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A joint business forum was organised on 7 July 2016 by the European Business Association, the business community and the European diplomatic community in Armenia. The forum discussed European business perspectives, impediments and opportunities in Armenia for foreign and local companies and investors, and how to make the business environment more attractive for investors.
The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, and the Armenian Prime Minister, Hovik Abrahamyan, both held speeches at the event.
13631421_1054652767921985_1981350006019357580_n‘The presence of the Prime Minister at this conference has symbolic value; it is a testament to the efforts and the statements that we have been hearing and witnessing in recent weeks about the determination of this government to create a better environment for business activities, in particular, a better environment for links with Europe and the EU. We appreciate this greatly. We, in this hall, are united by a common purpose, we want to see more European business partners trading with and investing in Armenia. Armenians are of a trading nation, they have entrepreneurship in their genes; all they need is space, security and legislation. Times are very challenging and economic growth of Eurasian Economic Union countries is low. It is also a challenging time for Europe, but I hope we will be able to harness the added value of Armenia. Armenia is a bridge-builder through its geography and history; by promoting more involvement of European businesses in Armenia we’ll create another strong bridge between Armenia and the EU,’ stated Ambassador Świtalski.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan stressed the importance of holding this forum: ‘The presence of the business community, as well as broad representation from economic policy makers, at this event will bring about active and constructive discussion on all agenda items. The government has been consistent in implementing policy to make Armenia’s business environment more attractive. We are consistently implementing an “open door” policy, which implies almost no restrictions on investment activities. Our efforts have been highly appreciated by international organisations. We are pursuing policy, which aims to ensure equal conditions for everyone. Foreign companies can feel safe and comfortable in Armenia’.
The Executive Director of the European Business Association, Diana Sarumova, presented the main opportunities and challenges in improving conditions for foreign and local businesses in Armenia. During the event, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between more than 10 Armenian and European Business Associations. The main objective of the MoU is to emphasise the most important issues for improving the business environment in Armenia and to demonstrate willingness to work together to eliminate obstacles to business development.
The European Business Association is the voice of EU businesses in Armenia, which lobbies and advocates for businesses’ rights through B2G (business to government) meetings and PPD (public-private dialogue) platform development.
The major objective of the European Business Association is to support representatives of the European Business Community in Armenia and facilitate integration and cooperation between Armenia and the European Union, as well as improve the business environment and encourage foreign investment.

The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Świtalski, was invited to discuss the new round of the EU-Armenia talks with Armenian journalists on 9 February 2016. Ambassador Świtalski made an initial speech and answered questions from the floor. Below you will find the views he shared on key topics concerning EU-Armenia cooperation.

EU-Armenia relationship
Armenia and the EU have entered into a new, constructive phase of their relationship. The EU has a positive agenda – we are trying to build something new, to develop a new model of relationship. I am very glad that the political dialogue between the EU and Armenia is developing quite well – last year President Tusk visited Armenia, and this year we are expecting a visit of High Representative Mogherini quite soon. This is a good signal of the willingness of the EU to develop a productive relationship with Armenia. Last December negotiations on a new framework agreement between the EU and Armenia were launched in Brussels, during which both sides declared their readiness to conclude negotiations as soon as possible. We are also implementing a new revised Neighbourhood policy, which we hope will coalesce into a new framework agreement. The strategic objective the EU is pursuing in the negotiations is to show that it is possible to be a member of another supranational organisation and simultaneously have good relations with the EU. As you know, the EU is Armenia’s biggest foreign donor, we are spending over €50 million in Armenia each year. Our aim is to support Armenia in its efforts to stabilise, prosper and modernise. The main method of supporting those efforts is to help Armenians to design and benefit from proper institutions and laws.
The future framework of the new agreement
The framework agreement will create a solid legal basis for bilateral relations. We hope that the parts of the agreement relating to shared values, justice, and laws will be adopted without changes. However, other parts will need to be adjusted, particularly trade. This is because the Association Agreement was based on the logic of approximation, i.e. Armenia moving closer to the EU and opening its market to the EU and vice-versa. However, with the new reality of Armenia joining the Eurasian Union, this is no longer possible. Then again, we still hope that the new agreement will contain a number of provisions which will facilitate and encourage European investments in and trade with Armenia. We hope very much that all remaining aspects of cooperation from the Association Agreement will be adopted to the greatest extent possible. Let’s look at the new framework agreement as the floor and not the ceiling – it will be the basis on which we should develop practical forms of cooperation, political dialogue and a good climate for investment and trade. This should be the starting point and not the limit of our opportunities.
The revised Neighbourhood policy
The revised Neighbourhood policy is based on differentiation. This means that our cooperation with each country is based on the country’s own priorities. There are discussions with Armenia on every level: economic, security aspects, political, etc. We are now in a constructive, prodcutive phase of our cooperation, and there are no apparent gaps in that engagement. Everywhere I go, every Armenian official I meet from government and opposition confirms the willingness of Armenia to have close and good relations with the EU. This is something we take very seriously and we will be able to harness to achieve new, greater quality of our relations. The president of Armenia, on number of occasions, has said that Armenia wants to build relations with the EU on the basis of common values. This is a very important statement, which we take very seriously.
Armenia towards the 2017 elections
There are priority areas in which Armenia can use the best practices of the EU. With this in mind, we are now in the process of providing human rights budget support. This comprises concrete budget support, where the EU is putting money to help the Armenian authorities. Only a few days ago we had the opportunity to read the report of the OSCE/ODIHR mission on the last referendum in Armenia. The electoral process in Armenia needs improvements, and this report is a proof. Take this seriously – the Government of Armenia needs to do its homework – the Armenian state will benefit greatly if the comments and recommendations from the report are implemented.
We believe that the 2017 elections in Armenia constitute a crucial moment for the future of Armenia. This will be the first national elections to be conducted on the basis of new constitutional arrangements. Armenia will move from a presidential to a parliamentary model. One thing is the trust of every Armenian in the fairness of the election process and legitimacy of democratic institutions, and another is the international image of Armenia. When I talk to the Armenian state authorities or members of the oppostition we define two main problems in the electoral process. The first one is voter registration – stressed by the OSCE report – the second is the voting process on election day, including counting and tabulation. We urge all political parties, the government and members of the opposition to engage in dialogue, to adopt a new electoral code through an inclusive process, and to seriously address these weak points, all of which have been clearly described by the OSCE.
Issues and prospects
The EU respects Armenia’s secutity choices, we know it is a priority for the country. The EU doesn’t play geopolitics and we believe that a country like Armenia in this geographical and security situation should be interested in having as many friends as possible. The EU is coming here as a friend, there is no hidden agenda in our policy in Armenia. We believe that Armenia is a part of the European civilisation and it is an organic part of Europe. Armenians, in particular the younger generation, feel this way – they want to live like Europeans and therefore your link to Europe is quite natural. The EU takes this link it very seriously, because Armenia is a part of the European neighbourhood. The EU wants to have good relations in its neighbourhood, to have stable, modern, and prosperous societies. The new revised Neighbourhood policy is quite clear on this: the EU doesn’t want to protect itself from the neighbourhood, rather we want an organic relationship with it.

The EU Delegation to Armenia, in cooperation with the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Tumo Centre for Creative Technologies, and the Estonian Embassy, organised the “e-Armenia” conference on 29 September 2015. The conference brought together relevant stakeholders to give an overview of the concept of e-Governance (e-Gov), discuss the progress in the sector, and explore potential future developments.
E-Gov initiatives implemented in Armenia have brought about a noticeable change in developing cost-efficient and transparent e-services. To date, EU support to the sector has included the introduction of “Mulberry”, an electronic document management system in government institutions, a tax payer and tax statements submission electronic system, the electronic civil status register, a one-stop-shop vehicle registration system, an automated driver’s licence issuing system, and online traffic fine tracking and payment systems.
ARS_9977Piotr Switalski, the Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, emphasised the ongoing and future initiatives: ‘I am very glad that the EU emblem is so visible today in the context of the e-Governance and the future of Armenia. The EU has consistently supported initiatives and programmes to introduce elements of e-governance to Armenia. The list of these projects is very long: an e-visa system, online business registry, e-police, etc. These are real assets and achievements for the Armenian government and Armenian institutions. The EU remains commited and wants to continue enhancing e-Governance models further in Armenia. I am so grateful that Estonia is providing its valuable experience. Estonia has achieved much, not only in this region but in the whole European context. It shows that a small country can build an image of being a leader by investing in future-orientated segments of economy and governance. It is a very good example for Armenia’.
ARS_9895The Armenian Vice Prime Minister and Minister of International Economic Integration and Reforms, Vache Gabrielyan, confirmed Armenia’s commitment: ‘The Armenian government pays great attention to the development of the electronic systems in the private sector, as well as in the government itself. Our aim is to make electornic services more avaliable to the public. In this regard, I think that these sorts of conferences are very important as we can have very important discussions, such as Estonia’s experience with e-Governance. Being a small country, they have made big achievements in this field. However, Armenia also has made achievements worth talking about. We have not only encouraged good experience and innovations, but also created a common resource to which everybody can contribute to and from which they can benefit’.
ARS_9913Vasken Yacoubian, an AGBU board member, talked about the importance of the conference: ‘When we had discussions with representatives ftom the EU Delegation to Armenia, we concluded that this event had two main goals. The first is to introduce e-Governance to the wider public and to describe what it is. The second is to discuss how we can use this platform for the Armenian Diaspora. We think that this platform is so important as it helps governance to become more transparent and make boundaries disappear’.
The participants of the conference discussed next steps, which include making information and services as user friendly and accessible as possible by harmonising different systems, and exploring potential cooperation with the Diaspora. Speakers at the conference included government officials, representatives from the Diaspora, IT experts, representatives of international organisations, and other relevant stakeholders.