energy supplies is of critical importance to all three parties. Georgia and Armenia have huge potential for solar and wind energy, and as part of its assistance programs, the EU has supported these countries’ renewable energy potential. In Armenia alone, the EU has spent over 30 million euros developing the energy sector of the country, including the construction of a new electricity line between Armenia and Georgia. As the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that under the CEPA the EU will continue to support the development of Armenia’s renewable energy, so this may further stimulate Georgia and Armenia to collaborate on joint renewable energy projects.
Thus, the CEPA, coupled with the other two agreements signed at the EaP summit in Brussels, opens a new stage in EU-Armenia relations. These agreements outline several major areas for renewed cooperation between the parties and thereby generate tools for boosting practical partnership between Armenia and Georgia.