In addition to asylum, migrations are in a particular focus of the European Union. The area of migrations implies a wide range of sub-areas, such as legal migrations, prevention of illegal migrations, readmission, treatment of foreigners, etc. Currently, one of the main challenges that Montenegro is facing in this area is the fight against migration pressure, consequently Montenegro needs to increase its national capacities in this area in order to successfully cope with all the challenges.
Asylum is one of the key areas to which the European Union is paying high attention. Montenegro, as a candidate for EU membership, has already begun to face an increasing number of asylum seekers. Montenegro’s legislation in this area is largely harmonized. In the coming period, the key challenge for Montenegro is to prepare the capacities for the adequate reception of asylum seekers, their care and integration into Montenegrin society.
Visa policy is a part of the foreign and security policy of both EU member states and Montenegro. First of all, visa policy involves mechanisms to protect the interests of the state, protection of security of public order and prevention of illegal migrations. Montenegro will implement the common visa policy of the European Union, and to that end it is particularly important to establish a demanding and expensive Visa Information System.
External borders and Schengen – One of the fundamental principles of the European Union is the right to free movement of people and free movement of capital and services. The Schengen Agreement is a basic act in the field of construction and preservation of the European Union’s external borders. The aim is to abolish internal border controls and to ensure freedom of movement for EU citizens. Following the Schengen Agreement, the Schengen Convention was also signed. These two documents form the basis of the so-called Schengen acquis. The implementation of the upgraded version of the Schengen Information System, the so-called SIS II, began in April 2013, and for Montenegro it is also important to take over and apply the rules from the Schengen Borders Code.
The development of a judicial cooperation system in civil and commercial matters was initiated with the primary objective of facilitating judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters. Some of the biggest challenges that Montenegro will face in this area is the creation and implementation of the legal framework for mutual recognition and enforcement of decisions, as well as Montenegro’s participation in the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters. EUROJUST and the European Judicial Network are some of the key instruments through which judicial cooperation in criminal matters is developed within the member states of the European Union as well as with third countries. The reason for high level of development of the system in this area is due to the pursuit of a joint fight against crime, which is among the priorities of EU action. Judicial cooperation in criminal matters lays on the principle of mutual recognition of judgments and other judicial decisions of one member state in other EU countries, as well as mutual legal assistance. It also rests on the approximation of national legislation and the adoption of a set of minimum standards.
In the area of police cooperation, significant support for the development and functioning is reflected in the work of the European Police College – CEPOL. The Schengen Convention is particularly prominent in this segment, which sets out the obligation of police authorities to assist one another with the aim of prevention and detection of crime. Also, for Montenegro, the so-called Treaty of Prüm is important, concerning the intensification of cross-border cooperation, especially in the fight against terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migrations, and not less important is the Vienna Convention, as well as a number of bilateral international treaties recognizing and affirming the various forms of police cooperation (e.g. joint patrols, joint border crossings, joint operations, work in joint centres, etc.).
In the area of alignment of the legal system in the field of fight against organized crime, Montenegro has carried out a number of activities that have achieved a high degree of harmonization, but there is room for further progress, especially within the improvement of the content of criminal legislation. In the coming period, the challenge for Montenegro is to achieve a more compelling track record in this area, as well as to take the appropriate legal measures to initiate police reform in order to raise the level of professionalism in the police.
Montenegro has adopted a number of reform measures in the area of fight against terrorism. Further legislative alignment and strengthening of the strategic framework in this area is expected in the coming period.
Cooperation in the field of drugs implies strategic and normative planning and development, both in the part of preventive, therapeutic, as well as in the part of repressive activities and sanctioning of all forms of illegal activity. Montenegro, as a candidate country, has to be prepared to, besides providing a harmonized normative framework, maintain constant cooperation with the EU countries and the countries from the region, in order to combat smuggling, illegal production and sale and use of narcotic drugs.
Fight against trafficking in human beings is one of the problems in the world, to which the EU also pays high attention. Montenegro is expected to demonstrate a willingness and ability to set up a solid track record in this area.
In the field of customs cooperation, the focus is on the prevention and detection of customs criminal offenses and misdemeanours to the detriment of the national legislation of the member states and the Community law.
When was the chapter opened?
Chapter 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security was officially opened on 18 December 2013 at the Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels.
Opening and interim benchmarks?
Initial benchmark for Montenegro in this chapter was the development of the Action Plan. The Action Plan for Chapter 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security was adopted by the Government on 27 June 2013 and it was prepared in accordance with the recommendations of the Screening Report, in such a way that the recommendations where set as goals that will be achieved through prescribing concrete measures.
Following the implementation of the first phase of the Action Plan, which identified short-term priorities, adaptation of the Action Plan started, and the adapted Action plan for Chapter 24 was adopted on 16 February 2015, with the aim of defining more specifically the medium and long-term priorities in Chapter 24.
A total of 83 interim benchmarks have been defined by the EU Common Position, 45 in Chapter 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and 38 in Chapter 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security. Out of 38 interim benchmarks in Chapter 24, four are in the area of regular and irregular migration, four in the area of asylum, two in the area of visa policy, four in the external borders and Schengen area, five in the area of judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, 13 in the area of police co-operation and the fight against organized crime, one in the field of fight against terrorism, four in the area of cooperation in the field of drugs, while one benchmark is a measure of general character. Most of the interim benchmarks relate to the improvement of legislative and institutional framework in line with European standards in the areas covered by chapters 23 and 24, while a smaller part of the activities is devoted to establishing an initial track record in the areas of importance. By fulfilling the interim benchmarks, Montenegro will create the conditions for obtaining the closing benchmarks.
What are the activities in the coming period?
The challenge for Montenegro in this chapter is the full implementation of commitments stemming from the European Commission’s interim benchmarks and recommendations. Accordingly, Montenegro will continue to conduct a comprehensive assessment of its legal, institutional, technical and training needs in the area of legal migrations, to continuously improve human and material resources devoted to border management and the system for registering migrants. Montenegro should also enhance the transparency and credibility of the judicial system’s response to organized crime cases through a consistent punishment policy that has a particularly deterrent effect. Also, one of the key commitments in order to close Chapter 24 is to improve the track record, especially with regard to final judgements. Following the fulfilment of interim benchmarks, the European Commission will create the Report on fulfilment of interim benchmarks, which will create conditions for Montenegro to obtain the closing benchmarks and therefore enter the final stage of negotiations.
Institutions/organizations participating in the negotiation group?
On 26 July 2018, the Government adopted the Decision Establishing a Working Group for Preparation and Conduct of Negotiations on the Accession of Montenegro to the European Union for the Acquis within the Chapter 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security (Official Gazette of Montenegro no. 65/18). Due to organizational and personnel changes, the composition of the Working Group was changed. On 19 September 2019, the Government adopted a Decision amending the Decision on Establishing a Working Group for Preparation and Conduct of Negotiations on the Accession of Montenegro to the European Union for the Acquis within the Chapter 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security (Official Gazette of Montenegro no. 58/19).
Currently, the Working Group consists of 32 members. The Working Group involves 28 members from the public sector and four representatives from the civil sector.
Government institutions participating in the Working Group are Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Police Directorate, Special State Prosecutor’s Office, Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office, Appeal Court, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sector for Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing in the Police Directorate, European Integration Office, Customs Administration, Property Administration and Public Institution Higher Vocational School “Police Academy”. Representatives of the civil sector come from the following non-governmental organizations: SOCen – Sociological Centre of Montenegro, Institute Alternative, Juventas and Civic Alliance.
What is the benefit for Montenegro of this chapter?
The main objective of implementation of all activities within this chapter is to enable the free movement of people, while guaranteeing their security. The fulfilment of obligations arising from Chapter 24 contributes to the reduction of the cross-border crime rate, as well as the trafficking in human beings, drugs and weapons, which will effectively increase the security of Montenegrin citizens. One of the biggest threats of today, terrorism, requires the state to secure its borders; actions are being taken in this direction in order to make Montenegro more determined to tackle this threat, by reforms, close cooperation with neighbouring countries and future membership of the European Union. By fulfilling the closing benchmarks of Chapters 23 and 24, Montenegro will create conditions to successfully complete the negotiations and ultimately become a full member of the EU.