Mediamax’s exclusive interview with Matthias Kiesler, Ambassador of Germany to Armenia
- Mr. Ambassador, some two weeks are left before the Parliamentary elections due on April 2. What is your assessment of the campaign and do you see developments that are disturbing or, on the contrary, encouraging?
- It is good to see that a great number of political parties and alliances compete against each other in the upcoming elections. With the transformation to a parliamentary system the new parliament will have more responsibilities than earlier parliaments. That is one of the reasons why it is important that all citizens should make use of their democratic right to vote. If you want that your voice is heard, you should go to the polling station. I hope therefore for a high turn out on April 2.
But when I talk to Armenians I also realize that, unfortunately, many citizens do not have trust into the electoral process. I think it was very encouraging that the government and most opposition parties agreed last summer on important improvements of the electoral code. The introduction of electronic voter identification devices, the use of video cameras, the publication of the signed voters lists – to name only few measures – will make vote rigging in the polling station much more difficult. The presence of election observers in all polling stations will also reduce the risk of manipulations.
By the way, with 27 long and short term observers from Germany, my country will be one of the biggest contributors to the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. And I would like to congratulate the civil society in Armenia that it mobilized more than 8 000 Armenians to serve as local election observers.
- There are opinions that the vote buying could become the main problem of this elections. Do you see such risk?
- It is very difficult to assess what is happening outside the polling stations. My message to the Armenian citizens is clear: Don’t sell your vote. Don’t allow that someone pressures you to vote for a specific party. Don’t be afraid to vote for the party or alliance of your choice. It is up to the individual citizen that the elections will reflect the real will of the people. And if you witness vote buying, threats or pressure do not hesitate to inform, for example, the Ombudsman or the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. They will treat any information highly confidentially. And everybody should know: Your vote is secret. Nobody will find out whom you have voted for.
- Some citizens stated on their social networks that they will not go to the polling stations on April 2 and the reason is not political. They say they want to avoid the disclosure of their personal data as the lists of the people who have voted will become public. What can you say about this and how this issue is handled in Germany?
- The publication of signed voters list was a demand by opposition parties and NGOs. For very good reasons, I think. It will minimize the risk that somebody will vote for a person who is registered, but lives outside the country or who has died. The signed voters list discloses only that you voted, but it does not indicate whom you have voted for. So nobody should be afraid that his choice will get public.
I also hear voices that the voter identification devices might be manipulated or misused. One should take these concerns seriously, but I think this fear is really groundless. Together with my ambassadorial colleagues from the EU, the USA and the UK – those who have contributed to the financing of this endeavour - I am member of the steering committee that oversees the implementation of this project. I can wholeheartedly say that there are no indications that security standards are not met. And to make it clear: these devices do not disclose the votes. As I said before: these devices will certainly reduce the risk of multiple voting.
You asked me about the German experience: We are proud of our “Open-Door-Policy”: Anybody, be it a German or a foreigner, may enter at any time without prior notice any polling station to observe the voting process as well as the counting of votes provided she or he does not disturb the process.
- During Armenian President's recent visit to Brussels Armenia and EU declared they have concluded negotiations on EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. Do you think that outcome of the Armenian elections can somehow affect the dates of the Agreement’ signing?
- The conclusion of the agreement between Armenia and the EU is a great step forward. I think there is an overwhelming majority among the stakeholders in all political camps that share this view. The signing of the agreement will take place later this year, once, among others, the text has been translated into all 24 official EU languages.
- Many people in Armenia are interested - what this Agreement will change in their lives? Can you bring some examples of how the Agreement could benefit Armenian business and exports or other spheres?
- The EU is already, together with Russia, the most important trade partner for Armenia. The EU is by far the most important partner in development cooperation. The EU and Armenia already maintain a permanent and substantial political dialogue, such as on human rights issues and the judiciary. I am deeply convinced that no other institution than the EU can better support Armenia on its path towards further modernization and democratization. And modernization and democratization are the key words for a substantial development of your country that has, by the way, so much potential in so many fields. The conclusion of this agreement will be a comprehensive basis for further cooperation in the political, economic and other sectorial fields. At the moment we are working on the political priorities for the concrete implementation of the cooperation areas foreseen in the agreement. I think it is a little bit too early for indicating concrete examples. But certainly, both Armenia and EU, will benefit from this agreement.
- In November 2016, during the NATO Week, you've said that Germany will allocate 1 mln EURO to the NATO Trust Fund that will be dealing with dismantling and disposal of decommissioned military vehicles and demining issues in Armenia. Please tell - at which stage is the project and what will be your country's involvement: only providing financial resources or also sending experts, etc?
- Germany has volunteered to be in the lead on NATO side. I can confirm that we already have contributed to the funding of this project with a little bit more than 1 mln. Euro. At the moment, NATO and Armenia are in the process of finalizing the implementation agreement that has to be ratified later by the Armenian parliament. As you said: the project is aimed, among others, at the demilitarization, dismantling and disposal of decommissioned vehicles and the implementation of a mine risk education and awareness program. We are happy that these NATO activities will enable Armenia to fulfill its obligations under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. German experts were indeed involved in the preparation of this project. We still have to see if German experts will be also tasked in the implementation phase.
- Given the good cooperation that Armenian and German military have in Afghanistan, do you see perspectives for starting bilateral Armenian-German defense cooperation?
- Indeed, the cooperation between our contingents in Afghanistan is excellent. Armenia’s participation in the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan is, by the way, larger than that the support provided by many NATO members. It is very much appreciated by us and I thanked the Armenian soldiers via TV bridge at last year’s NATO week for their great job.
Germany started cooperation in the military-political field with Armenia long time ago. Since 2004 we meet for bilateral talks on a regular basis, agreements exist since 2007. In our bilateral cooperation we focus on training, mainly in Germany, and consultative services for the Armenian armed forces. For this year we are planning 30 activities and projects. For example, this week the seminar “Armed Forces in Democracies” will take place at the Ministry of Defense here in Yerevan.
- Armenia is experiencing a “start-up boom” today, many young people are creating technological and software companies. Do you think that this could become another sphere of Armenian-German cooperation and some German acceleration funds or investors could be interested in Armenia?
- I am convinced that improving the business environment for small and medium size enterprises is a key issue. We need to foster inclusive growth in which broad parts of the population have a share. I am very happy that Germany through its implementation agencies GIZ and KfW has been contributing to this end for many years now. The new EU project SMEDA which is implemented by GIZ takes the IT sector even more into focus. We notice increasing interest by German companies to become active in Armenia. With the German Armenian Business Association we have a competent organization on the ground that gives advice to business representatives from Germany but also to Armenians who are interested in trade with Germany.
Ara Tadevosyan talked to Matthias Kiesler