Friday

18th Jan 2019

Nato invites Montenegro to start accession talks

  • Stoltennerg: 'Montenegro has come a long way on its path to join the Euro-Atlantic family'. (Photo: nato.int)

Foreign ministers decided on Wednesday (2 December) to invite Montenegro to join Nato, announcing another planned expansion of the alliance likely to annoy Russia.

The former member of the Yugoslav republic is one of the few European nations to have once been on the receiving end of a Nato campaign, when the military alliance bombed it in the Kosovo war in 1999.

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The country of around 620,000 inhabitants is not unanimous in its support for Nato membership, with especially the Serbian population having bad feelings towards the western organisation.

On Wednesday morning, during a two-day meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels, the ministers decided to invite Montenegro to begin accession talks required to join.

“Nato membership will make both Montenegro and Nato more secure,” said Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg at a press conference following the decision.

“Montenegro has conducted significant reforms. It has shown commitment to our common values and to international security,” he added.

“Extending an invitation to Montenegro to start accession would be a historic decision. It would signal our continued commitment to the Western Balkans,” Stoltenberg already noted in a speech on Monday, when the decision had not yet formally been made.

If the talks succeed, Montenegro will become the 29th member of Nato, a military alliance whose membership overlaps with most but not all EU members.

A Nato that includes Montenegro would cover almost the entire northern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, from Portugal in the west to Turkey in the east, with the exception of a 20 kilometre strip of land in Bosnia & Herzegovina - another part of former Yugoslav which also aspires Nato membership.

Albania and Croatia joined in 2009.

Russia: 'irresponsible'

The extended hand to Montenegro can be expected to trigger sharp reactions from Russia.

In September, its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Nato's possible expansion to include Montenegro, but also Macedonia and Bosnia, were an “irresponsible policy”.

“With regards to the expansion of NATO, I see it as a mistake, even a provocation in a way,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Stoltenberg said “the decision to invite Montenegro is not about Russia. It is about Montenegro.”

Within Montenegro, some also oppose Nato accession. Several thousands of protesters have taken to the street in the past months to tell the government to stay out of Nato, but also to call on prime minister Milo Djukanovic to resign over corruption allegations.

Djukanovic has dismissed the protests as in the interest of Russia, saying “Russian policy is on the side of the protest organisers”.

But Djukanovic, who has served four separate terms as prime minister since 1991, is not free of receiving criticism.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said Russian president Vladimir Putin was “the person who does the most to enable and promote organized criminal activity” in 2014, but Djukanovic was runner-up, together with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.

Montenegro meanwhile also hopes to become a member of the European Union, and it has had candidate status since 2010, only four years after it became a separate country by breaking away from Serbia.

In its annual progress report published last month, the European Commission said that “Montenegro needs to make further progress in strengthening the institutional framework and in establishing a solid track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime.”

However, the commission also noted Montenegro “has improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership”.

Nato chief Stoltenberg Monday also said “Montenegro is making and has made progress on reforms, on the rule of law, on modernizing its security sector”, and that the country “has come a long way on its path to join the Euro-Atlantic family”.

For his part, Montenegrin foreign minister Igor Luksic said Wednesday the invitation “is particularly good news for the Western Balkans”, adding its accession will provide “a strong boost for security and stability for the entire region”.

Serbia and Montenegro face setbacks on EU path

Leaders are to grant Serbia EU candidate status in March 2012 provided it steps up talks with Kosovo, while Montenegro's membership talks will start in June pending a crackdown on corruption and crime.

Montenegro opens two EU accession chapters

The Western Balkan state is the third country in a week to see its membership talks move on, in a drive to boost enlargement policy in face of the migration crisis.

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