Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

EU prepares for separate accession of sovereign Montenegro

Brussels has begun preparations for Montenegro to join the EU separately from Serbia after 55.5 percent of Montenegrans voted for independence in a historic referendum over the weekend.

But regional Serb factions might still challenge the result, Balkans agency DTT.NET.COM reports.

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"The European Commission will now prepare two proposals for the council of ministers: a proposal for a new Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiating mandate for the independent Montenegro and a proposal for a modified SAA mandate for Serbia," enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said on Tuesday (23 May).

The EU's top diplomat Javier Solana and the Austrian EU presidency also gave their seal of recognition to the referendum result, with Vienna praising the orderly conduct of the vote in line with OSCE standards and saying "The EU calls on all sides concerned to accept the result. For its part, it will fully respect the decision of the people of Montenegro."

Out of 419,236 participants in the vote, 230,711 choose independence and 184,954 wanted to preserve the state union with Serbia, Podgorica's Republican Referendum Commission announced on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile the pro-independence government of Milo Djukanovic organised celebrations and braced itself for talks with Belgrade on disentangling the two states.

Kosovo next?

"I am convinced Montenegro [will] be the next country from this region to join the European Union, after Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, which are further along in the process," Mr Djukanovic said, adding that his main priorities will be completing SAA talks with Brussels by end-2006 and redefining cooperation with Serbia.

The EU in May froze SAA talks with the united Serbia and Montenegro after Belgrade failed to meet deadlines on handing over war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic to the UN tribunal in The Hague, the ICTY.

The UK's new Europe minister, Geoff Hoon, also congratulated Podgorica, saying "The people of Montenegro have expressed a clear desire for an independent state" and calling on "all sides in Montenegro, and the Serbian authorities [to] work together to determine the way forward."

Commenting on the preliminary results on Monday night, Russia's EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov indicated "Of course, we will respect the will of the Montenegran people whatever the result."

Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and Kosovo also welcomed the outcome, with Kosovo's separatist ethnic Albanian prime minister Agim Ceku saying "This is the last act of the historic liquidation of Yugoslavia...this year Kosovo will follow in Montenegro's footsteps."

Belgrade wary

Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica told EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak on Tuesday that Belgrade will recognise the result only when it is formally established at the end of the week, after the expiration of a deadline for any official complaints to the referendum commission.

Pro-union Serb politicians in Montenegro have alredy begun calling for a recount of the narrowly-attained result, which just scraped past the EU-recommended legitimacy threshold of 55 percent.

"The preliminary results of the referendum process should be double-checked and ballots from all the polling stations should be recounted,'' unionist bloc leaders said in a statement on Monday.

Meanwhile, ethnic Serb groups in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina plan to demand from the international community a referendum on the independence of the Republika Srbska province, Croatian daily Vecernji List has reported, citing the leader of a regional Serb NGO, Branislav Dukic of Spona.

Separatism fears

Mr Dukic said Montenegran independence and the prospects of Kosovan independence have set a clear precedent for Republika Srbska's secession, echoing the words of Russian president Vladimir Putin who in February warned that an independent Kosovo could become a "universal precedent" for separatists in, for example, Cyprus, Moldova or Georgia.

Parliamentarians from the separatist Catalan region of Spain were among the OSCE observers in Montenegro over the weekend, but the EU's Javier Solana poured cold water on fears the Balkan situation could impact Catalonia or Spain's other separatist region, the Basque territory.

"I have my doubts there ever would be a referendum in the two countries [sic] you [the press] mentioned," he stated.

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