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 Tuesday, September 6 2016

Emmanuil Mkrtchyan

Ambassador Piotr Switalski: EU and Armenia build their relationship  on the strong basis of common values

Ambassador Piotr Switalski: EU and Armenia build their relationship  on the strong basis of common values

ArmInfo. Armenia is part of the European family in a wider sense, the Head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Switalski, said in an interview with EU Neighbours East project.  In his words, Armenia shares the values that we consider to be European values. 

"European values, in the cultural sense, are sometimes associated  with rationalism, striving for truth, but also respect for diversity,  tolerance, and I think in this sense Armenians are as European as  many other members of the European Union and the bigger European   family.  In the political sense, the common European identity is  linked to the three fundamental values of democracy, human rights and  the rule of law. By becoming a member of the Council of Europe,  Armenia has subscribed to these values. In this sense, the EU and  Armenia build their relationship on the strong basis of common  values," Ambassador Switalski said.  

According to the diplomat,  sometimes, in Armenia, some people believe that because Armenian  society is so conservative, European values, so-called European  values, are too liberal for them. "They overlook the fact that one of  the elements of the European identity is plurality and diversity,  even within the European family. Inside the European Union there are  definitely more conservative societies than Armenian society. The  beauty of Europe is the richness of its cultures, and this makes  enough space for Armenians to feel at home in terms of values," he  said.

In response to the question why the partnership between the EU and  Armenia is important for Europe, Ambassador Switalski said that for  centuries, Armenia has considered itself to be a European state.  Armenia is the first state in history that adopted Christianity as  its official religion, and therefore the bridge between Armenia and  Europe here, perceived from this local perspective, is very strong.  

"For Europe, Armenia is not only part of the neighbourhood - and  neighbourhood is important because of the risks originating from the  neighbourhood, that proximity is what makes us feel particularly  concerned about what is happening here - but Armenia is part of the  European space, Europe in its larger sense. Therefore for the  European Union Armenia is important.  Still, being a small country,  in some ways an isolated country, because one long frontier is  closed, another one is still on fire, due to the conflict in and  around Nagorno Karabakh, but still Armenia is important for Europe,  Armenia is one of the gates connecting Europe with Asia. Armenia  through its border to Iran has a strategic importance, the whole  region of the South Caucasus is a crossroad, is a gate, it is a  meeting place of different cultures, different interests, but also a  place important for trade and for communication. Therefore the  European Union is interested in having a strong relationship with a  country like Armenia," he said.  

As for the impact the EU really has in Armenia, Piotr Switalski said  the European Union in Armenia is an important factor. 

"We are the number one international donor in Armenia. We are the  number one foreign investor in Armenia. And we are the number one  foreign trade partner of Armenia. But our relationship goes beyond  this element of trade, of investment, of development cooperation.

Our contribution to the development of this country is very  versatile, visible everywhere in the country, we contribute to the  improvement of infrastructure: the EU is the main supporter of the  north-south corridor going through the whole of Armenia from the  southern border to the northern border, we have provided more than 10  million in the upgrading of the metro system in Yerevan, we spent  millions in helping Armenia to organise a modern waste collection  system, a water purification system.  The EU is helping to close the  development gap between Yerevan and other regions, and in particular  our efforts in the field of agriculture have this important economic  and social aspect. We improve border management, we contribute a lot  to improve governance:  The European Union is the main promoter of  e-governance in Armenia - few people know for instance that, thanks  to the EU, all Armenians are being equipped with new ID cards, more  than half a million Armenians have new biometric ID cards. 

We support improvement of the justice system. With the help of the  European Union, 12 court buildings were built in Armenia, but more  importantly, several important pieces of legislation strengthening  the independence of the judiciary, streamlining the functioning of  the justice system were enacted in Armenia.  Education is an  important field where we are very present, not only through the  possibilities offered by the Erasmus programme, but also the European  Union is very visible contributing to the improvement of the  vocational education system. We have built, renovated or upgraded  several colleges in Armenia, and we also contributed to reforming the  education system.  We are also helping Armenia to modernise their  human rights protection system, we are helping Armenia to boost their  economic environment, in particular through the support to small and  medium- sized enterprises, so as you can see, the spectrum of  activities of the European Union is very wide, we have our  priorities, and I think that the European Union is a visible factor  of modernisation of this country." 

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