by Martin Banks
The struggle between nation state and supranational power remains an issue in the relationship between the EU institutions and the EU27. Much of this has focussed on specific regulations applied on a cross-border basis. Although many see this as a debate peculiar to the EU we are starting to see it play out elsewhere, most notably in the relationship between Armenia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
The EAEU is rapidly developing supra-national body; originally proposed in 1994, it was only in May 2014 that the member states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia signed the Treaty of the Eurasian Economic Union. Armenia signed in October 2014, followed by Kyrgyzstan in December.
Established with the model of the EU in mind, it is as yet unclear how the EAEU nation states will interact with the central decision-making bodies – such as the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council and Eurasian Economic Commission – and how effectively the latter will enforce the Treaty. If the EAEU is to be taken seriously as an meaningful institution it is essential for sound precedents to be established early.
The current situation in Armenia is an example of how the conflict between national will and a desire for independent action could interact with the growing remit and competence of the EAEU. After two years of debate, the Minister of Health secured the Prime Minister’s support for a law (Law of the Republic of Armenia on Reduction and Prevention of Negative Effect of Use of Tobacco Products and Tobacco Substitutes to Health, ‘the Draft’) bringing in rapid and tight restrictions on tobacco.
The Draft includes provisions for plain packaging, a retail display ban, and a requirement for tobacco substitutes to be regulated as conventional cigarettes. It is expected that the National Assembly of Armenia will vote in favour of the Draft at second and final reading this week and that it will be enforceable from March 15th 2020. However, legal commentators suspect that the Armenian Government may not have fully considered that the Draft contradicts key principles set out by Articles 51, 52 and 53 of the Treaty of the Eurasian Economic Union governing the EAEU’s internal market and product standards.
For the sake of the credibility of the EAEU, it is possible that the provisions related to packaging and labelling, approval of technical regulations, and the procedure for the examination of tobacco products may need be removed from the Draft and the issue being escalated to the Eurasian Economic Commission for further adjudication.
Whilst this may appear to be a small issue in the grand scheme of the EAEU and Armenia’s place within it, it has the ability to set a precedent which may be hard to break. This does not mean that the EAEU should infringe upon Armenian sovereignty, but simply that it should hold member states to the commitments they have signed up to. This will, in turn, facilitate the greater economic integration and prosperity desired by all the member states of EAEU.
How the EAEU reacts to this will be a key indicator of how it is likely to develop. Although in Brussels we are familiar with the struggle between a desire for sovereign independence and regulatory convergence, the nations of the EAEU are just entering that debate. How it unfolds, and how the balance of power between national government and supranational institution shifts, should be of interest to all of us involved in this broader philosophical debate.