“Democracy is a deep-seated value in Armenia: it goes in tune with our people’s perceptions, mentality and culture” - Nikol Pashinyan visits Friedrich Ebert Foundation
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Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who is in Berlin on a working visit, called at the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung) where he had a meeting with German scientific and expert circles, referred to as “Long-Term Cooperation under New Symbols: Armenia-Germany Relations.”
Foundation Co-Chair, Board Member Klara Geywitz thanked the Prime Minister for his willingness to visit the Foundation and introduce the ongoing transformations to German expert circles.
“Armenia has always been at the crossroads of different cultures, but has maintained its identity. Today, Armenia plays an important political role. We see that it has good neighborly relations with Russia, it is a member of the EAEU and has signed the CEPA with the EU,” Klara Geywitz said, noting that Germany has good relations with Armenia and considers it important to deepen cooperation.
Klara Geywitz noted that Armenia can become an attractive country for foreign investors. “The new government faces the old burden. Change is not easy, and we can contribute to those developments,” she said, noting that the foundation has a representation in Armenia and has supported Armenia in different activities.
In his speech, Prime Minister Pashinyan touched upon the positive developments in the Armenian economy, government’s reform agenda, including judicial reforms and other topics.
“Dear friends from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation,
Dear Ms. Klara Geywitz,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased with this opportunity. Exactly one year ago I paid my first official visit to Germany, and I am happy that our relations have gained such a strong momentum. Last year, I had a meeting at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and today it is my honor to speak at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Thus, we can state that over the past twelve months I had a couple of opportunities to communicate with the experts of two prominent German think-tanks. Thank you again for such a nice opportunity.
Yes, a non-violent velvet revolution occurred in Armenia in 2018 under the motto of love and solidarity. But the main context was democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and today it continues to be our primary agenda. It is important to record what has happened in the post-revolutionary Armenia over the last one and a half years and what results we have at this point of time. 2019 was a very important year in this respect as it was the new government’s first full year in office.
Extraordinary parliamentary elections were held in the Republic of Armenia in 2018, and these were the first parliamentary elections, the results of which were not disputed by anyone either de jure, or de facto. Prior to that, all parliamentary elections in the Republic of Armenia had been contested and heavily criticized by international observers. As regards the latest elections, neither the Armenian civil society, nor the international community questioned the outcome parliamentary elections, stating that the polls had been held in line with international standards. This was the first and foremost result of the revolution.
This trend continued in 2019, when the Republic of Armenia made progress in political and human rights ratings lists. In particular, the Republic of Armenia has made progress in the world index of democracy, and the global index of freedom of speech. The Republic of Armenia ranks 8th in terms of Internet freedom, and shares this position with France. We have made tremendous progress in our perception of corruption and this process will continue unabated in the Republic of Armenia.
I would like to emphasize that 2019 was a landmark year for Armenia in economic terms. First, two out of three major credit rating agencies - Moody’s and Fitch - raised Armenia’s rating; High-demand and low-interest Eurobonds were issued. Besides, both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund drastically improved Armenia’s economic outlook forecast.
Today we can state that the Republic of Armenia enjoys the fruits it should have enjoyed after the revolution. Of course, I do not mean that everything is perfect in the Republic of Armenia, but I can say that we strive for perfection and undertake concrete steps to hat end.
Anyway, with your permission, I want to talk about some economic results. We expect to state a 7.9-8% economic growth as of late 2019, and according to the International Monetary Fund, this is the best indicator in the European region, including the former Soviet republics.
Inflation was as low as 1.4% in 2019. In addition, unemployment fell by 2.2 percent. Exports increased by 9 percent. We have returned USD 105 million to the state budget as a result of the fight against corruption. But I must say that both our society and I are dissatisfied with this figure because we believe that the fight against corruption should be much more effective in the Republic of Armenia.
In relation to the fight against corruption, I would like to emphasize one of the nuances, which is important for assessing the phenomena occurring in Armenia and for assessing the reality. It is a common understanding that by coming to power after a revolution, any new government usually starts fighting against former corrupt authorities. But we say that we do not have past and present corruption. Since 2018, several deputy ministers have been appointed by me. Just a week ago the Head of the Urban Development Committee was arrested on a corruption charge. He is the highest-ranking government official ever arrested in the history of the Third Republic.
In parallel, a major smuggling case was exposed involving Customs Committee officials. And I state this as an important nuance to demonstrate that the fight against corruption has not been and will never be a tool for dealing with political problems.
I have declared on several occasions that the incumbent officials are more dangerous than the former ones simply because they are acting today, especially after sweeping political changes in Armenia and their actions are far more dangerous.
Back to the list of our economic achievements, I would like to emphasize that in 2018-2019 the state budget revenues increased by more than USD 1 billion in the Republic of Armenia. This was done within just one and a half years in 2018-2019.
There is another gratifying fact, namely we boasted a double-digit growth in tourism during the past two years. In 2018, tourism grew by 12 percent and in 2019 by 15 percent. I am confident that this trend will continue, especially considering that the budget airlines such as Ryanair that entered Armenia’s market not long ago will soon launch direct flights from Berlin to Yerevan and from Memingham to Gyumri, which is the second largest city of Armenia.
I am convinced that the growth rate of tourists from Germany will not only be maintained but also increased. It is very important to note the ideology underlying the economic policy of the Government of the Republic of Armenia today. In general, the revolution was anchored on the slogan we had been voicing for many years. We want every citizen of Armenia to abide by the following motto: “The future of Armenia depends on one person, and I am that person.”
After the political revolution we adopted an economic revolution agenda and put the same concept behind the economic revolution, encouraging our citizens to engage in economic activity and trust their own power on the way to securing their personal well-being and the well-being of our country.
And we urge our citizens and potential foreign investors to engage in economic activity in the Republic of Armenia in order to get richer and enrich others. We introduced this concept in 2018 right after the revolution.
There was a great deal of pessimism about its economic impact, and 2019 was crucial in this respect, because it showed that the economic revolution is possible when every citizen is encouraged to believe in his or her own power and their creative talent with the government taking steps to provide the conditions necessary for developing their creative skills.
That is the core of our current economic policy, and we say that individual effort is the key factor that will ultimately lead to economic revolution in Armenia that has already begun in our conviction.
Education is of paramount importance in this respect. In the near future, I am going to publish our strategic vision by 2050. It will feature a point about education that I find very important, which stipulates the need for making education a national lifestyle in the Republic of Armenia.
What does it mean? Usually in many places or in many cases education is understood as pre-school, school, university education, but we believe that education in the Republic of Armenia should be changed because we believe that education is a process that one must live throughout life.
As Prime Minister, I myself have had the opportunity to say several times that I do so because the educational level, the intellectual level, the professional level of each of us must be higher each day than the previous day. And this is the model we want to put at the base of our society.
Moreover, by saying education we do not understand knowledge, since we think that even the locksmith must improve his skills every day. The MP must be a better MP every day than the previous day, the PM should be a better PM every day than the day before, and this is possible when each of us realizes that the passion in our daily work must be an integral and indivisible part.
Dear attendees, I would like to talk about the most pressing issue on our agenda, because there is one area where we cannot boast of great success over the last one and a half years, and that is the judicial system, because our current judicial system, including the Constitutional Court, was formed in the old political context There has been no major change since the velvet non-violent popular revolution of 2018 and one of the reasons is that we have been and continue to be led by the idea of moving forward with institutional steps, so that our actions are not elemental, driven by inertia, considering that we should generate benefits instead of doing any harm, because unfortunately our country used to live under a government-controlled judicial system for a long time. Our task is not to establish total control over the judicial system, but to create guarantees that there is a truly independent and impartial judicial system in the country.
And in this respect, it is extremely important for us to implement a judiciary reform, including with the support of the European Union. We have adopted a judicial reform strategy and an anticorruption strategy. We are working closely with our European partners and we highly appreciate their support and technical, financial and practical assistance.
However, the most important news for the current period is the developments concerning the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia. Recently the Armenian parliament overwhelmingly adopted a decision to hold a referendum on the Constitutional Court on April 5, 2020. The President of the Republic has already signed the decision to hold a referendum and we will have a referendum on the issue of the Constitutional Court on April 5, 2020.
Now, I would like to dwell on the reasons behind that decision and on what the constitutional referendum is about. In 2015, a new Constitution was adopted in the Republic of Armenia, which entered into force on April 9, 2018. The applicable Constitution ushers in a completely new model of the Constitutional Court, which had been widely endorsed and praised by our international partners.
What is meant for this model? It is envisaged that the Constitutional Court should be more balanced and the Constitutional Court should be formed on the following principle: three candidates shall be nominated by the President of the Republic, the Government and the General Assembly of Judges and the election of those candidates must take place in Parliament. This is the first important principle, namely that the three different branches of government must nominate candidates and the parliament is to elect new members.
The next important principle is that Constitutional Court judges should be in office for a period of 12 years. The same person can be elected as a judge of the Constitutional Court only once. The third important principle is that the President of the Constitutional Court is elected by the Constitutional Court for a term of six years. At the same time, the same person may not serve more than once, that is, for more than 6 years as President of the Constitutional Court. This is the model envisaged under the current Constitution.
Question: Do we have such a Constitutional Court today? No, we do not have such a Constitutional Court today because there were legal manipulations just 19,20,30 days before the new Constitution came into force.
Question: When will we have a Constitutional Court provided for by the new Constitution, if we do not change anything? Not earlier than in 2035. Why, because the representatives of the previous government have elected a President of the Constitutional Court who should serve until 2035?
That is, contrary to the applicable Constitution, no Constitutional Court President election will be held in Armenia over the next 18 years. That is, this is roughly the same if we are to make legislative changes now, especially since we have a constitutional majority in parliament and decide that there will be no parliamentary elections and the prime minister will not change in Armenia by 2035, although the Constitution provides that parliamentary election should be held every five years.
Next: While the Constitution provides that Constitutional Court judges may serve for 12 years, most members of our Constitutional Court, if nothing changes, will have a term of 25-30 years as a result of these legislative manipulations. This is simply an unacceptable situation for us, because the existence of such a Constitutional Court generally calls into question the whole agenda of institutional reforms in the Republic of Armenia, because now we have a politicized and partisan constitutional court, and that party is the one that led the Republic of Armenia to corruption.
We cannot tolerate such a situation and what have we done? We have raised the issue of a referendum, a popular referendum, and we suggest the following: The powers of those members of the Constitutional Court whose office does not comply with the terms and conditions set forth in the present Constitution should be terminated and we shall have a new constitutional court in conformity with the applicable Constitution.
What does this mean. This means that in the event of a successful referendum, the President of the Republic, the Government and the General Assembly of Judges will nominate candidates for the Constitutional Court, and we will have a Constitutional Court in accordance with our Constitution. Meanwhile, the judicial code reform is on the parliament’s agenda, according to which all newly appointed judges, including candidates for the Constitutional Court, will take a past record test at the Corruption Prevention Commission which, by the way, has been formed not so long ago. The Commission for Prevention of Corruption is currently headed by a candidate nominated by the opposition. I think this is an important fact to record, and this committee, after passing a law, which I am sure will pass before it, will check the suitability of all the candidates for judges, because our legislation requires that Constitutional Court members should be impartial and non-partisan. And we must ensure such conditions.
I would like to underscore that the European Union has grown into Armenia’s main partner over the last 1.5 years in implementing the government’s reform agenda, and this is very important, but I would like to highlight Germany’s particular role in this process.
As I stated above, Armenia shifted from the system of semi-presidential government system to a parliamentary system in April 2018. And we see Germany as a parliamentary-governed country where the success of this system of governance has been proven and it is very important for us to have the opportunity to study Germany’s experience and master the system of checks and balances that can help us build an irreversible democracy, an independent judicial system, which will stimulate economic development and a competitive economy
In this respect, I consider our cooperation with Germany important and I am very happy for this opportunity. Of course our reform agenda is actually outlined and described in the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement signed with the EU. And we will consistently carry out the reforms provided for in this agreement. I would like to say that economic cooperation with the European Union is very important to us and Armenia, being a member of the EAEU, attaches great importance to the establishment of economic and political cooperation between the EAEU and the European Union.
Last year Armenia presided in the EAEU and it was a successful presidency. Armenia is an advocate of economic and political cooperation between the EAEU and the EU, and we will do our utmost to make that cooperation work. But I would also like to say that the Republic of Armenia can offer a good environment for foreign investments, including German and European investments, on the way to a 180-million-strong consumer market. And I would also like to emphasize that Armenia-make products can be exported to the EAEU without customs clearance.
Let me once again thank you for this opportunity, and I want to stress that democracy in the Republic of Armenia is irreversible. The fact that democracy came to the Republic of Armenia through a non-violent, velvet, popular revolution that, in its form and content, was very similar to the revolutions that occurred in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was nonetheless peculiar.
And I want to make another important point concerning the processes underway in Armenia. No external forces were involved in the political changes and processes in Armenia. It was a matter of principle for our political team, and during the revolution we did not allow any foreign political force to get involved in the process. And why am I emphasizing this to show that these processes were driven by our people’s long-cherished aspirations, I mean democracy, the rule of law, the protection of human rights, good governance and overall transparency. Democracy is a deep-seated value in Armenia: it goes in tune with our people’s perceptions, mentality and culture.
This is the most important guarantee that the Republic of Armenia will continue to be a democratic state, and I hope that all our international partners will support our country and our people in pursuit of this crucial process and in strengthening institutional democracy in Armenia. Thank you.”
The Prime Minister then answered the questions of interest to the audience, including the ones asked by Azeri experts regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Nikol Pashinyan stressed that unilateral actions cannot help resolve the Karabakh issue.
“Even assuming that the Armenian government takes one-sided action, it will not solve the problem; on the contrary, it will aggravate it. Azerbaijan is talking about territories, but it is important to understand that we are talking about security.
Azerbaijan is a country where people are being heroized for killing an Armenian… You may know that as early as in 2004, NATO invited officers from Armenia and Azerbaijan to participate in a peace program. They were supposed to attend joint seminars in Budapest, but the Azeri officer killed the Armenian officer who was asleep. After that, a trial was held in Budapest and the Azerbaijani officer was sentenced to life imprisonment. Some time later the Hungarian government decided to extradite the officer to Azerbaijan. And upon arrival, the President of Azerbaijan signed a decree to set the officer free. The latter was granted a flat and a higher military rank. He was encouraged and heroized by mass media outlets.
This is just the reason behind the security zone, which is talked that much about in Azerbaijan. Azeri shelling kept civilians, including children, in cellars for several years.
And when it comes to territory, we perceive it as security. And first of all, not the Republic of Armenia, but the Republic of Karabakh shall never compromise its own security like any other country. That is, the solution to this situation can only be linked to security guarantees that are inexistent at this point and never used to be provided on the part of Azerbaijan. The absence of security guarantees has led to the current situation.
As for my statement “Karabakh is Armenia and that is all,” please note that it has a clear and specific explanation. We have said that we will perceive Azerbaijan’s attack on Karabakh as an attack on the Republic of Armenia. The Republic of Armenia is the guarantor of Karabakh’s security. And this says everything.
And I want to make it clear that we have not seen any constructive step on the part of Azerbaijan in the negotiation process over the past one and a half years, but on the other hand, I would like to appreciate the situation we have achieved with President Ilham Aliyev since September 2018, when we first met. I mean that tensions in the region have been at historic low ever since. And I hope that by means of constructive discussions we will not only be able to maintain this relative stability, but also move forward towards a legal settlement.”