There is not and must not be fatigue, at least in the case of Montenegro. I think we can say that we have brought the accession process to the final phase – closing the negotiations, said the Chief Negotiator of Montenegro, Zorka Kordić
Montenegro’s Chief Negotiator with the European Union (EU), Zorka Kordic, pointed out that the forces of all three branches of government should focus on this year’s poor assessment in the area of judicial reform, which depends primarily on the readiness for political dialogue on key appointments in the judiciary and prosecution.
“This is the main message of this report (on Montenegro’s progress towards the EU), because as the most advanced candidate country, we must strive for far better results in the rule of law, both the government and parliament, the judiciary, but also all parts in society,” Kordic concluded in an interview with the Vijesti.
She emphasized that the reasons for the less annual progress in some chapters are related to the sensitive transitional context in which strategic and legal acts were prepared. Sa well, some of those were determined by the Government, but did not have their finishing phase in the parliament, so that this Report did not consider them, but the next one will.
Kordic said that Montenegro remains committed to the European perspective and continues to implement the necessary reforms as consistently and thoroughly as before.
What is the main reason for the poor score in the European Commission’s (EC) Report? Has the government paid enough attention to European integration?
The report of the European Commission, although covering the transition period June 2020-June 2021, does not have a bad but a medium rating, and it is similar to the reports from 2019 and 2020. This shows not only the analysis of the Office for European Integration, but also Institute alternative’s assessment of the overall readiness that actually shows the best total score until now (3.11) although this has unfortunately not been highlighted in the media. On the other hand, in the part of measuring the annual performance, it is incorrect that out of 33 chapters, 30 of them record “limited progress”. One chapter made no progress, while limited progress was made in 13 chapters, some progress in 17 chapters, and good progress in 2 chapters.
The reasons for the less annual progress in some chapters are related to the sensitive transitional context in which strategic and legal acts were prepared. Sa well, some of those were determined by the Government, but did not have their finishing phase in the parliament, so that this Report did not consider them, but the next one will.
Although only one quarter of the Government’s Work Program actually “entered” this reporting period, the Government worked diligently in all areas of European integration: improving the response to organized crime with record drug seizures, and for the first time improving the rating of freedom of expression, inter alia through the work of its commission for monitoring violence against the media. It paid significant attention to economic recovery measures, which were assessed in the report as effective and improved financial consolidation, mitigating fiscal risks. The government has implemented many other measures for efficient implementation of the acquis – an electronic public procurement register has been introduced as a systemic step forward in the fight against corruption, electronic company records important for more efficient operations, a regulation on creating a “day ahead” energy market, etc.
What is crucial is that the forces of all three branches of government should focus on this year’s poor assessment in the area of judicial reform, which depends primarily on the readiness for political dialogue on key appointments in the judiciary and prosecution. This is the main message of this report (on Montenegro’s progress towards the EU), because as the most advanced candidate country, we must strive for far better results in the rule of law, both the government and parliament, the judiciary, but also all parts in society
In recent years, less attention has been paid to EC reports, compared to the previous period. Is the reason that the countries of the region are tired of the reforms that are required of them, or has the influence of the EU weakened?
The EC’s annual reports to candidate and potential candidate countries for EU membership are a key lever for further reform activities in those countries. The EC report is a tool that enables better planning of reforms and as such is the most important document by which the EC notes progress and provides guidelines for further action. In addition, for the countries that have opened negotiations, there are negotiating positions with opening or closing benchmarks as defined priorities in the given chapters, and in some chapters these priorities have been transformed into applicable action plans. Also, the EC occasionally sets working documents, known as non-papers in which he expresses views on key issues in the rule of law or a certain sectoral policy. The presence of all these documents may give the impression that the centrality of the EC’s annual reports is weakening, but this is not the case.
There is not and must not be fatigue, at least in the case of Montenegro. I think we can say that we have brought the accession process to the final phase – closing the negotiations. As I have already mentioned, we are changing the negotiating structure in accordance with the revised methodology, we have already refreshed it with new people, we are bringing dynamic plans for chapters with clear steps for the next couple of years, so we return to negotiations and European integration. Fatigue is not “allowed” by the citizens of Montenegro, who in a very large percentage believe in the idea of Montenegro’s membership in the European Union and thus give us support and motivation for further reforms.
As for the importance and influence of the EU in this area, despite various allegations and non-papers about the alleged change in the Union’s policy towards the Western Balkans, encouraging messages from EU officials convince us otherwise – that the Western Balkans is of strategic geopolitical importance for security and safety EU, and that the Union will not give up its enlargement to this region. This strategic importance of the Western Balkans was recently confirmed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, during her visit to the WB countries, saying that the future of Montenegro is in the European Union. Also, a few days ago in his speech before the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs,European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelji said presenting this year’s enlargement package, that the EU shares with the Western Balkans the same continent, the same history, the same interests and the same values. EU enlargement geopolitical choice and decision.
After the summit on Brdo near Kranj, did the European perspective of the countries in the region start to weaken, considering that it was not accepted that 2030 would be the deadline for all countries in the region to join the EU?
The summit of EU and Western Balkans leaders on Brdo near Kranj, in my opinion, confirmed the region’s unequivocal commitment to the Union and, conversely, the Union’s continued support for the region’s European perspective. This is emphasized in the central message that the EU member states will strengthen their support for the democratic, economic and social transformation of our society. This is what the candidate countries should recognize as a chance, among other things, regarding the implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, which will be financed by EU grants.
A clear message was also sent that the EU wants to reduce the economic gap between the economies of the Western Balkans and the EU internal market, which clearly indicates that it sees the future of the Western Balkans in the Union.
I explain the choice of some EU member states not to declare themselves during this summit around 2030 as the deadline for the completion of the accession process of all candidates, by the fact that the candidate countries are in very different phases of the process. Therefore, I do not believe that a single deadline for the completion of the entire process could be an equal motivation for candidates who have made more progress in the negotiations. The most significant thing for Montenegro is that the regatta principle remains the key guiding principle of the accession process.
Are Montenegro’s chances of becoming the next EU member by 2025 reduced?
Montenegro, following the principle of the regatta, certainly has the greatest chances for the first of the candidate countries to become the next EU member. The Government of Montenegro has repeatedly emphasized that the reforms required by accession to the European Union are being implemented primarily because they lead to the well-being of citizens. Therefore, we can say that we always give priority to the quality of accession reforms in relation to the speed of these reforms and the accession process in general. Also, we must always keep in mind that decisions at the level of the European Union, even about the date of possible membership of a country in the EU, are made by consensus of all member states, which requires a certain amount of time. The year 2025 undoubtedly remains a time frame for our institutions to complete their part of the work.
Montenegro remains committed to the European perspective and continues to implement the necessary reforms as consistently and thoroughly as before. Our priority will certainly be to fulfill interim benchmars for Chapters 23 and 24 as soon as possible because, as has been repeated many times, this will be a milestone in the process that will trigger the gradual closure of all other chapters.
Has the summit in Slovenia confirmed that important member states (France, Germany)? do not want the countries of the Western Balkans in the EU
I believe that the summit in Slovenia showed that the EU member states understand the enlargement policy as a serious path, and that instead of bidding on dates, they prefer to deal with the essence and quality of that process. These efforts are related to the “Strategic autonomy” of the EU, where the security and safety of the EU certainly depends on the geopolitical space of the Western Balkans. In particular, the two countries you mentioned have introduced some important reforms in the EU accession process against that background. In 2014, Germany launched the Berlin Process in order to strengthen regional cooperation and European integration in the Western Balkans. France initiated a revision of the accession methodology last year, when some new aspects were introduced, such as early integration measures or political dialogue with the EU and its member states.
This political dialogue can be an ideal opportunity for us to present to the member states from our perspective everything that has been achieved so far in European integration and to bring them closer to the attitudes and values that our countries nurture and do not differ much from theirs. “Reaching out” to the Member States is of the utmost importance, bearing in mind that it is in them that an attitude towards the enlargement of the Union is created.
Are all working groups for the negotiation chapters completed? Which ones are not and which working groups do not have bosses yet?
Almost all working groups have their heads – for the areas of the Customs Union and Statistics, we expect innovated proposals from the Ministry of Finance, and we recently held the third meeting in a row in this format. This is the most important expert forum for discussing the challenges in all 33 chapters of the negotiations. In addition, last week, the Commission for European Integration was constituted in an innovative composition, which considered the suggestions from the Report of the European Commission for Montenegro. We will soon have another level of coordination as the Government will appoint negotiators for the clusters, thus adapting to the revised methodology. Negotiators will coordinate the work of the heads of working groups by individual thematic clusters.
I remind you that the activities in the working groups are of key importance for the process. That is why the focus was originally on the negotiating chapters 23 – Justice and Fundamental Rights and 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security, where we initially did not have bosses. Other working groups have “retained” their previous bosses in at least 15 chapters, and we have had some new appointments. We have “refreshed” the membership in all working groups, including some new members and opening for each working group and public calls for NGO participation.
Thus, before the summer break, the working groups for the chapters were officially renewed: 2 – Freedom of movement for workers, 6 – Commercial law, 8 – Competition, 14 – Transport policy, 15 – Energy, 19 – Social policy and employment, 20 – Entrepreneurship and industrial policy, 21 – Trans-European Networks, 27 – Environment and Climate Change and 30 – External Relations. Then, in the second wave, the government made decisions for 11 more working groups, renewing membership for the chapters: 1 – Freedom of movement of goods, 3 – Right of establishment and freedom to provide services, 4 – Freedom of movement of capital, 5 – Public procurement, 7 – Intellectual Property Law, 9 – Financial Services, 10 – Information Society and Media, 16 – Taxes, 17 – Economic and Monetary Union, 28 – Consumer and Health Protection and 33 – Financial and Budgetary Provisions. Innovative decisions for chapters are formally adopted: 11 – Agriculture and rural development, 12 – Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary supervision, 13 – Fisheries, 22 – Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, 25 – Science and research and 26 – Education and culture.