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On 24 August, the new Legends Trail was opened, which connects Goris with Kapan in Syunik marz. The new trail has been mapped and marked by the “EU4Tourism: Outdoor adventures on the historic trails in Syunik” project. The opening event allowed guests to test 5km of the trail, which took them through a new ‘magic’ forest. The Legends Trail is a hiking route spanning about 300km, facilitating exploration of many of the impressive natural and cultural heritage sites in the area. It develops and promotes alternative, eco-friendly tourism in rural communities along the route and creates opportunities for them to benefit from the growing influx of tourists to Armenia.

The “EU4Tourism: Outdoor adventures on the historic trails in Syunik” project supports communities located in and around Goris and Kapan to further develop tourism potential. The focus is on supporting the rural population in villages that has, so far, not benefited from tourism infrastructure investments. Within the project, 15 sub-grants have been distributed to support community-led initiatives and individual or family-run small enterprises in villages along the trail. 10 local events/small festivals will be organised by community initiative groups in partnership with authorities in Goris and Kapan (funded through the small-grant scheme). The project was launched in February 2018, with a total budget of €503,181 (the EU contribution is €425,000) and will run until February 2021.

On 22 July, the EU Ambassador Piotr Świtalski gave a press conference on EU-Armenia relations and the completion of his diplomatic mission in Armenia. The Ambassador thanked everyone for attending: “Our cooperation between the EU and Armenia is on the right track. I believe that the Armenian people appreciate what we have done and continue to do. The EU NEIGHBOURS east project carries out opinion polls in the six EU Eastern Partnership countries every year. According to the 2019 survey, 62% of Armenians have a positive image of the European Union, 92% of Armenians feel relations with the European Union are good, 61% of people in Armenia trust the EU, 71% of Armenians are aware of the EU’s financial support to the country, and two thirds feel that EU support is effective. This high level of support is essential. I think people have a natural instinct to understand the logic of things, but only a minority of citizens are aware that the EU and its Member States are the biggest donor in Armenia, and we are probably the only donor which has increased our support in the recent months so drastically.

“When I look back at my job here, it has been very rewarding in professional and human terms. For a diplomat it is very difficult even now to reveal all sides of our activities that are not visible to the public. That said, from day one of my mission I tried to be as transparent as possible. It will not be a surprise for anyone that there was so much that went on that was not visible to the public. It is too early to sum up everything that has happened in Armenia on my watch, but overall I feel satisfied. People appreciate what we have done during the past, very important, years for Armenia.
“Before, the average level of our annual bilateral support to Armenia was €35 million. In 2019 this support will reach €70m. However, there are also other funds through which we support our neighbours. This money will be invested in concrete projects – we are currently discussing with the Armenian Government over where to direct this money. I believe that by the end of the year we will formalise all documents.
“The EU is very transparent and we are also talking with the Government about the future. The EU will start technical discussions on the next Multiannual Financial Framework. We know what we have till 2021, what will happen after that will be now discussed in Brussels. It is very important for Armenia that this level of support, which for 2019 was unprecedentedly high, is sustained in the future.
“Finally, I should express my deep gratitude to the media community of Armenia for very productive cooperation, I have enjoyed it. My messages to you – protect your freedom, expose fake news, make a distinctive difference between opinion and facts, and combat hate speech”.

 

The closing ceremony of the “First Inclusive Bakery and Coffee Shop in Gyumri” project, which was co-funded by the European Union, Caritas Austria, and the Austrian Development Agency, was held on 19 July in Gyumri. EU Ambassador to Armenia Piotr Świtalski, Governor of Shirak marz Tigran Petrosyan, Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanyan, Caritas Austria Programme Manager Robert Moosbrugger and President of “Armenian Caritas” Archbishop Raphael Minassian were present at the event and delivered speeches. Attendees had the opportunity to view a film about the project, as well as receive the report with stories, statistics, and pictures.

Ambassador Świtalski welcomed all the participants: “Thanks to this project a space has been opened to complement the symbols of Gyumri. I am particularly happy today and would like to thank Caritas Austria and the Austrian Development Agency, as well as Armenian Caritas and the Emili Aregak Centre. This is one of the best projects that has been implemented in Gyumri, making the city a better place for people with disabilities. I hope the centre will continue its activities by keeping its good reputation”.

Archbishop Minassian thanked the project implementers: “This ceremony is unique as it is an exceptional opportunity to say that we succeeded. I would like to thank all who were involved in this wonderful project. Also I would like to thank the parents who had the courage to direct their children to the centre and trust Caritas. I would like to thank not only the participants, the donors, but also all our children, who were able to express their abilities with enthusiasm, joy, and smiles”.

“First Inclusive Bakery and Coffee Shop in Gyumri” was co-financed by the European Union, the Austrian Development Cooperation, and Caritas Austria, and implemented by the Emili Aregak Centre of Armenian Caritas. The project had five major components: herbal gardening; training and cooperation; therapeutic handicraft work; public awareness raising and a bakery and coffee shop. The project’s overall objective was to create opportunities to involve young people with disabilities in the labour market. Target groups included youth and adults with disabilities, their parents and the Emili Aregak Day Care Centre for Children with Multiple Disabilities in Gyumri. The total project budget was €300,000, of which the European Union contribution was €269,187.

On 19 July the Amasia wool-processing factory, supported by the European Union, began operations. The factory was established within the framework of the “EU4Shirak: Wool for Jobs” project. The EU Ambassador to Armenia Piotr Świtalski, RA Deputy Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Vache Terteryan, and the Governor of Shirak marz Tigran Petrosyan, together with other officials of the state, regional organisations and guests participated in the official opening of the Amasia wool factory. They took a short tour in the factory to see the new equipment and wool-processing techniques, as well as to speak to employees.

Ambassador Świtalski thanked everyone for coming and mentioned that it was an honour for the EU to support such a project: “Greetings to the wonderful people of Amasia, who live in a wonderful corner of Armenia. I hope very much in the coming years this place will be the future of Armenia. This project has been developed and implemented by a consortium of partners and I want to thank them for the wonderful idea and for their dedication to make it real. For me the main advantage of this project was Amasia itself. I visited Amasia before and I thought this place needed new impetus. So I want to thank all the people involved in the implementation of this project”.

Deputy Minister Terteryan welcomed everyone and thanked them for their support: “The factory will promote economic activity, create new jobs, and reduce unemployment in the region. This project is unique among PRDP projects because it was more ambitious – the proposed action follows a value chain development approach for woollen products, from sheep to customer. If we succeed here, we will have a good base from which to solve this problem in other livestock breeding regions of Armenia. I hope the factory will not only expand its production volume, but also export geography”.

The wool produced in Amasia and neighbouring villages is known to be exceptionally thick, with up to 16 natural colours. This makes it ideally suited for the production of carpets, rugs and various textiles. Annual production capacity of the factory is 25 tonnes of wool.  Within “EU4Shirak: Wool for Jobs” project, wool-processing specialists were trained by professionals from Europe and Armenia. They gained the necessary skills to work in the new factory or elsewhere in the wool sector. Moreover, the project offers funding opportunities to local 14 small- and medium-sized enterprises operating within the newly established wool value chain. This will increase their market competitiveness and support economic growth in Shirak marz. The factory has 16 employees and is expected to have 23.

“EU4 Shirak: Wool for jobs” is being implemented by People in Need – Armenia (PIN) in cooperation with Women’s Development “Resource Centre” Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Shirak marz and the Amasia Municipality. It is co-funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure of the Republic of Armenia through the Pilot Regional Development Programme (PRDP). The project has a total budget of €549,819 (the EU contribution is €335,000) and it will run until 2020.

On 10 July, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk was in Armenia on a regional visit. The EC President met with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, the President of the Republic of Armenia Armen Sarkissian, and later visited Sevanavank and Noratus cemetery in Gegharkunik marz. The meeting with the Prime Minister was followed by a press conference, during which all parties discussed a wide range of issues on the EU-Armenia cooperation agenda.

The EC President Tusk thanked the RA Prime Minister Pashinyan for his warm welcome and the excellent discussions: “This is my first visit to Yerevan since Armenia’s peaceful revolution. I’m glad to be here now, when positive dynamics have created new opportunities for cooperation. My visit is proof of the importance that the EU attaches to our relations with Armenia and the region. Our discussion today highlighted the effective implementation of EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. The Prime Minister and I also agreed on the importance of the rule of law, the fight against corruption, and respect for human rights. The EU welcomes the focus on creating an independent, efficient and accountable judicial system. In recognition of the Government’s reform efforts, the EU has almost doubled our support to Armenia in 2019. These funds will help to implement priority projects. Today, we also discussed the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The EU has been encouraged by the dynamics over the past year and the commitment to preparing peoples for peace and a focus on humanitarian issues. However, we also share the Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ concern about recent casualties along the line of contact, as well as escalatory rhetoric”.

Prime Minister Pashinyan noted that the development of relations with the EU was one of the priorities of Armenia’s foreign policy agenda: “The European Union is an important partner for Armenia. We are keen to collaborate with the EU in implementing our reform agenda. We are convinced that the EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement will help deepen our cooperation. We highly appreciate your personal contribution to the development of Armenia-EU relations and are grateful for this effective cooperation”.

On 21 June in the framework of the EU Sustainable Energy Week 2019 the closing event of the EU-funded ‘Integrated Support for Sustainable Economic Development in Rural Mountainous Areas of Armenia’ PRDP project took place in Geghamasar, Gegharkunik marz. The event explored project outcomes such as the opening of a new biogas plant and greenhouse. Representatives from national and local government, project partners and implementers, stakeholders and residents of Geghamasar were present. Andrea Baggioli, International Aid/Cooperation Officer of the EU Delegation to Armenia, and Gnel Sanosyan, Governor of Gegharkunik marz, were in attendance.

Baggioli stressed the importance of the project’s contribution to energy efficiency: “We are happy to mark the closing of one of the PRDP projects with such important results as the establishment of the biogas plant and opening of the greenhouse. During EU Sustainable Energy Week 2019 we’ve had sustainable energy days throughout Armenia to set a leading example to prioritise energy efficiency, not only in the fight for climate change but promoting the use of renewable energy through innovative technologies”.

Governor Sanosyan hoped the project would continue: “As a result of project implementation, a very important problem has been solved in agriculture and nature protection using the latest technologies. At the same time, employment in the community has improved. I want to assure our partners that we will provide the broadest support while implementing new projects in our marz”.

“Shen” NGO began implementation of the ‘Integrated Support for Sustainable Economic Development in Rural Mountainous Areas of Armenia’ PRDP project in cooperation with 6 partners from Gegharkunik and Syunik marzes in December 2016. The total budget of the project was €1,340,995, for which the EU contribution was €900,000. The project’s activities contributed to local economic growth in beneficiary communities (Geghamasar, Areguni, Pambak, Shaki, Shaghat, Angeghakot) by increasing regional competitiveness and creating sustainable jobs. The project had main components: strengthening 6 rural cooperatives; the training and introduction of modern methods and technologies for agricultural production; processing in beneficiary cooperatives; biogas production and its introduction into beneficiary cooperatives.

On 18 June a ground-breaking ceremony took place in Gladzor, Vayots Dzor marz. This was the opening of 1-megawatt solar photo-voltaic power plant, built through the EU-funded “Arevadzor – Enhancing SME Competitiveness through Promotion and Wider Use of Sustainable Innovative Technologies” PRDP project. The event was one of many EU initiatives on energy efficiency in EU Sustainable Energy Week in 2019 attended by the EU Ambassador, Piotr Świtalski, and the Deputy Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, Vache Terteryan.

Ambassador Świtalski highlighted the importance of the event: “This project is one of the most important ones within PRDP projects to boost regional development. It was launched in 2016, with a very important role for Deputy Minister Vache Terteryan. We used to call these projects ‘pilots’ but I believe they are more than simply pilots – they are good examples, they are something on which we should be building in the future. The EU’s commitment to regional development is strong and long term. We believe that investing in Vayots Dzor can produce new jobs and make this marz more attractive. The EU has been investing a lot of money in energy in Armenia, with a particular role to boosting energy efficiency and sovereignty”.

Deputy Minister Terteryan thanked the EU for its continued support: “It is a joyful occasion today. We attach so much importance to this PRDP project, as, besides new technologies, it helps to create a new culture, promoting regional development. This is also a great opportunity for public-private partnerships. With the support of the EU, we are implementing a number of projects on energy efficiency and alternative energy. This new culture is extending throughout the country”.

Energy efficiency and green energy are EU priorities for this sector for Armenia. It is one of the most effective tools to support the economy, while simultaneously combatting climate change. The “Arevadzor – Enhancing SME Competitiveness through Promotion and Wider Use of Sustainable Innovative Technologies” PRDP project was launched in 2016 with a total budget of €2,084,951, of which the EU contribution was €1, 500,000. The 34-month project aims to foster employment by improving competitiveness of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to make tourism a cornerstone of Vayots Dzor marz. The adoption of renewable energy is reaching its targets through several actions: the construction of a 1-megawatt solar photo-voltaic power plant; installation of 25 solar thermal panels in B&Bs and households through micro-grants; training and mentoring activities.

 

On 10 June the EU Delegation to Armenia and the Armenian government gave presentations on efficiencies in electronic governance tools and perspectives of the development of e-governance in Armenia. The presentations were given at a meeting entitled ‘Introduction of Electronic Instruments to Promote Transparency and Openness of Public Governance’. This meeting was part of the public awareness campaign for www.e-request.am – a one-window system for electronic requests. With this platform, citizens can submit a request, complaint or an application to any state and local government body authorised to provide information and then receive feedback online.

The Head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, and the Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tigran Avinyan, made statements during the meeting.

Ambassador Świtalski highlighted the importance of e-governance and appreciated the Armenian government’s efforts: “For the EU it is an honour to be associated with the efforts of the Armenian government to promote e-governance. We are the biggest supporter in this sector – over the years we have funded 15 concrete projects, allocating millions of euros. I am very glad that the feedback for these e-tools is very positive. We are now in the process of the implementing a big project to create an ‘interoperability platform’. This is very important to increase the effectiveness of all e-governance tools. However, what we see now is that Armenia has become an e-leader among our partners in the European Neighbourhood.  The number of tools and the way they function put Armenia in the front row – Armenia can be proud of this fact. It is natural as Armenians show great fluency in observing new ideas in technology”.

The Deputy Prime Minister stressed the importance of electronic governance: “With the support of the European Union, innovative e-governance tools have been introduced and are being implemented in Armenia. In the coming years, effective steps will be taken to digitise public services. The use of electronic services by citizens and businesses will be encouraged, artificial intelligence capabilities will be used as much as possible in service provision and oversight, mechanisms for evaluating citizens’ opinions, service monitoring and effectiveness, and proper statistical tools will be introduced”.

The European Union is the main supporter of electronic governance in Armenia.  In 2008-2018 the EU provided close to €25m for e-governance reforms in Armenia. With the support of the European Union more than ten e-governance platforms have been established in Armenia. Among these services are: the document-management system ‘Mulberry’, the State Register for Legal Entities (www.e-register.am,) and the website for publications of draft legal acts (www.e-draft.am). Two more systems are being developed: Interoperability Platform and Single Electronic Window.

8P8D1135This year, Europe Day activities were held under the theme “Road to Europe”. Kapan, Yeghegnadzor, Ijevan, Dilijan and Gyumri celebrated Europe Day from 11 May. Yerevan hosted the final Europe Day 2019 celebrations. On 21 May, the EU Delegation to Armenia and the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra had a Europe Day concert, during which Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed. Two days later the traditional Europe Day event took place, during which EU Ambassador Piotr Świtalski met with young people. Nearly 100 young people aged 18-29 registered for the discussion, which was also attended by the Ambassador of the French Republic to Armenia, Jonathan Lacôte, and the Ambassador of the Italian Republic to Armenia, Vincenzo del Monaco. Participants had the opportunity to meet the Ambassadors and ask questions on the European Union and the EU-Armenia relations.

ARS_4904The main celebrations in Yerevan started on 26 May. In the morning, hundreds of residents joined the EU Ambassador for the Nordic Walking, taking nearly 4000 steps. The first 300 registered participants got poles for Nordic Walking as presents; the youngest and oldest participants received presents from Ambassador Świtalski. Later on 26 May, an information fair was launched on Northern Avenue. The Europe Day information fair is an exclusive opportunity to learn about EU-funded projects, network, and celebrate. Guests also had the opportunity to take part in different competitions and go home with gifts.

ARS_5912Ambassador Świtalski congratulated everyone present on Europe Day: “Europe Day is our common festivity – we belong to the same family. I am very grateful to you for your recognition of the contribution that the EU is making to improve the lives of Armenians. Europe Day is about values – human dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, and peace. I believe that Armenians share these values. We remain committed to helping you further your reforms. We will increase our financial commitments and make our support more efficient. I hope, one day, that we will also make our borders more transparent and more accessible to Armenians”.

This festive day finished with music from Spanish singer Lara Taylor and Armenian singer Aram MP3 on Freedom Square, which was filled with dancing. The final party was hosted by DJ Ocean.

ARS_8904Europe Day celebrations in Armenian marzes have come to an end. Ijevan hosted celebrations on 17 May, Dilijan on 18 May, and Gyumri on 19 May. These days were a festival for hundreds of Tavush and Shirak residents, encompassing music, dances, competitions, hospitality, and gifts. This year, people could learn about the achievements of beneficiaries of EU-funded projects in both marzes. EU Ambassador Piotr Świtalski and the cities’ mayors welcomed guests. The celebrations culminated in concerts by singer Aram MP3.

8P8D9864Ambassador Świtalski thanked residents for coming and joining in the celebrations: “In Europe Day 2019 we have prepared many activities and a big programme for people of all ages. A strong Europe means a stronger Armenia. Europe Day is our common celebration. We celebrate the idea of Europe and one family and Armenia is an integral part of this family. Armenia has an ancient culture and civilization; it has made a significant contribution to our common European identity. I am confident that this relationship will grow stronger and will bring good results for Armenia. Soon we will start big projects in three northern regions of Armenia – Tavush, Shirak and Lori. So you will see the EU flag more in coming years”.

ARS_7999Ijevan Mayor Vardan Ghalumyan welcomed EU support: “With the support of the EU we have implemented many projects in Ijevan. I congratulate on this day and welcome Ambassador Świtalski, thanks to whom EU support is reaching the right destination. Every project is implemented for our residents and our future generations. So I am grateful to our residents who have come to celebrate this day”.

DilDilijan Mayor Armen Santrosyan also gave his congratulations: “We have implemented a number of projects with EU support in Dilijan and we are grateful for the cooperation. With EU support, our city has buses which serve as public transport for residents; thanks to the PRDP initiative, hundreds of people have become beneficiaries, a Tourist Information Centre has been established, SMEs have received grants; we have implemented an energy efficiency project, as a result of which we also have a bus stop where residents can charge their digital phones and other gadgets with free solar energy. We are ready for further cooperation!”

8P8D9893Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanyanspoke about the pillars underpinning celebrations: “On behalf of all of you, I thank the Ambassador for celebrating Europe Day in Gyumri every year. Europe Day is about peace, freedom, justice and solidarity. We have been cooperating for years and hope that the cooperation will continue”.