Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Montenegro is officially awarded EU candidate status

Montenegro is the sixth European country to receive candidate status following the adoption of this year's enlargement package by EU member states. Candidacy was awarded based on previous annual progress reports presented by the European Commission.

Another important element from the enlargement package is the assessment by EU member states that the conclusion of Croatia's accession talks is "within reach". Progress has been reported in some parts of the Western Balkans as well, but all countries believe the process should be quicker than it currently is.

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  • Montenegro is finally on the way to EU membership (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Union wants to send two distinct messages as part of the agreed enlargement package. Firstly, it will signal to Western Balkan countries that if they engage in meaningful reform and are determined to fight corruption and organised crime at all levels, the EU will be ready to make further steps in developing relations with them.

Giving Montenegro candidate status and announcing the conclusions of Croatia's accession talks are two examples that the EU is using this time to prove its commitment towards enlargement policy, despite talk of enlargement fatigue.

Secondly, the EU is signalling to member states, by emphasising the strong conditions placed on new candidates, that it is trying to avoid countries becoming members before they have met the necessary criteria. This is why Albania has not been given candidate status and no date has been set for the start of accession talks with Montenegro.

Member states argued about the language of the conclusions on union enlargement. Some countries, including Greece, Slovenia and Cyprus, have disputes with their neighbours and want to use EU membership to their benefit in resolving bilateral issues.

They fought and managed to prevent the conclusions stating that "bilateral issues should not obstruct enlargement process". Bilateral issues with neighbouring Greece, for example, are blocking the start of accession talks with Macedonia.

There was much talk among member states about how to refer to Kosovo in the documents. Countries that do not recognise the state's independence wanted the document to read that the "EU is status neutral".

But Germany, the UK and some others insisted that the majority of those countries that have recognised Kosovo – 22 of 27 EU Members – have made enough concessions and in the end all were satisfied with the inclusion of a '*' when 'Kosovo' was first mentioned in the document.

The '*' refers to a footnote that states: "Under UNSCR 1244/99. The reference to Kosovo in these conclusions is without prejudice to member states positions on status".

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.

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