Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Montenegro opens two EU accession chapters

The EU opened two new chapters in the accession negotiations with Montenegro during a ministerial accession conference in Brussels Monday (21 December).

A week after opening negotiations with Serbia and relaunching talks with Turkey, Montenegro is the third country on the so-called Western Balkan route followed by migrants coming to Europe to see its membership talks move forward.

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"I am happy to see that enlargement policy has received a new boost," said Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign affairs minister, whose country chairs the rotating EU presidency until next week.

"This policy is crucial in addressing current challenges," he said at the press conference.

Montenegro was also invited to join NATO early December in a move to thwart Russian influence in the region.

With chapters 14 and 15, on transport and energy, Montenegro has now opened 22 of the 35 chapters of the acquis, the corpus of EU legislation candidate countries have to adopt. Two have been already closed, on science and research, and on culture and education.

Potential accession in 2021

The two previous chapters had been opened last June.

"Let's hope that in the next year or year and a half we may meet all requirements to open all the chapters," Montenegro's vice prime minister, Igor Luksic, said at the press conference with Asselborn.

"It is very difficult to estimate when the process can end," Luksic said, adding that "to remain motivated, we keep in mind that, potentially, accession might be in 2021".

The opening of two new chapters in the negotiations that started in 2012 takes place amid a tense political situation in Montenegro, where the opposition has been demonstrating for several months, demanding free and fair elections and setting up camp in the capital Podgorica.

On Sunday (20 December), a protest was organised in front of the parliament in Podgorica and a new demonstration is planned for Wednesday.

"We encourage Montenegro's government to take the necessary decisions to ensure that the rule of law leads to concrete results," Asselborn said.

Ahead of next year's elections, "it is essential for Montenegro to complete implementation of the new electoral law," he said.

In its latest accession report on Montenegro, published last month, the European Commission said it "expected that all incidents of violence and allegations of excessive use of force [during demonstrations in the autumn] will be duly investigated".

It also pointed out that Montenegro was "moderately prepared" with regards to public administration reform and the judicial system.

'Challenging process'

In Brussels vice-prime minister Luksic admitted that the "process remains very intensive, very challenging", citing the rule of law, economic governance and public administration as fields in which Montenegro needs to show results.

In its report, the commission noted that "Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation" in the fight against corruption, but that "the track record on effective investigation, prosecution and final convictions in corruption cases, in particular regarding high-level corruption, remains limited."

Things may be moving however, as Svetozar Marovic, a former president of Serbia and Montenegro when the two countries were a federation after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, was arrested on 18 December on corruption charges.

Nato invites Montenegro to start accession talks

A Nato that includes Montenegro would cover almost the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. The extended hand to Montenegro can be expected to trigger sharp reactions from Russia.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.

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