During a recent visit to Brussels, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, made it clear that fighting corruption is the top priority for his government. Currently 500 top level officials are under scrutiny by the independent Commission of Ethics. According to the PM the fight against corruption should result in the further development of a stable middle class which in turn will lead to the creation of a stronger civil society.
Corruption unquestionably undermines the credibility of the government and raises doubts among donors. However, Armenia is not interested in replicating the ‘revolutionary road’ of neighbouring Georgia in fighting corruption. Instead Yerevan opts for a ‘safer’ evolutionary path. This will be a long process but, as long as concrete results are visible, the international community can only encourage Armenia.
According to the OSCE, Armenia held last month the most ‘competitive and vibrant’ parliamentary elections since its independence. Although shortcomings were reported concerning buying voters and ballot-stuffing, there were also improvements on equal distribution of TV time and freedom of assembly in the run up to the elections.
By making the fight against corruption a top priority, the government hopes this will help to consolidate post-election trust at home and abroad. But more needs to be done. Civil society should increasingly participate in anti-corruption reforms. This would bring trust, increase the chance of practical impacts and be a noteworthy example of civil engagement in the South Caucasus. The international community should support and encourage a democratic reform agenda in which state institutions take civil society serious.
But there are more challenges to Armenia’s reform process, foremost those of on economic nature. The country remains isolated – not being able to do cross-border business with two (Azerbaijan and Turkey) of its four neighbours. Armenia relies on close ties with Russia but also increasingly sees the EU as a way out of the deadlock. Concrete reform at home might spur increased EU interest and possibilities for closer economic ties.
The EU, as one of the major donors in the country, should bid on longer term, sustainable policies in Armenia. The country will need further financial and technical assistance from Brussels. The EU’s ‘more for more’ Eastern Partnership seems to be perfect for Armenia in order to advance its reforms and encourage the country to deliver on the concrete democracy/anti-corruption oriented agenda. Armenia needs to maintain the positive momentum of the most transparent and fair parliamentary elections held in twenty years.
An evolutionary approach to anti-corruption and democratic reform can be wise but it should not become an argument to stall the process. In that sense, the EU and Armenia should further discuss reform plans setting a clear and realistic time-line for legislative reforms and expected practical results.