Tag Archives: Head of EU Delegation to Armenia

On 30 September the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, the Armenian Minister of Culture, Armen Amiryan, and the Armenian Deputy Minister of Nature Protection Khachik Hakobyan officially launched European Heritage Days 2017 in Armenia. The official opening ceremony was held in Lori marz at the “Sochut Dendropark” and “Lori Fortress” museum under the theme of “Heritage and Nature”.

ARS_1146Pupils from all the marzes of Armenia who have participated in the EU-funded project “Support to EU courses in secondary schools and universities” attended the event and celebrated European Heritage Days in Armenia. In addition to the tour in the Dendropark, the pupils also participated in the “Nature and photography” session, got guidance on how to take photos in nature and took their own photos. These photos are already posted on the Facebook page of the EU Delegation to Armenia and the author of the most “liked” photo will receive a prize. In Lori Fortress all the participants already had the opportunity to have photos in traditional Lori costumes, as souvenirs of European Heritage Day 2017, which will be posted soon on the EU Delegation’s Facebook page.

ARS_1110During the official opening ceremony Ambassador Świtalski thanked everyone for the joint celebration: ‘Armenia is one of 50 countries celebrating European Heritage Days. For us, for the EU, it is an occasion to show how rich Armenia’s contribution to European Heritage is. European culture would be poorer without Armenia’s substantive contribution. European students of architecture are required to study the architecture of Zvartnots Cathedral; European students of music have to study the compositions of Komitas, etc. We want to make this cultural bridge even stronger. We have the intention to launch new cultural programmes’.

ARS_1106Minister Amiryan marked the symbolism of opening European Heritage Days 2017 at the “Sochut Dendropark”, where plants from different parts of the world have had solid roots since 1931: ‘These are exceptional days as a number of institutions will open their doors, buildings that are not available to us every day, but which are part of our heritage. I am convinced that the heritage and nature together create an environment that gives us the opportunity to re-create our love for our homeland again and again’.

During the European Heritage Days in Armenia on 30 September and 1 October 2017, more than 100 cultural organisations and historical and cultural monuments opened their doors. Other cultural offerings included concerts, film screenings, literary and music events, educationally interactive programmes, public discussions and lectures, tree planting, and walking tours.

European Heritage Days are celebrated every year in the 50 European countries signatory to the European Cultural Convention (1954). The idea of the project came up during “Monuments’ Open Doors” initiative launched in France in 1984. In 1991, the Council of Europe officially launched the European Heritage Days with the support of the European Commission. In 1999, this initiative became a joint action of the Council of Europe and the European Commission. Over 70,000 events are organised all over Europe every year in order to help raise awareness of Europe’s common heritage and emphasize the importance of continuous preservation of its uniqueness and diversity. See more www.europeanheritagedays.com

On 26 June, the “BRIDGE for CSOs” programme was officially launched in Yerevan. The programme goal is to strengthen the capacity of Armenian CSOs to better respond to citizens’ needs by linking Armenia CSOs with expertise in the Diaspora. The programme is funded by the European Union and implemented by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), in cooperation with the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF). The three-year programme, launched in December 2016, offers a package of activities.
The project will conduct in-depth sector-related needs assessments of up to 200 CSOs to map their strengths and needs; offer tailor-made training to up 200 individuals from 80 CSOs; provide on-the-job consultation to 80 CSOs through pro-bono Diaspora- and Armenia-based experts; institutionalise capacity by launching an academic NGO Management Certificate Programme; provide grants to support small-scale projects; increase trust in civil society. The innovative skill transfer platform (www.together4armenia.am) will enhance cooperation between Armenian CSOs and the Diaspora. It will feature success stories of international cooperation, CSO achievements, reports, sectorial information and other information to bridge existing gaps between international and national CSOs.
The Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, and the AGBU Armenian president and Central Board Member, Vasken Yacoubian, attended the kick-off event and made opening remarks.

ARS_9994Ambassador Świtalski was excited to participate in the programme launch: ‘It is important to support the development of civil society. Armenia has more than 4,000 public organisations, almost 1,000 foundations; even if a portion of these organisations and foundations are active, this still harbours big potential. Armenia can be proud of its civil society activism; it is very important for the development of the country. As the EU, we see our priority to work with partners like AGBU to strengthen the fabric of civil society in Armenia. AGBU is a longstanding, respectable organisation; it is a big honour to work with them, we hope it is a beginning of a beautiful journey, and we believe strongly in the success of the programme’.

ARS_9935Vasken Yacoubian thanked the EU for the opportunity to implement the programme: ‘We were excited when the EU announced this call for proposals and we prepared a proposal that involved civil society both from Armenia and Diaspora. We are very happy that even the Armenian government understands the importance of civil society for the country. This shows the ranking of Armenia – we rank highly for civil society in the region. We are very honoured and happy that we were successful in getting this grant and that we are EU partners. AGBU will be a trusted partner for Armenia. We believe this will be the beginning of our cooperation, which will hopefully extend to different sectors’.

On 15 June, the Council of Europe organised the “Electoral Developments in Armenia: Lessons Learned and Steps Ahead” conference as part of the “Long-term election related stakeholders of Armenia” project. This project is funded by the European Union and Council of Europe Programmatic Co-operation Framework (PCF) in the Eastern Partnership Countries for 2015-2017.
The PCF is being implemented in two phases: 2015‑2017 and 2018-2020. The budget for the first implementation phase is €33.8 million. The PCF is 90% funded by the European Union and 10% by the Council of Europe (CoE). CoE is the implementer.
The objective of the conference was to examine the organisation and management of the recent local (2016), parliamentary (April 2017) and Yerevan Council (May 2017) elections in Armenia, to what extent they complied with international standards, and how electoral processes could be further improved. The opening speeches were delivered by the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, Head of the CoE office in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, and the Chair of Armenian Central Electoral Commission, Tigran Mukuchyan.

DSC_6861Ambassador Świtalski highlighted the importance of examining the election process: ‘We have expressed our preliminary opinion about the last elections as the EU. Like everyone we are now waiting for the final report of the OSCE/ODIHR on the April parliamentary elections. After it we may also publish our additional comments. The drafting of the new Electoral Code stemming from the new Constitution was conducted in an unprecedented consultative manner which is a positive development – ruling coalition negotiated the Code with three opposition parties and some civil society representatives.
It is important to start discussions, to present experience, lessons learned and outline future actions. No one can say that after the elections Armenia’s democratic standards are already perfect – achieving that is a long-term process. The next elections, which will be a long time from now, should be conducted in a more satisfactory way.
We need to acknowledge that the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has effectively implemented the technical aspects – voter authentication devices – which were funded by the EU with contributions from its Member States UK and German (in total 90 % of the cost) and the US. These devices worked very well and helped to prevent multiple voting.
For the future, I have three key messages/recommendations: 1) To improve the Electoral Code and other pieces of legislation in consensus with all stakeholders (parliamentary parties and civil society); 2) To increase credibility of electoral institutions: notably of the CEC and increase independence of judiciary and political neutrality of the law enforcement bodies; 3) work on addressing shortcomings that happen before and after Election Day, i.e. such as those identified by the OSCE/ODIHR in its Preliminary Opinion – vote buying, abuse of administrative resources, and intimidation of public and private sectors´ employees.”

DSC_6990Mr Tigran Mukuchyan prioritised focusing on the positive aspects of the election process: ‘There is no need to exaggerate and make an emphasis on 1.5% failure and fail to mention 98.5% achievements. No one is saying that we should not criticise or point out the shortcomings; however, it must be acknowledged that we have made a step forward, which will be evaluated in detail. Public perception in the post-election period is an excellent evidence of this’.

DSC_6845Ms Natalia Voutova expressed her gratitude to the EU Delegation to Armenia and other partners for supporting the project: ‘2017 has been a very important year in terms of conducting elections in Armenia, particularly as they were based on the new Constitution and the new Electoral Code. We are looking forward to work with the Armenian authorities and Armenian civil society as we move forwards’.

Southern Armenia has hosted Europe Day events, with the EU Delegation stopping for celebrations in Kapan and Goris (Syunik marz), and Yeghegnadzor (Vayots Dzor marz).

Kapan

11On 19 May Kapan welcomed its guests with sunny weather. In the morning, the Deputy Head of Cooperation Section of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Gregory Tsouris, held a meeting with Ashot Hayrapetyan, the Mayor of Kapan. The meeting was followed by an Information Fair on Garegin Nzhdeh Square. Nearly 10 stalls presented EU-funded projects to the residents of Kapan. A DJ provided music while people used this opportunity to learn more about the European Union and its activities; their children enjoyed themselves in a special booth for kids. Tsouris and Hayrapetyan also toured the booths and welcomed guests.

1Tsouris introduced the concept of Europe Day to Kapan residents: ‘It is a great pleasure to be in Kapan. We are celebrating Europe Day here for the second time. Europe Day is an important milestone for all Europeans; it is a day to celebrate our common values. You have the opportunity to see some of the projects we are implementing in Armenia. It is also an opportunity to discuss our cooperation and speak about the future. I want to thank the Mayor for the support we received organising the celebration and for the warm welcome’.

111Mayor Hayrapetyan was grateful that Kapan had been included: ‘It is an honour for us to implement projects in Kapan with the help of the European Union. Now we have a two-year project which started in January. Plastic waste will start being used in construction in Kapan – plastic waste will be a raw material. As a result, we will establish a culture of sorting plastic waste and find opportunities to benefit from it. The EU’s support is great and we hope to have more ambitious projects’.

The children of Kapan’s Aram Khachaturian music school performed the Anthem of Europe to get the crowd for special guests Hayk Petorsyan and Masha Mnjoyan, who made sure the people of Kapan enjoyed the concert.

Goris

2On 20 May, Europe Day reached another city in Syunik Marz. The morning started with a meeting between the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, and Vachagan Adunts, the Mayor of Goris. Grigor Tatevatsi Square hosted an Information Fair in windy, stormy weather. However, the weather swiftly turned and nearly 10 stalls then presented EU-funded projects to adults, while local children learned about the EU through drawing and other games. Soon they were joined by Ambassador Świtalski and Mayor Adunts.

22Ambassador Świtalski introduced Europe Day to the people of Goris: ‘We are happy to be in this beautiful garden town, where the most delicious beans are grown, to celebrate Europe Day together. There are several dimensions to these celebrations: firstly, we want Armenia to feel a part of the wider European family, as Europe Day is celebrated in all member states of the EU, as well as our neighbours. Secondly, we want to present the EU flag and our activities to people all over Armenia. Therefore, it is a great occasion for us to come to beautiful towns like Goris, show what we do in Armenia, and invite you to be more active in our projects. Thirdly, we want to promote different types of activity like music and sport’.

The anthem of Europe was performed before Hayk Petrosyan and Masha Mnjoyan. Despite the wet weather, the crowd filled the square to dance and sing along. While people were singing and dancing in the square, Ambassador Switalski and the mayor launched the European Night of Museums. The EU Delegation to Armenia opened an exhibition of paintings from the #Europe4Peace project at the Aksel Bakunts House Museum.

222The Ambassador highlighted the importance of the European Night of Museums: ‘It is very important that Armenia participates in this Europewide movement of museum nights. The initiative started in 2005 in France and was picked up by a number of international organisations, including the Council of Europe. At that time I was working with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. I never thought this beautiful initiative would spread so far to one day be embraced Armenia. We normally associate museums with buildings where old artefacts are stationed; but in fact museums are centres of learning’.

For #Europe4Peace pupils from art schools in Armenia were invited to create topical paintings associated with Europe and peace. Final selected paintings from 98 schools, including from Goris, were selected by a non-official jury. These paintings were first displayed during the Europe Day classical concert on 6 May, which opened Europe Day celebrations in Armenia.

Yeghegnadzor

On 21 May Yeghegnadzor was excited to host Europe Day for the first time. Celebrations started with an Information Fair at the Yeghegnadzor amphitheatre. More than 10 stalls presented EU-funded projects, giving visitors the opportunity to discover Europe, the European Union, and its projects in Armenia. Ambassador Świtalski and the Mayor of Yeghegnadzor, Davit Harutyunyan, also visited the booths.

3The Ambassador celebrated Yeghenadzor’s inclusion in the celebrations: ‘It is the first time that the EU has come to Yeghegnadzor to celebrate Europe Day. I hope that we are starting a beautiful tradition. I wanted to greet the citizens of the town, in particular the young generation. For us, Yeghegnadzor is a city of kind and hospitable people, the capital of Vayots Dzor, the smallest marz in Armenia, but with the biggest heart. We are grateful that we can celebrate Europe Day here in Armenia together. We fell at home here and invite you to enjoy this day, a day of joy’.

After the Anthem of Europe the Information Fair was followed by an open-air concert with Hayk Petrosyan and Masha Mnjoyan.

On 8 May the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski gave a press conference on Europe Day 2017 celebrations in Armenia. He discussed EU-Armenia relations and the embezzlement case of EU grants.

EU-Armenia relations

ARS_6004May will be a busy month for the EU Delegation to Armenia due to the Europe Day celebrations from 6-27 May. Ambassador Świtalski mentioned that Armenia was considered part of the wider European family and that all the values embodied in Europe Day were shared: ‘We hope very much to use this opportunity to conduct direct dialogue with the Armenian population, youth in particular. Europe Day celebrations started in Yerevan on 6 May, when Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan honoured us with a visit to the office of the EU Delegation. We will hold events in seven Armenian cities. The last event will be in Yerevan on 27 May. Europe Day is an occasion to talk about the achievements of and important documents created as a result of EU-Armenia cooperation. The EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was announced on 21 March in Yerevan. I hope that, by the autumn, the agreement will be ready to be signed. However, the key will be implementation. These agreements offer opportunities, but how we use them is up to us. In January I spoke about another important document, Partnership Priorities. I can tell you that the draft has already been agreed between the European Union and Armenia. Armenia is the first Eastern Partnership country to negotiate with the European Union on this new type of document. I hope very much that this agreement will be signed soon. The third important document is the Single Support Framework. These are the areas of EU development assistance in Armenia until 2020. The draft has been submitted to the European Parliament and has received good feedback. I hope that the final version will be officially finalised soon. We are currently very busy working on the next Action Plan, our annual commitment. We plan to include some new areas of cooperation, areas where the European Union has not so far invested its resources. We are very happy to expand our cooperation and development assistance. I hope these new documents will produce very tangible results for ordinary Armenians – for me that is the most important challenge’.

Embezzlement case

ARS_5992The Ambassador also answered questions concerning the embezzlement case of EU grants in Armenia. On 27 April, the Delegation disseminated a press release on the detention of the Delegation’s staff member. Ambassador Świtalski clarified the information provided: ‘Our announcement contains four elements. Firstly, this embezzlement case was discovered by the EU Delegation – this shows that our verification and control mechanisms work well, which is very important. Secondly, the EU Delegation has passed the information on to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Many Armenians may not have heard of OLAF before – it carried out an independent, internal analysis of the case. OLAF is an independent anti-corruption body within the EU which investigates dozen of similar cases around the world. I would use this case to support my recommendation to the Armenian government to establish a similar independent anti-corruption body. OLAF is proof shows that such bodies can be very effective. If Armenian government is interested how OLAF works, we are open. Thirdly, OLAF has informed the Armenian authorities about its investigation and they have been conducting their own investigation. One member of our staff was detained in connection with this ongoing investigation. I think that the cooperation between the EU and Armenia will become stronger thanks to this joint work. I hope that the Armenian investigative committee will treat other corruption cases at a similar level of seriousness. As for the fourth element, I cannot jump to any conclusions as the trial has not yet begun and everyone has the right to be presumed innocent before being potentially proven guilty. Let’s wait for the decision of the court’.

The European Union has launched two new calls for project proposals on its ongoing grants programmes. The total amount available under these new calls is €4.4 million.
On 10 April the Head of EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, announced the launch of first call for projects proposals for the “Reinforcing Civil Society in Armenia” grant scheme in Yerevan. The budget is €1.5 million. This scheme aims to strengthen civil society in Armenia and to provide civil society organisations (CSOs) with alternative sources of financing. The EU is looking for innovative projects that will make Armenia a healthier, safer, cleaner place and more sustainable.

ARS_2475The Ambassador highlighted the importance of the grant scheme: ‘It’s a great pleasure for me that the European Union is continuing grant programmes in Armenia. Today we’ll speak about a call for proposals targeting our civil society partners. What is it about? Firstly, we want to strengthen the capacity of civil society to monitor the implementation of our programmes here. Secondly, we want to promote responsible citizenship in Armenia to increase public accountability. We are asking civil society to be motivational and organise public campaigns around nutrition, road safety, energy saving, environment, recycling, etc. Thirdly, we want to help civil society to diversify finance streams and be more sustainable, including fundraising, crowdfunding campaigns and social enterprises’.

ARS_2514Grants can be between €150,000-400,000 in size. Sub-granting, the provision of financial support to third parties, will be a core characteristic of this call. Applicants applying under the objective of increasing CSOs’ monitoring capacity must propose financial support to third parties. This support can be in many different forms, for example prizes for independent investigative journalists. The press conference was followed by an information session for stakeholder representatives to present detailed information about the grant scheme and the rules for participation in call.
On 11 April, the Ambassador visited Gyumri to announce a new €2.9 million grant scheme. This has been designed to promote an inclusive and empowered society in Armenia by facilitating participation of civil society and local authorities in poverty reduction and sustainable development processes at the local level.  It will contribute to raising economic competitiveness, creating jobs, and reducing labour migration in the regions. This call for proposals has the objective to enhance people-to-people contact and local community development through sport, culture, education and tourism.

ARS_2610Ambassador Świtalski noted that it was a pleasure to launch a new call for proposals: ‘This is a very interesting and important project. The EU is very committed to helping local communities. The projects proposed can support the development of outdoor activities, such as summer and winter sports, that can have an impact on tourism development; educational programmes to complement compulsory education and offer higher education institutions innovative learning platforms and spaces; create cultural associations to promote the performing arts, music, theatres, literature, painting, animation, filming, etc’.

Grants will be between €300,000-600,000 in size. Sub-granting will again be a core characteristic of the call. Concrete tourism-orientated actions led by CSOs (Lot 1) or local authorities and their associations (Lot 2) must mobilise communities to promote tourism as a means for local economic development. Under Lot 1, applicants must support third parties, which can include prizes to top performers and change makers, including journalists or young entrepreneurs.
The press conference in Gyumri was also followed by an information session for stakeholders. These two calls complement the large-scale EU-supported capacity building and re-granting programmes for civil society currently ongoing in Armenia, as well as the recently announced €1 million grant scheme for regional development, which is aimed at promoting culture and the creative sector.