How long will the negotiations last and when will Montenegro become an EU member?
In the EU accession process Montenegro is guided by the principle of "quality before speed." This means that priority is given to the quality of implemented reforms as opposed to the time-frame, i.e. the length of the process. It is far more important that the society as a whole prepares thoroughly for the benefits and obligations that come with the accession. In that sense we have defined our further path of reforms in a strategic document entitled Programme of Accession of Montenegro 2014-2018, in which we made projections that within the next five years Montenegro will be internally ready to join the EU. This, of course, does not mean that Montenegro will become an EU member in 2018. After the completion of the negotiation process and the preparation of the Accession Treaty, it is necessary for the text of the Treaty to pass the ratification process in member-States' national parliaments, the Commission's opinion on the request for membership, the European Parliament's approval, as well as Council's unanimous decision, which lasts, according to the previous enlargement experience, around a year and a half to two years.
What are the further steps; what does Montenegro face in the future before becoming a full-fledged EU member?
What we are looking at is the continuation of the ongoing process, meaning further work on aligning our legislation, passing strategic documents, developing the institutional framework, strengthening the administrative capacities, and achieving measurable results that can be felt by the citizens.
Apart from political reforms, we are also working towards meeting the economic criteria for membership. The new European Commission approach which puts the economic reform focus on structural reforms and economic governance is compatible with the priorities of our Government, which is undertaking economic development measures in line with the 2020 Strategy objectives. Government activities are aimed at establishing a stable macro-economic and financial environment, competitive market economy, and strong industrial, agriculture, and energy sectors. Their goal is to create preconditions for greater employment, as well as better educated and more flexible work-force.
In its Programme of Accession, the Government of Montenegro has strategically, comprehensively, and clearly defined the scope and dynamics of reforms needed for Montenegro's further adjustment to the EU's legal system. This document sets the tasks that need to be fulfilled in order to make Montenegro internally ready to join by 2018. These tasks envision further work towards aligning domestic regulations with the European ones, and more importantly the strengthening of capacities for their proper implementation which would yield visible results.
In the forthcoming period we are looking at continuation of reforms in all areas. It is most important to note measures aimed at improving the rule of law, economy sector, agriculture, financial environment stability, capacity development, and preparation for challenges and opportunities of EU membership.
What are our greatest challenges in the EU accession process?
Accession negotiations do not mean just harmonisation of our legislation with the EU acquis, but also its application. This is a complex process that will lead to change in the country in order to respond successfully to the EU demands and ever growing membership challenges.
Of course, due to their specificity and the impact they have on all areas of social life, Chapters 23 and 24 will be in the spotlight the most. Montenegro has received 83 benchmarks in these areas, of which 45 pertain to Chapter 23 and 38 to Chapter 24. The Action Plans for these chapters define the dynamics of implementing reforms and measures and available resources, and they recognize challenges and shortcomings which we work continuously to overcome.
Apart from these, the very demanding chapters will be Chapter 27 – Environment, Chapter 11 – Agriculture and Rural Development, and Chapter 12 – Food Safety, Veterinary, and Phytosanitary Policy. In these chapters we also have demanding opening benchmarks which cover a great deal of acquis with which Montenegro must align. In addition, an important challenge in these chapters will be the financial means necessary for carrying out reforms in these areas. For example, in the area of environment funds will be needed for developing public infrastructure, and in Chapter 12 it will be necessary to establish a financial framework for fulfilling the strict EU demands and standards related to food production and processing.
Part of these necessary means will come from EU funds, while a part of the investment will come European and global financial institutions' loans and through foreign direct investment (FDI).
Who will see the most benefits from accession?
Membership is a strong incentive for further political and economic development of Montenegro, which along the high rule of law standards and high-quality regulations will result in our country's better positioning internationally.
EU membership will bring many benefits to Montenegrin citizens. However, we have a lot of work to do until we become a full-fledged member, and we also must respond successfully to the challenges we will face.
Membership benefits will be seen by all Montenegrin citizens.
Economic reforms will strengthen the business sector, improve the business environment, and prepare us to participate when we join the EU equally in the 500-million-people market, which has no barriers to free movement of goods, services, labour, and capital. EU membership will bring a better business climate, more foreign investment, and consequently more possibility for new jobs and better salaries.
European funds will aid regional development, agriculture modernisation, environmental protection, infrastructure development, and better education.
The younger generations will be able to gain education in other EU countries under the same conditions as EU citizens, Montenegrin citizens will be able to work in other member-States without special working permits, entrepreneurs will gain access to the EU market, which will enable them to sell their products more easily.
Following accession, Montenegro will implement the common agriculture policy (CAP), the aim of which is to ensure acceptable food quality and prices, preservation of the rural areas, and ensuring wellbeing for farmers.
In the area of consumer protection, membership will lead to tougher quality controls and greater opportunities to access information on goods and services on the market.
Therefore, the negotiations will serve as a mechanism enabling us to improve the living standards of our citizens, which is the ultimate goal of our EU integration.
Does Montenegro possess sufficient administrative capacities to carry out the EU accession process?
Strengthening of administrative capacities is a process that goes in parallel with our progress towards the EU. Hitherto work on this process and the results that we have achieved show that we have developed solid capacities at the Government, Parliament, judiciary, and civil society. Naturally, in certain areas further strengthening will be necessary, through the establishment of new institutions and human resources training.
All segments of the society are involved in the negotiating structures in accordance with their competences, i.e. knowledge, expert profiles, and experience in concrete areas. The process has shown that Montenegro has many competent people at the Government, which has carried the greatest burden of the EU integration process, but also at the Parliament and civil society organisations.
Are EU and NATO accession compatible processes?
NATO membership is, together with EU membership, a strategic foreign policy priority of Montenegro and the best guarantee of long-term stability and security of our country and the region as a whole. EU and NATO integration processes are compatible and complementary, as they are based on the same values and standards, and progress in one area reflects positively on the other.
How costly are the accession negotiations for Montenegro and which areas carry the largest expenses?
The accession process is costly. In addition to institutional and human capacities, the reforms we are implementing demand the allocation of certain financial resources. This is a must in the process and other countries before us also faced this. What is important to note is that these reforms are also much needed internally in Montenegro, regardless of our EU path. In that sense, all of the investment in the process should be viewed primarily in the context of increasing the living standards and quality of life of our citizens.
In addition to our own funds, we must not forget the support we are receiving from the EU through funds available during the accession process, as well as those that will become available upon accession, and other multilateral and bilateral funds we receive for the realisation of planned activities.
To what extent can a State ensure its interests in the negotiation process, and to what extent are the negotiations simply an implementation of obligations required from a candidate?
Accession negotiations are, in fact, negotiations on the conditions under which a candidate country joins the Union. Accession is conditioned with the adoption of the EU acquis, i.e. the rights and obligations upon which the EU and its institutional framework are based. The acquis is divided into 35 thematic areas, which at the same time are the negotiating chapters.
The process is based on the presentation of negotiating positions of the candidate country and the European Union, which are drafted on the basis of a results' analysis and legislation overview. Through its negotiating positions, Montenegro defines the manner of assuming and implementing the acquis, and at the same time we will require, if needed, transitional periods and exceptions from its implementation in certain parts. These requests are based on a thorough and comprehensive overview of our position as regards the Union rights and obligations we need to undertake.
Which chapters are the most difficult to negotiate and why?
When it comes to negotiating the chapters we could certainly speak of more or less complex and demanding areas. But each one is important. When we talk about Chapters 23 and 24, which are related, respectively, to the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom, and security, they are the cornerstone of the rule of law and a precondition for a country's democratic and also economic development. Reaching measurable results in these areas takes time. Therefore, we opened these two chapters, according to the new approach by the European Commission, at the outset of the negotiation process and we will close them at the very end.
However, there are other equally important chapters where we need to align national legislation with European regulations and ensure high-quality implementation and develop the necessary administrative capacity by strengthening the existing institutions, creating new ones, and training the employees. It is necessary to show measurable results in all areas by striking a balance between the desired pace and quality of implementing reforms. It is very important to plan strategically and coordinate work well, and also to communicate on a regular basis with the Commission and the member-States.
Chapters 1, 11, 12, and 27 should be underlined as very demanding areas, not only because of the large EUacquis with which we need to align our national regulations, but also because of the implementation of the aligned legislation.
Why focus on Chapters 23 and 24?
Because of their repercussions on all other chapters and all spheres of society, as well as their complexity and sensitivity, these two chapters are the basis of the new approach to accession negotiations. They are opened at the outset of the negotiation process and we will close them last. This is a good mechanism, leaving sufficient time for the country to carry out necessary reforms in the areas that are the cornerstone of the rule of law and a platform for a country's democratic and economic development.
The reason they are treated in a special way is the previous enlargement experience, which has shown that the areas of fight against corruption and organised crime take up a lot of time and effort.
Is there an enlargement fatigue in the EU?
EU's focus on domestic issues, and especially on overcoming the crisis, consolidating politically, and summing up previous results, does not bring the enlargement policy into question.
In addition, senior EU officials have underlined at various occasions that the enlargement policy is one of the EU's most successful policies and that the European perspective of the Western Balkans is certain. In addition to verbal support, we receive constant financial support from IPA funds, as well as technical and expert assistance provided bilaterally and through various projects to the region by the Commission and the member countries. This all goes to confirm that the EU is serious about integrating the Western Balkans countries.
Will Montenegro join the EU alone or in a “package” with some other regional countries?
The EU has clear accession rules. In order to join the club of 28 most developed European countries you must meet the preconditions. These entail crucial political reforms, which refer to institutional stability, rule of law, human and minority rights protection, economic reforms including functional market economy, and adjustment of administrative, governance, and judiciary structures for implementing the EU acquis.
Each country makes progress in accordance with its own capacities and the results it makes. The Commission's and member-States' support is valuable, but the pace of our progress towards membership is largely dictated by us.
Apart from domestic reforms and internal readiness for membership, the important segment of integration is regional cooperation. This is the mechanism that makes us ready for future membership, by improving the culture of dialogue, solution of open issues, implementation of shared projects, and many other forms of cooperation, which after membership will engross a much larger framework and many more actors.
For this reason it is important for the region's countries to show readiness, ability, and responsibility in considering shared challenges and defining priorities and approaches that will contribute to the overall development of Western Balkans countries and a good pace of the EU accession process.
After Croatia's accession, it is important to maintain continuity of the accession process by implementing reforms in a high-quality manner and improving the image of all the countries individually and the region as a whole.
What benefits does the EU accession offer to the younger people?
EU accession is particularly important for younger people, which in the long-term will benefit the most from membership.
Most notably, they will have greater opportunities to travel, meet peers, exchange information and experience, and work in shared projects. This will help them expand horizons and become active citizens in creating and implementing youth-related policies, as well as to volunteer and qualify for scholarships.
When it comes to youth policies, Chapter 25 and 26 will be especially important.
Chapter 25 – Science and Research facilitates and boosts scientists' and researchers' mobility. Additional opportunities will arise for developing an efficient science and tech system, and for investment in these areas. Full participation in EU science and research programmes will enable Montenegrin scientists to get involved in research projects and will ensure additional means to finance science and research.
In Chapter 26 – Education and Culture, the EU contributes through various mechanisms to the development of high-quality education and youth mobility, and supports a shared European cultural area.
Even though our students have opportunities even now to pursue education at universities across Europe, after joining the EU our students' status will be greatly improved and they will be able to study under the same terms as those countries' nationals. This means same fees and equal treatment when applying, right to health protection in the country of studying, in accordance with health regulations pertaining to nationals.
EU regulations enable citizens of any member-State to apply for any job ad issued in any other EU country, and they ensure the recognition of qualifications in all other member-States. There are many student organisations in the EU. Their objectives are to promote student communication and integration, encourage and develop exchange programmes, and cooperation among student organisations at the European level.
How will the EU accession reflect on Montenegro’s economy?
By joining the EU, our companies will have better access to capital, equipment, and technology, which will serve to boost their competitiveness. Competition at the single market will have an effect on a quicker modernisation of our companies' business activities, with the view to increasing productivity. A stable economic situation will lead to an inflow of foreign direct investment and consequently new jobs.
In addition, new jobs will be opened in competitive companies and the industries related to them. All this change will accelerate Montenegro's economic development and contribute to higher living standards and better purchasing power of citizens.
EU market has no customs or other import limitations, and the shared rules of the market game enable equal access of all companies to the 500-million-people market.
Will we be able to sell traditional Montenegrin products in the EU market?
EU rules are very precise when it comes to standards the products must meet in order to be sold at the EU market.
By adopting European standards, the producers will have the opportunity to ensure geographic protection of certain product for which traditional recipes and manufacturing processes are clearly defined, which will certainly have an effect on better availability of such products both in domestic and the EU market, and will ensure consumer safety.
Will Montenegrin citizens be able to get a job more easily in the EU countries after accession?
On the day of EU accession, Montenegrin workers will be able to apply for jobs in other member countries' labour markets and will be able to get jobs without any special permits. It could certainly be expected that EU accession will have positive effects on employment in Montenegro, and that some citizens will be able to find temporary or permanent employment in other member countries.
From 2003 until 2007 the majority of new EU members have seen a notable reduction of the unemployment rates and as many as three million new jobs were opened in the EU, with a pronounced growth of young and mid-life workers.
The countries that joined the EU in 2004, 2007, and 2013 enlargement waves have received various forms of temporary limitations on the access to the labour market. Such limitations are possible on the 2+3+2 principle: an initial limitation of two years, potential extension for another three years after the first revision, and finally up to two more years, if there are reasons to justify the extension. Each EU member-State decides individually on these temporary measures.
On the one hand, Montenegrin workers will be exposed to a bigger competition in the labour market, but on the other they will be able to compete with their skills and competences on other EU countries' labour markets. As regards third country workers, the working permit system will remain in force, which will enable Montenegro to continue controlling the inflow of workforce coming from outside the EU.
What is the social and health protection in the EU member-States like?
According to the EU regulations, a worker migrating to another EU country has all the labour rights, social rights, and tax benefits pertaining to the native worker for as long as he is employed. These rights involve sick leave remunerations, maternity leaves, remunerations for work injuries, facilities for persons with disabilities, family contributions, and unemployment and retirement remunerations.
To what extent does a country give its sovereignty away by joining the EU?
By joining the EU Montenegro will transfer a part of its sovereignty to the level of joint decision-making within the EU. This is related to the areas that are within the strict competence of the Union, such as: internal market, customs tariffs, economic and monetary union, common agriculture policy, environmental protection, etc. This does not mean that Montenegro is renouncing its sovereignty, but that it is delegating it to the EU, in whose decisions it will certainly have a say. We will align our decisions with other members towards mutual benefit.
It is important to note that the EU itself encourages diversity of member-States' national identities as one of its supreme values. This is confirmed by the EU's slogan – "United in Diversity." Montenegrin citizens will acquire an identity of EU citizens, which will neither abolish nor supplant their national identity, but rather add to it and enrich it.
What is acquis communautaire?
The acquis is the total body of EU law. It contains member-States' rights and obligations, and they comprise the content, principles, and political objectives of the foundation treaties, the legislation adopted through their application, decisions of the European Court of Justice, EU declarations and resolutions, measures related to the CFSP, as well as judiciary, home affairs, and international agreements concluded by the EU.
For the needs of accession negotiations, the EU acquis has been divided into 35 negotiating chapters, which are at the same time considered negotiating chapters. The candidate countries do not negotiate on the acquis, but on the terms and manner of adopting and implementing it.
Prior to accession, each candidate country is obliged to assume the entire acquis and be capable to apply it efficiently.
Will we have a better economic situation when we join the EU?
Integration will accelerate the restructuring of our economy, and it will lead to greater movement of workers from less competitive industries towards those where they may participate actively in the market game.
By entering the EU, our companies will have better access to capital, equipment, and technology, which will serve to boost their competitiveness. Competition at the single market will have an effect on a quicker modernisation of our companies' business activities, with the view to increasing productivity.
A stable economic situation will lead to an inflow of foreign direct investment and consequently new jobs. The reason behind this is that the harmonisation of our legislation with the European regulations will create a safe legal environment for business start-up and operation. This has been confirmed by the experience of new member-States.
How will the entry into the EU reflect on the living standard of citizens?
The ultimate goal of our EU path is not membership, but better quality of life for our citizens, modelled on the quality of life of the most developed EU members. The reforms we are implementing in that regard, through our accession negotiations, are the mechanism that will help us introduce the necessary measures in the best, fastest, and most efficient way. And it will be the effects of the changes we will implement through the negotiation process that will lead to the improved living standards of citizens.