This blog is now closed. You may continue to follow this story on our regular updates on commonspace.eu and on our twitter feed @commonspaceEU and facebook page commonspaceu
18.00 CET / 21.00 Yerevan
We are now bringing this blog to a close. For the last two days we followed the visit of the President of Armenia to Brussels for important meetings with European institutions. At a meeting yesterday with European Council President Donald Tusk the two sides announced that the negotiations on a new agreement between them has been concluded. The President also met today with European Commission President Juncker and High Representative Morgherini.
In Armenia the visit has been overshadowed by the latest incidents in the Karabakh conflict zone and the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Commentators in Armenia have raised concern about Russia's intentions and whether Russia will intervene again, as it did in 2013, to stop the process. But the nature of the two agreements is also different and it is unlikely Russia will feel the need to interfere on this occasion. President Sargsyan spoke on Karabakh at a meeting at the Carnegie Foundation.
Commonspace.eu political editor said in a comment that this has been a successful visit which will be welcomed in the European Union circles. Armenia is an important part of the EU engagement with its neighbourhood. The process of finalising the agreement that has now been agreed will take some time. But in the meantime the sides have a roadmap which they can follow. The issue of Russia, and Russia's possible meddling with the process this time round has been on many people's mind. The Armenian government this time round seems to be determined to finish what it has started. The elections to be held in April will be a test of Armenia's committment to the values that the EU holds high. After that it will depend on both sides to make relations better. This visit has contributed to that."
17.00 CET/ 20.00 Yerevan
The visit of President Sargsyan to Brussels is shortly coming to an end. This afternoon he has met with EU High Representative Federica Morgherini and will shortly meet with the European Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker.
14.45 CET / 17.45 Yerevan
The Karabakh conflict hangs in the background during the visit of President Sargsyan to Brussels. the president referred to it this morning in his speech at the Carnegie Centre. In the meantime in Oxford, Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats had a passionate but well articulated exchange of views on the conflict and its resolution process in the conference being held there at the initiative of LINKS and Oxford University.
Dennis Sammut wrote on his facebook page
The discussion in Oxford on Karabakh continues with two passionate, but well articulated presentation, by Hikamt Hajiev, the spokesperson at the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry and Armen Liloyan Minister Plenipotentiary at the Armenian Embassy in London.
Hikmat Hadjiev said that the international community does not appreciate the threat perception of Azerbaijan. The situation on the line of contact is very difficult with one hundred thousand soliders facing each other. He said Armenia has switched to a deterence with a possible option of preemptive strike. In the current situation both war and peace are possible. The peace option was still there. Azerbaijan has said clearly there will never be a second Armenian state on Azerbaijani territory but Azerbaijan has offered the option of a Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous republic. Hajiev said the present generation has a duty to resolve the conflict and not leave it for future generations.
On his part Armen Liloyan said that for Armenians Nagorno-Karabakh is an existential issue. Self-determination is a basic right enshrined in the UN charter. The April 2016 fighting had resulted in many atrocities against Armenians. He said that Azerbaijani leaders have become prisoners of their own rhetoric on the use of force. Liloyan said presently the problem with the peace is trust and political will. Armen Liloyan said that Armenia supports the work of the Minsk group in the present format. They cannot resolve the conflict but they can facilitate and contribute towards the settlement.
14.30 CET / 17.30 Yerevan
President Sargsyan speaking at Carnegie Europe this morning referred to the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia. The President said
In coming weeks, Armenia's political system will undergo a serious test: at the beginning of April, in accordance with the amended Constitution and the new Electoral Code, we will conduct parliamentary elections. Fundamental changes were introduced into the Electoral Code as well, some of which resulted from the unprecedented dialogue and consensus between the authorities, opposition, and the civil society. To ensure a considerably greater public trust towards the electoral process and to conduct free and fair elections, we have actively introduced contemporary technical measures for the election monitoring. Moreover, in line with the wishes expressed by the opposition, we agreed to introduce such transparent and novel approaches towards which certain reservations were voiced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. We agreed to do it because at this point a greater trust towards the process was the most important objective.
With this regard, I express gratitude to all our international partners, and particularly to the European Union, for the assistance provided from the very beginning of the process. The reformation process and its results have been praised by our international partners, such as the OSCE/ODHIR, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, and the European Union.
We have set the bar high: to conduct democratic, free, fair, and transparent elections. I have no doubt that we will reach this goal, and the atmosphere of the elections and the results of the entire process will prove the aptness of our approaches.
You can read the full speech here
14.00 CET/ 17.00
President Sargsyan this morning spoke at Carnegie Europe, Armenia analyst Sos Avetisyan comments;
Despite the fact that the Carnegie audience would likely have been more interested in the security situation, the bulk of President Sargsyan's speech was dedicated to the constitutional changes in Armenia and Karabakh. Saying that Armenia was a possible investment destination is related to the dire economic situation in the country and the attempt to launch rapid reforms. Furthermore, the earlier statements that were made by Armenian officials "and-and" (meaning integration with Eurasian Economic Union but also strong cooperation with the EU) during U-turn in September of 2013, were aired again. It seems that President Sargsyan is continuing with the overall strategic position of building Armenia's image as a cooperation platform or the EU and EEC as well as Iran and USA.
President Sargsyan : “We have set the bar high” - The defined bar of the Armenian authorities is high: to hold ... https://t.co/W2SJ641GtA— Armenpress News Eng (@armenpress) February 28, 2017
A tweet from Brussels
13.00 CET/ 16.00 Yerevan
A further comment on the proposed new EU-Armenia agreement from Radio Liberty Armenian Service
According to Daniel Ionessyan the head of "Informed Citizens" NGO, the Framework agreement includes roughly the 90 percent of the political obligations that were in 2013 Association Agreement, while it almost doesn't include the trade component of 2013 for obvious reasons of Armenia's entrance to Eurasian Economic Union. The most lamentable thing is that the visa liberation for Armenia is only stated as farther goal in the agreement.
12.00 CET/ 15.00 Yerevan
For those wanting to read the full speech of President Sargsyan yesterday at the Press brieign with Donald Tusk, you can now do so on the website of the Armenian President, here
11.50 CET / 14.50 Yerevan
At the Oxford Conference Dr Neil Melvin of SIPRI says that the new agreements between the EU and Armenia and Azerbaijan are not strategic agreements in the way that the EU Association Agreement with Georgia is. Melvin also said that the west's capacity to support Georgia militarily is now much more difficult due to expanded Russian power projection in the region. He said that the Karabakh conflict is increasingly being embroiled in Russia's increased power projection in the Caucasus/Middle East theatre of operations which Russia now considers as one.
11.45 CET / 14.45 Yerevan
Bedo Demirchian, who works in Brussels-based "European-Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy" organization, has commented for Azatutyun,the Armenian version of Raduio Liberty, that " According to some information, through speaking with some people, it is clear that the Karabakh conflict especially after the April of 2016 features more prominently in this agreement (Framework Agreement). That is to say there is no way to reach such agreement, to negotiate, and not to speak about situation around Nagorno-Karabakh, even if the Artsakh's question is not mentioned on the paper of the agreement, it nevertheless is on the table of negotiations":
11.30 CET / 14.30 Yerevan
President Sargsyan is at the moment addressing a meeting of Carnegie Europe in Brussels. We hope to have some news from that event soon.
In the meantime in Oxford the Conference "The South Caucasus at the time of shifting international paradigms" has started. Dame Audrey Glover chaired the opening session which included opening remarks by Atanas Baltov, Political Advisor to the EU Special Representatives for the South Caucasus, as well as by Professor Roy Allison and Dr Dennis Sammut. Mr Baltov extended the greetings of EUSR Ambassador Herbert Salber, who had planned to be at the conference, but whose presence is of course needed in Brussels today in connection with the visit of the Armenian President. More on the conference on twitter with the hashtag #CaucasusOxford
10.50 CET / 13.50 Yerevan
This morning commonspace.eu has been scanning the Armenian media for comments about the visit and the news of the new agreement. The Armenian official media has so far reported the visit factually and without any comment. Similarly there has been little comment from other sources. It seems that people in Armenia are very cautious about the developments, waiting to see if there are going to be reactions, particularly from Moscow.
10.45 CET / 13.45 Yerevan
In the meantime in Oxford, experts on the South caucasus from the region and other parts of Europe are just about to start a conference discussing the changing international situation and its impact on the region. EU relations with the region will be one of the topics. We will have updates on the conference but you can also follow on the twitter feel #CaucasusOxford
09.45 CET/ 12.45 Yerevan
We have been getting some other reactions to what has been going on in Brussels
Commenting on President Serzh Sargsyan's visit to Brussels for newspaper 168 zham a Polish expert Konrad Zasztowt, has mentioned that EU's support (7 million Euros) for Armenia's parliamentary elections, are by no means meant to interpreted as interference in internal matters of the country but a support for democratization process in the country. At the same time, he warns if Armenian authorities do not meet the expected threshold of good elections, the EU might withdraw the significant support it provides for Armenia.
Stepan Danielyan who is the head of "Collaboration for Democracy" NGO in Armenia in his facebook post yesterday says that "Its likely that S. Sargsyan has promised a lot of things to Europeans with a hope that they will be silent on the elections, I am sure that after elections, he will ditch them again. I recall that during the closed meeting with EU ambassador to Armenia, in 2008 mentioned that S. Sargsyan had promised a lot, but then again the death of 10 people (referring to March 1st) was stomached".
09.30 CET/ 12.30 Yerevan
Commonspace.eu this morning spoke to Mikheil Zolyan, a leading Armenian journalist and analyst. Zolyan told commonspace,
This is a positive development, but a lot will depend on what happens between now and the elections in April. It also reflects a wish in the Eurasian countries to create a counter balance to their relations with Russia, but also reflects a flexibility on the part of the EU in how it engages with Russia’s neighbours
09.00 CET / 12.00 Yerevan
We have been having a look at the programme of President Sargsyan today in Brussels. He will meet High Representative Federica Morgherini this morning, and at around 11.00 will give a talk to Carnegie Europe. In the afternoon he will meet the President of the European Commission Juncker and in the evening the President of the European Parliament.
To remind our readers, this visit is considered to be important because it opens a new phase in EU-Armenia relations. Yesterday both sides have confiremmed that they have concluded discussions on a new framework agreement. To recall, in September 2013 Armenia, under pressure from Moscow, abandoned plans to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. Since then the two sides have been searching for the best way to build relations between them.
We asked our political editor to talk us through the next steps, now that the discussions have ended. He said
There are many technical steps. Fist the agreement has to be swept by the lawyers on both sides to make sure that it is consistant; than it has to be translated into all the official languages of the EU, and of course in Armenian. It will then be initialled, and after signed. Then the arduous process of getting all the 27 member states to ratify it will start. So the process may take some time - perhaps from one to two years if we take the Georgia Association Agreement as an example. And ofcourse we have the further complication of the Brexit process that is bound to cause delays within the EU corridors of power. But having said that, once the agreement is agreed, it already provides a roadmap that can be followed, even if some asspects will have to wait a while longer.
08.30 CET / 11.30 Yerevan
At NATO headquarters, Stotlenber also made a refence to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. He said,
I am concerned about the continuing violence along the line of contact, including this weekend. It is important to avoid escalation. Because there is no military solution to this conflict. And its persistence is holding back the region.
So we encourage both Armenia and Azerbaijan to return to the negotiating table and to work toward a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. NATO fully supports the Minsk Group Process to that end.
08.15 CET / 11.15 Yerevan
After the meeting between President Sargsyan and NATO Secretary General Stotlenberg yesterday, the two gave a press briefing. You can hear an audio of the press briefing here
I also welcome our partnership that we have developed, between NATO and Armenia, over many years. That is good for Armenia and it's good for NATO. And I also welcome that in our meeting we discussed how we can take that partnership further and continue to strengthen the cooperation between Armenia and NATO.
The NATO Alliance is committed to working with you, as well as other partners. Because cooperation between NATO and Armenia is in both our interest. Together, we are developing a new Individual Partnership Action Plan. Tailored to your needs and requirements. And I see opportunities for us to cooperate more closely on interoperability, defence reform and defence education. NATO and our Allies have considerable expertise in defence and security sector reforms. Armenia can draw upon these resources.
Armenia is a full member of the Russia-led security organisations, the CSTO. At a time when relations between NATO and Russia are very strained because of Ukraine, relations between Armenia and NATO are obviously not simple. In fact it is is important to remember that a few days ago, Armenia's Defence Minister found it necessary to assure senior members of the Armenian Armed forces that Armenia's co-operation with NATO was not harmful to Russia. On that same occasion both president Sargsyan and the Defence Minister praised Armenia's alliance with Moscow.
It is Tuesday, 28 February 2017 - 8 o'clock in the morning in Brussels, 11 o'clock in Yerevan
Welcome to the second day of this live blog that is following the official visit to Brussels of the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Today again we will be joined by analysts in Brussels and Yerevan to discuss the visit, the state of EU-Armenia relations, and wider issues connected with the Caucasus region. We will also have reports from St Antony's College at Oxford University where academics, diplomats and practitioners are discussing the situation in the Caucasus region, including the relations of the European Union in the region, in a conference entitled "The South Caucasus at a time of shifting international paradigms".
Yesterday, after talks with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, Armenia and the European announced that they had concluded discussions on a new agreement between them. The event is being hailed as an important step that opens a new phase in the relationship between the two sides.
President Sargsyan afternoon visited NATO Headquarters in Brussels, where he met the Secretary-General of the Alliance Jens Stotlenberg for talks on current security challenges and the partnership between the Alliance and Yerevan.
15.00 CET / 18.00 Yerevan
We are now bringing this live blog to a close for today. We will however resume tomorrow at 08.00 CET / 11.00 Yerevan to bring you news and comments about the second day of president Sargsyan's visit to the EU institutions in Brussels.
14.50 CET / 17.50 Yerevan
We have just heard from president Tusk and President Sargsyan at the end of their talks. There was nothing unexpected - the discussions on the framework agreement have now been concluded as was hoped. Both sides used very measured language, a sign that these discussions and negotiations have not been without their problems. Tomorrow the Armenian President will continue his visit to brussels and will meet other EU officials. These discussions will be of a more technical nature, but the tone was established in today's meeting, and in the briefng that followed.
14.40 CET/ 17.40 Yerevan
President Tusk has just made a statement after the meeting with the Armenian President.
The negotiations on the new framework agreement have been concluded, it has been announced.
President Tusk highlighted the fact that the EU is Armenia's first trade partner, first international doner, and strongest supporter of reforms.
At the press briefing the Armenian President said the EU is an example of civilised co-operation between nations and Armenia was ready to take forward co-operation.
The two leaders touched upon the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and President Tusk stated that the EU supports a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and that their should be an early political settlement within the framework of the OSCE Minsk process
14.30 CET / 17.30 Yerevan
An interesting feature of how Armenia has managed relations with Europe during the last years is the relations of the governing Republican Party with one of the European political families the European People's Party - the EPP. This has proved to be an important back channel, and although the Republican Party is only an observer member of the EPP, President Sargsyan is one of the few leaders who never misses a meeting.
14.15 CET / 17.15 Yerevan
Some interesting comments from Richard Giragosian, Director of the Regional Studies centre in Yerevan, just posted on his facebook page, commenting on the prospects of a new agreement between the EU and Armenia
"A "rare second chance" for Armenia to repair, restore and regain deeper relations with the EU:
With the successful conclusion of a new strategic legal framework of relations between Armenia and the EU, I am very confident that Russia will allow this to proceed, for four strong reasons:
(1) it is not a threat to Moscow, as it is not an Association Agreement;
(2) Armenia is now within the Eurasian Economic Union, hence, substantial leverage for Moscow;
(3) it is a different time and different context, as in 2013, when Armenia was merely a "sacrificial pawn" for Moscow to send a strong message to other former Soviet state, now, however, no need;
(4) it is a way for the Eurasian Economic Union to garner greater credibility in the notable absence of being taken seriously even by its members."
14.00 CET / 17.00 Yerevan
We will shortly hear from President Tusk and President Sargsyan following their discussions. This will be the moment when we will know where things stand with regards to the new agreement between Armenia and the EU.
In the menatime one issue which is also expected to be discussed, but which is likely to be touched on in a general way in the press briefing is the issue of Karabakh. Fighting has been raging on in the last days and several people are reported dead. The European Union is not directly involved in the mediation on the solution of the Karabakh problem, but working through its Special representative for the South Caucasus, Ambassador Herbert Salber, it supports the efforts of the Minsk group and remains constantly engaged with the sides. The EU also supports a number of civil society initiatives. The terminology used by EU leaders when talking about Karabakh is very closely watched in both Baku and Yerevan, so Tusk's words will be examined for any new nuance. There are unlikely to be any since the visit was thoroughly prepared in advance, and the EU's position has remained unchanged.
13.05 CET / 16.05 Yerevan
First pictures of the meeting between Tusk and Sargsyan. Video available on the website of the European Council here
13.00 CET / 16.00 Yerevan
We welcome those readers who have just joined us to follow this live blog focusing on the visit of the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan to the European institutions in Brussels. The President is currently meeting with the EU Council President Donald Tusk, and we expect to hear from both of them shortly.
In the meantime we have asked regional analyst Dr Dennis Sammut what is the European Union strategy for the South Caucasus and how does Armenia fit into it. Here are his comments;
"The European Union sees the South Caucasus as an important part of its immediate neighbourhood and wants to see relations develop. It is also willing to assist the countries to develop politically and economically because it believes that free, democratic and prosperous neighbours are a key factor for peace and stability on the continent. Initially the European Union offered the three countries prospect for an association agreement and a deep and comprehensive free trade regime. Georgia accepted enthusiastically, and the agreement with Georgia is now in force. Armenia first accepted, but just before the negotiations were concluded, it changed its mind and opted instead to join the EEU. Azerbaijan said from the begining it did not want an Association Agreement. It now has started negotiating a seperate framework agreement.
After the initial shock of Armenia's decision in 2013 - the two sides took some time to reflect whats next. In 2015 they embarked on negotiations of a new agreement. The negotiations have moved swiftly and efficiently and the two sides are close to agreeing the text, although some issues remain outstanding. So in fact the EU will now have three different agreements with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. There will be some common elements but it is clear that the objectives of the three countries are different. The new agreement with Armenia will be an important step in the right direction. Assuming that the Russians will not try to stop it, as they did with the 2013 agreement, the new document will be a good basis on which to build for the future. Importantly, the EU has insisted that there will be a lot of provisions related to work with civil society, and has secured important committments on human rights and good governance. This is good news for Armenians who are pushing for more reforms and for more accountability from their government. On the other hand the agreement is good for the Armenian government too. It offers Armenia tangible support in many spheres, and allows Armenia some space in what is otherwise a terrain completely dominated by Russia"
12.45 CET / 15.45 Yerevan
The April elections at the moment loom large over Armenian politics.We asked our guest analyst for this blog, Sos Avetisyan, who is based in Yerevan to comment. He says,
The April parliamentary elections remain a litmus test for Armenia's real commitment to Western standards of democracy. With EU's direct investment (7 million Euros) for voter registration and live-streaming from polling stations, and a clear message coming from EU Ambassador Piotor Switalski that elections should be clean, President Sargsyan's visit aims to acquire favorable European approach. The Republican Party of Armenia has decided its motto for the elections will be "Security and Progress", reflecting the obvious concern given the background of "April War", and the staggering economic situation in the country. Neither President Sargsyan nor Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, are on the party-list for the election. Instead it is headed by Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan.
12.30 CET/ 15.30 Yerevan
President Sargsyan will also be meeting the Secretary-General of NATO, later this afternoon
12.15 CET / 15.15 Yerevan
We want to explore a little bit what is the substance of the new agreement that Armenia is negotiating with the EU. First it is important to remember that this is going to be a very different agreement from the one that was being discussed in 2013. Armenia will not be an EU associated state, in the same way that Georgia is now. The agreement will regulate relations in a number of areas, and some elements of the 2013 agreement have been kept. However the question remains as to how any agreement with the EU will reconcile to Armenia's full membership of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)
Sos Avetisyan commented:
It seems clear that as of now Armenian authorities are supportive of the political dimension of the agreement, but are cautious when it comes to economic issues. The reason behind this is straightforward — Armenia as a member of EEC is handcuffed to negotiate full liberalization of trading regimes. The point is confirmed by Garegin Melkonyan, First Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Investment, who is a chief negotiator of new “Framework Agreement”, he has stated earlier that Armenia looks for some tariff reduction and hopes to attract some European investments. This way Armenian authorities aim to reduce their dependence on EEC and brand Armenia as a possible platform for the EU to trade with EEC zone, as well as with Iran. The main issue with these hopes is that EEC remains rather unpredictable organization and it is hard to say what future regulations will be introduced in EEC. This way the “Framework Agreement” is momentary chance that Armenian government is trying to cease in order to shield itself from further deepening of EEC regulations.
11.50 CET/ 14.50 Yerevan
The Karabakh conflict, and the April elections will be high on the agenda in the meetings that President Sargsyan will have in Brussels. Apart from the meeting today with EU Council President, Donald Tusk, tomorrow the Armenian President will meet with EU High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Morgherini, EU Commissioner President Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani. The European Union is concerned about lack of progress in the negotiations on the Karabakh conflict resolution, and about increased violence on the line of contact. This weekend has seen once again a flare up of fighting which has left casualties.Only two weeks ago the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, was also in brussels and Karabakh was once more high on the agenda. The EU is not part of the mediation process, and supports the OSCE Minsk Process, but it is closely interested in developments and has offered to assist wherever the sides feel appropriate.
On the elections the EU has been trying to support changes to ensure free and fair elections and has worked closely with Armenian political forces in order to build consensus on measures that can contribute to this. It is also providing millions of euros to support the election process.
11.30 CET / 14.30 Yerevan
There has been some speculation in Armenia on how the new agreement between Armenia and the EU could be used for election purposes by the Armenian authorities
Sos Avetisyan writes:"The big question is whether Armenian government will manage to sign the 'Framework Agreement' before elections, hence earn some legitimacy points on the foreign policy frontier or the EU will use the agreement as a leverage to enhance better elections first and then sign it." But speaking at the European Policy Centre in Brussels last week, one of the EU's key negotiators, Dirk Scheubel, said that the elections were not an issue that determined the speed of the negotiations, saying that the negotiators were going as fast as they could, but the signing depended on an agreement on all the substantial issues.
11.25 CET/ 14.25 Yerevan
Another comment on the visit came from Richard Giragosian, who this morning wrote on his facebook page
In an extensive interview with the weekly Sunday news analysis program hosted by the director of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Armenian Service, Hrair Tamrazian, I was able to assess the current state of Armenia-EU relations (in English, dubbed into Armenian).
In a Skype call from Brussels, I noted that as the final stage of negotiations over a new legal framework agreement enhancing Armenia's relations with the EU, this represented a rare "second chance" for Armenia "to restore, regain and rebuild relations" with the EU, especially after the 2013 decision by the Armenian president to sacrifice the earlier Armenia-EU Association Agreement in favor of committing Armenia to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.
While the agreement will not be ready for the official state visit of the Armenian president today (given the demands of translation and legal review), the new agreement is a strategic achievement for Armenia, and also for the EU, as a demonstrable success for the Eastern Partnership program.
11.20 CET / 14.20 Yerevan
In a few minutes President Sargsyan is expected to start a meeting with the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk. We then expect the two Presidents to speak to journalists around 1430 CET/17.30 Yerevan
11.15 CET / 14.15 Yerevan
People in Armenia do not have too many expectations from this visit. Sos Avetisyan, an independent political anlyst in Yerevan told us the story is competing with two events closer to home:
While President Sargsyan's visit to Brussels is covered in Armenia media sufficiently, the public attention to it remains low. The clashes on conflict line in Nagorno-Karabakh on February 25th have diverted the public attention. Furthermore, the on-going electoral campaign for parliamentary elections leaves little if any room for foreign policy thinking in Armenia. Traditionally, the foreign policy issues aren't prominent on the agenda of the political parties and coalitions in Armenia; hence there is no clear linkage between President S. Sargsyan's visit to Brussels and domestic politics in Armenia.
11.05 CET/ 14.05 Yerevan
President Serzh Sargsyan has visited Brussels many time. He often attends meetings of the European people's Party, because his own political party the Republican Party of Armenia is an Associate member of the EPP.
This is however the first official visit to the EU after many years. The visit is seen as important because it closes one chapter in EU-Armenia relations, and hopefully opens another. In 2013 Armenia was on the verge of becoming an Associate member of the EU when in a surprise announcement in Moscow, in the presence of Russia's President Putin, President Sargsyan announced that Armenia had changed its mind and would join instead the Russia led Eurasian Economic Union. Ever since Armenia and the EU have been trying to find a way of rebuilding the relations between them.
On 12 October 2015 the Foreign Affairs Council authorised the European Commission and the High Representative to open negotiations on a new, legally binding and overarching agreement with Armenia, and adopted the corresponding negotiating mandate. The negotiations were officially launched on 7 December 2015 by the High Representative and the Armenian Foreign Minister. Since then several rounds of negotiations have taken place and the two sides have indicated that they are close to finalising a new framework agreement that will form the basis of relations for the near to medium term.
11.00 CET/14.00 Yerevan
It is 11 o'clock in Brussels on Monday, 27 February 2016, and 2 o'clock in the afternoon in the Armenian capital Yerevan.
We welcome our readers to this live blog on commonspace.eu. Today and tomorrow we will be covering the official visit to the European institutions in Brussels of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. The visit comes at an important moment in EU - Armenia relations, when the two sides are close to finalising a new agreement that will form the basis of the relations between them in the future.
We will be live today until around 15.00 CET/18.00 Yerevan, and back again tomorrow morning for the second and last day of the visit, with news and analysis from our team in Brussels and Yerevan. We will also have contributions from Oxford University, where scholars and practitioners are discussing the Caucasus region in a conference at St Antony's College.
More than 500 couples who had already started families but had no Church wedding participated in mass wedding ceremonies presided over by Catholicos Patriarch Ilya II