European Prospective of Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities

19 m.   |  2024-06-03

I n the context of diversifying Armenia’s foreign policy, discussions about the country’s European perspectives have become significantly more active. Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan announced Armenia’s European aspirations. “The people of Armenia does have European aspiration and we are passing through a process and we will see how the end of that process will be, which no one can predict at the moment”, said the foreign minister in an interview with TRT World TV channel. Discussions about European integration are ongoing both in the political and public spheres, attracting the attention of international actors as well. Despite this, there is still no clarity about the European agenda in Armenia: it is necessary to consider the main possible challenges and opportunities of European integration.     

The deepening of European integration can offer Armenia opportunities for economic development, political cooperation and strengthening of security. Armenia-European Union relations are currently governed by the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA). There are separate formats of cooperation in certain fields. The EU civilian observation mission is located in Armenia, which patrols the border with Azerbaijan. At the same time, Armenia is part of the Eastern Partnership, which many consider exhausted in the context of the enlargement policy. They think the program needs new approaches, reforms and a clear agenda. The European Union also continues to support the settlement of conflicts in the South Caucasus.  

From the perspective of the European Union, European integration is not only a cornerstone of the EU’s internal policy but also an integral part of its foreign policy strategy aimed at interacting with other countries. The EU promotes integration processes in neighboring regions through initiatives such as the European Neighborhood Policy, of which the Eastern Partnership is a part. Furthermore, by strengthening closer economic, political and social ties with separate countries, the EU uses its integration model as a soft power tool and seeks to expand its sphere of influence while promoting the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Moreover, by promoting integration beyond the EU borders, the Union strengthens its geopolitical influence.        

EU Membership Mechanisms: Copenhagen Criteria

T he European Union is a political, economic and social integration union, which reflects the common values and cooperation of the member states. The EU accession process is carried out in strict accordance with the Copenhagen criteria. These standards define the fundamental principles and preconditions necessary for EU membership.

EU Membership Mechanisms

The EU accession process traditionally begins with a formal application to the European Council expressing the candidate country’s intention to join the EU. After receiving the application, the European Commission discusses, assessing the readiness of the country to undertake the obligations related to EU membership. At this stage, the applicant country can be given the status of a candidate country based on the recommendation of the European Commission, and then the European Council decides whether to start official negotiations on membership or not. Before the launch of formal accession negotiations and during the negotiations, candidate countries undergo accession preparation, which entails reforms aimed at aligning their laws, institutions and policies with EU standards and requirements.

The Copenhagen Criteria are central to the accession process, which serve as a cornerstone for assessing a candidate country’s compliance with EU membership requirements. These criteria defined after the European Council in Copenhagen in 1993, include three pillars: political, economic and administrative. 

 Political Criteria

The implementation of this criteria implies that the candidate country must have stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. This means the existence of a functioning democratic system, free and fair elections, an independent judicial system, as well as a commitment to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms stipulated by international agreements.  

Economic Criteria

These criteria imply that the candidate country must have a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU. This implies taking measures in the direction of ensuring macroeconomic stability, ensuring the operation of market mechanisms and creating the necessary regulatory framework for economic activity.

Administrative criteria

Their compliance demonstrates the candidate country’s ability to effectively apply all European Community legislation. The candidate country must have the administrative capacity to adopt, implement and administer EU legislation in various policy areas, from environmental protection and consumer rights to competition and agricultural policy.

Meeting the above-mentioned criteria is a necessary but insufficient condition for membership in the European Union. In that case, the political decision plays an important role, which is influenced by many factors, including the geopolitical situation, the possible contribution of that country to the strategic interests of the Union, and the relations of separate countries of the European Union with the candidate country. The decision to admit new member states is ultimately made by the 27 EU member states, which must reach a full agreement. Moreover, public opinion in member states may also play an important role, as EU citizens may have concerns about the impact of enlargement on issues such as migration, employment and national identity.

The path of candidate countries for EU membership

T he last country to join the European Union is Croatia. Its membership process ended on July 1, 2013. It has been 11 years since the European Union has had no new members, although several countries have been waiting for their turn for a long time. Among such countries are Turkey and the countries of the Western Balkans, which face significant obstacles in terms of compliance with EU membership criteria. At the same time, their accession process is complicated by historical and geopolitical factors.


Turkey’s path to joining the EU began with the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Economic Community in 1963, which created the Customs Union. Ankara officially applied for EU membership in 1987 and received the status of a candidate for membership only in 2005. However, until now there has been no progress regarding Turkey’s accession. Apparent progress was made in that regard during the NATO summit held in Vilnius on July 11-12, 2023, when Turkey received promises from the EU to intensify negotiations on its membership, in order not to interfere with Sweden’s membership in the Alliance. However, months later, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Ankara did not expect anything from the European Union regarding the Republic’s membership, and thus the issue was frozen again.     

Currently, 16 of the so-called 35 points of negotiations have not been resolved in the Turkey-EU negotiations. One of the main difficulties is the issue of human rights and democracy. The EU regularly raises concerns about the situation in Turkey, regarding freedom of speech and press, treatment of minorities and the independence of the judiciary. Cases of political instability have also led to the straining of Turkey’s relations with the EU from time to time. Another important issue is the problem of Cyprus. Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which is an EU member state, and its continued military presence in Northern Cyprus are a significant source of tension.     

At the same time, there are other concerns regarding Turkey’s accession to the EU. Turkey’s population, geopolitical location and economic situation can have a significant impact on the decision-making process within the Union, as well as create new problems for the EU in terms of regional conflicts. In addition, Turkey’s foreign policy decisions, particularly its actions in the Middle East, are not clearly understood by the European Union.

Thus, Turkey’s prospects for full EU membership in the near future remain uncertain and there are still many obstacles on the way to membership.

Western Balkans

Western Balkan countries, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, have been seeking EU membership since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which led to conflicts and inter-ethnic tensions. The Western Balkans’ road to EU has been marked by many difficulties, including the legacy of conflict, unresolved territorial disputes and inter-ethnic tensions. In addition, corruption, weak rule of law, organized crime and political instability hindered the path to the EU. At the same time, the accession of these countries to the EU is being slowed down by disagreements and concerns about the feasibility of expanding the Union.

The main obstacles to the EU membership of the Western Balkans can be classified into the following groups:

  • The Rule of Law. Ensuring the independence and efficiency of the judicial system, the fight against corruption and the strengthening of democratic institutions are important issues for the entire region, which are the most important criteria for becoming a member of the European Union.
  • Legacy of conflicts and inter-ethnic conflicts: the settlement of territorial disputes and the development of inter-ethnic dialogue are also important elements on the path to EU membership. 
  • Economic issues: high level of unemployment, economic inequality and structural deficiencies. The European Union notes, that for Western Balkans to join the EU, comprehensive economic reforms, an improved business environment and increased competitiveness are needed.  
  • Migration issues: this is perhaps, one of the most serious obstacles to the accession of the Western Balkans countries to the EU. These countries serve as a transit for illegal immigrants, creating challenges for border management.

Despite the current challenges, the EU regularly reaffirms its commitment to the European perspective of the Western Balkans, recognizing the strategic importance of the region and its potential contribution to European stability and prosperity. However, the terms and conditions of the Western Balkans’ EU membership remain uncertain.

Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia

The integration process of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia into the EU is part of the Eastern Partnership of the European Union. The cooperation of Georgia and Ukraine with the European Union started back in the 1990s. After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova initially adopted a policy of neutrality, seeking to balance relations with Russia and the West. But in the early 2000s, Moldova began to turn towards Europe, declaring a desire for closer integration with the EU. Georgia’s desire to integrate into the EU was strengthened especially after the “Rose Revolution” in 2003, which launched the wave of democratic reforms and pro-Western policies.

One of the most important milestones for the three countries in relations with the European Union was the signing of the Association Agreements in 2014. It includes provisions for reforms in various fields to bring them in line with the EU standards and is also aimed at deepening political ties, expanding economic cooperation, including the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade zone.

Association with the EU was followed by political crises and strained relations with Russia in those countries. Moscow considers that Kyiv’s move as a direct challenge to its regional influence. Despite the Euromaidan and the subsequent political upheavals, Ukraine did not deviate from the adopted policy and continued reforms aimed at fulfilling the requirements of the Association Agreement.

Moldova’s EU integration has also faced problems, including political instability, corruption and the unresolved conflict in Transnistria, which have hindered the advancement of closer ties with the EU. Moldova’s European integration often leads to internal divisions and deep polarization. In particular, the protests between 2015-2016 revealed deep public dissatisfaction with the pace of reforms and the lack of significant progress in the fight against corruption. The problem of Transnistria is also a serious obstacle to Moldova’s integration into the EU: it also contributes to political instability in the country and complicates relations with neighboring countries. The decision of Moldova’s European integration aggravated the relations between Chisinau and Moscow. Russia historically considered Moldova part of its sphere of influence, and Moldova’s turn to the EU is seen as a geopolitical setback for Russia.

Like Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia also faced many difficulties on the way to Europe, among which was the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. Georgia even broke diplomatic relations with Russia. On the path to European integration, Georgia also faced economic problems, particularly due to trade restrictions by Russia and other measures that had a significant impact on Georgia’s economy, such as the trade embargo in 2006.

The military operations started by Russia in 2022, became a big challenge on the way to the European integration of Ukraine, which, at the same time, accelerated the European integration process of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

Not long after the launch of the war, on February 28, 2022, Ukraine applied for EU membership under a special procedure. Following the application of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Moldova and Georgia officially applied for EU candidate status on March 3, 2022. The European Commission, taking into account the applications of Kyiv, Chisinau and Tbilisi, proposed a list of necessary reforms for EU membership. On June 23, 2022, the European Council granted Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidate for EU membership. Georgia was granted that status on December 14, 2023, at the same time, a decision was made to start negotiations on the accession of Ukraine and Moldova to the European Union.

The war that began in 2022, brought Ukraine closer to the European Union and made Moldova’s European integration an irreversible reality. Particularly, Moldova’s participation in EU sanctions against Russia, efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy resources, especially through diversification projects, such as the construction of interconnection pipelines with EU countries, led to even greater tension in Moscow’s relations with Chisinau. On May 16, Moldova’s parliament decided to hold a referendum on joining the European Union on October 20.

As for Georgia, the start of negotiations with Tbilisi on the country’s accession to the EU is currently problematic. The ongoing developments in Georgia regarding the bill on Transparency of Foreign Aid have significantly affected Tbilisi’s European perspective. In the West, the actions of the Georgian authorities are considered anti-Western. Moreover, earlier Georgia, unlike Moldova, refused to join the Western anti-Russian sanctions, which also caused some dissatisfaction in the West. It is not excluded that the West may revise its relations with Georgia.

Challenges and opportunities on the path of European integration of Armenia

F rom Armenia’s point of view, deepening the integration process into the European Union is a strategic tool for foreign policy diversification, which implies opportunities for economic development, deepening of political cooperation and strengthening of security.

  • From a political point of view, becoming part of the EU family implies political protection. The EU’s unconditional support for Armenia’s sovereignty, inviolability of borders and territorial integrity can create additional guarantees of political security for Armenia.  
  • In strategic terms, the deepening of the EU integration gives an opportunity to diversify Armenia’s foreign political and economic opportunities, reducing dependence on a single entity.
  • After the second Karabakh war and the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh, the public dissatisfaction with the allied states, as well as the public demand for foreign policy diversification, can create a positive background for the deepening of European integration.
  • European integration gives Armenia access to the world’s largest single market, offering opportunities for trade, investment and technological cooperation.
  • By complying with EU standards and rules, Armenian enterprises will increase their competitiveness and expand their markets.
  • Participation in EU-founded programs and initiatives will promote innovation and capacity building in areas such as the green economy, agriculture, energy and information technology.
  • By integrating deeper with the EU, Armenia can strengthen its position as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

At the same time, Armenia’s deep integration into the European Union may bring a number of political and economic challenges.  

  • Armenia has not yet formed a clear vision of diversification of foreign policy, including relations with the European Union.
  • Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, closely connected and dependent on the Russian economy, and deepening relations with the European Union, especially aspirations to become a member of the EU, will create serious problems for Armenia’s economy.  It will be necessary to terminate the EAEU membership, as well as to review economic relations with Russia. In particular, the industry, transport, and service largely depend on gas supplies in Armenia’s economy. Russia is the main supplier of fuel and uranium to Armenia’s nuclear power plant. Armenia is under the high influence of the Russian capital. In case of leaving the EAEU, the price of gas and electricity in Armenia will increase several times, including for consumers. Armenia’s energy dependence on Russia is a serious obstacle to integration with the European Union. Considering the existing infrastructures and the geopolitical position of RA, the diversification of energy sources and compliance with the EU energy policy are a difficult but necessary condition for EU integration. 
  • Armenia’s economy is relatively small and faces problems such as limited market diversification and general economic dependence. Integration into the EU market will require significant economic reforms, including trade liberalization, harmonization of the regulatory framework and improvement of the business environment, as well as major investments in Armena’s economy.
  • The implementation of political reforms necessary to comply with the EU standards, including the development of the capacities of the RA state institutions, the legal base, the issues of strengthening the rule of law and the protection of human rights, can be quite a long and complicated process for Armenia.  
  • Taking into account the risks and difficulties of deepening the integration of the RA into the EU, it is important to study the opinion of the public to deepen the integration. At the same time, at the beginning of the process, the aforementioned economic complications may cause public dissatisfaction and lead to a political crisis. 
  • Armenia’s integration into the EU will definitely have a negative impact on Armenia’s relations with Russia and some neighboring states. It will cause additional political as well as security problems for Armenia. A serious obstacle for Armenia in its relations with the EU can be the escalation of EU relations with neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan. Particularly, the relations between Georgia and the European Union are at a crisis stage recently, which threatens Tbilisi’s status as a candidate for EU membership. As for Baku, despite cooperation in the energy sector, Azerbaijan’s relations with a number of key EU countries are quite strained, for example, with France. The European Union may consider the integration of Armenia into the EU in the regional context. In particular, so as not to undermine equality and impartiality, the European Union can try to deepen relations with Azerbaijan as well. Some countries of the EU may create additional artificial obstacles for Armenia, particularly Hungary. Despite certain steps and warming trends in bilateral relations, the influence of Azerbaijan and Turkey on Budapest is quite large.
  • The undemarcated border between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the risk of resumption of military conflict are a serious problem for Armenia on the way to the European Union. 

Taking into account the opportunities provided by the European integration, as well as the obstacles and challenges on the way, it is necessary to consider the implementation of the following actions in the context of Armenia-EU relations. 


  • First of all, it is necessary to formulate the diversification agenda of Armenia’s foreign policy, to define the desired level of deepening of relations with the European Union.
  • Armenia should make active efforts to fully implement the provisions of CEPA. 
  • Armenia should actively continue to strengthen and deepen relations with separate EU member states, including France, Greece, Cyprus, as well as try to neutralize the obstacles created by other states, such as Hungary.
  • It is necessary to carry out a thorough study of public opinion in order to accurately assess the public demand for foreign policy diversification.
  • Armenia should assess all tangible security, political and economic risks arising from European integration, their impact on the security and living standards of the citizens of Armenia, as well as the options for countering and overcoming them. 
  • Armenia should also take into account the regional policy of the EU, including relations with Georgia and Azerbaijan on the one hand, and Iran, Turkey and Russia on the other.
  • Armenia should thoroughly study the experience and path of EU member states and candidate countries, the mistakes made, especially the examples of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. The process of reforms, cooperation with the EU in certain areas, such as, for example, the visa liberalization process, should be considered. 
  • Armenia should present the security threats to the country and their true nature to the European side, both in closed channels and in open communications, as well as show the obstacles created by third countries, for example Azerbaijan, for the promotion of Armenia-EU relations.

European Union

  • The European Union, in its turn, has a task to clearly formulate the vision, goals and agenda of relations with Armenia.
  • Brussels should also review the Eastern Partnership program and clearly distinguish relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  • The European Union should provide unambiguous practical support to Armenia’s sovereignty, inviolability of borders and territorial integrity. The EU should condemn any manifestation of the use of force and the threat of force against Armenia, and take practical and tangible steps to prevent and counter them. 
  • The EU should continue supporting the reforms implemented in Armenia in various fields, including within the framework of CEPA.
  • In its turn, the EU should take steps to neutralize the artificial obstacles created by individual countries inside and outside the Union for Armenia-EU relations.
  • In the process of deepening relations with Armenia, the EU should take into account the country’s geographical and geopolitical features, relations with neighboring countries and regions.

Thus, in the current geopolitical and regional situation, new opportunities have been created to strengthen and deepen Armenia-EU relations. Both sides should clearly formulate the strategic goals of these relations and conduct responsible policies to make the most of the deepening of bilateral ties and to neutralize possible challenges.