European Western Balkans continues with series of interviews with key people from Western Balkans countries which are involved in European integration process of their countries. Mr. Aleksandar Andrija Pejović is as State Secretary – Chief Negotiator for negotiations over Montenegro’s accession to the European Union. Mr. Pejović was born in1974 in Kotor, Montenegro. He completed master studies in international relations – European and South East studies at the Faculty of State Administration and Political Sciences at the National University in Athens. Before that he had completed Faculty of English Language and Literature at University of Novi Sad, Serbia. Mr. Pejović has been employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2000. In March 2010 he was appointed as Ambassador – Chief of the Mission of Montenegro to EU and in October 2010 – May 2014 as permanent representative – Ambassador of Montenegro to Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Hague.He has been serving as State Secretary – Chief Negotiator for negotiations over Montenegro’s accession to the European Union since December 2011 and as National coordinator for pre-accession funds for EU assistance to Montenegro. In his spare time Mr. Pejović writes and sculpts. He has published several papers on international relations and geopolitics. Pejovic is also the author the novel Amabor.
European Western Balkans: What is your personal opinion about the European Union and the importance of integration of Montenegro into the EU?
Mr. Aleksandar Andrija Pejović: The idea of European integration has integrated all the inner resources which Montenegro has. Membership in the EU is a priority strategic goal of Montenegro, whereby we are irretrievably determined according to European values as a chance to transform the Montenegrin society in accordance with the standards of the developed European countries. The European Union is a model that offers a number of opportunities, but we can use them only if we build the necessary capacities and possess adequate knowledge, ideas and skills. For these reasons, I believe that the process of European integration is the process of implementing the necessary reforms that are leading to improvement of quality of life of our citizens and the internal needs of Montenegro.
In the previous period, all sections of society have made significant efforts and showed a willingness to be active participants of the reform process. This is very encouraging and demonstrates the maturity and determination that despite differences of opinions, we can work together towards creating the best solutions. The importance of integration of Montenegro into the EU is also reflected in it.
EWB: What are the next steps in the negotiations with the EU? Whether and in what ways do you cooperate with the European Commission and Commissioner for Enlargement?
AAP: Almost every three months, we have the opportunity to open chapters in whose preparation we are working hard and dedicated. In this light, we are planning to keep the pace of opening negotiation chapters by the end of this year in order to address the demanding negotiating areas to the next year. In this way, we can expect a continuation of the work to meet the conditions for the opening of other negotiating chapters, particularly those for which we have not got the criteria for opening or where Montenegro has already achieved a high level of alignment with the acquis.
In the same time, we remain committed to work on already opened chapters, notably the important chapters are chapters 23. and 24. Also, this year we have started with preparation and programming of the new EU funds through the EU financial perspective 2014-2020, in order to use grant funds that the EU gives us to accelerate the integration process , as best as we can in the coming years.
In the period that is ahead us, we will have a very important part of the work in terms of concretization of the negotiating process through the implementation of the adopted legislation, strategies and action plans that we have made in many chapters. Although we have many obligations, we will attempt simultaneously, through concrete activities and practical solutions, to bring closer European standards and values to the citizens and thus, through the effects of reforms and the introduction of a number of possibilities that can already be used, prepare them for the changes that the future membership in the EU will bring.
From European Commission, and Member States we are constantly getting the message that we are on the right way and that we can count on their full support to the accession process. With hard work and the quality of implementation of the reforms we have shown that we are a credible partner, and therefore I am convinced that through this kind of relationship we will continue to work together on faster and well done Montenegro’s membership in the EU.
EWB: Which chapter, in your opinion, will represent the largest/most difficult task for the Government of Montenegro and for you personally?
AAP: Montenegro is the first country with which in the negotiations the new approach is applied, which assumes that the Chapter 23. Judiciary and fundamental rights and 24. Justice, freedom and security are opened at the beginning and they will be closed at the end of the negotiations. These two chapters are the most complex and they represent the most difficult task, because the specific focus and special interest are directed on them. I believe that the new approach is a good mechanism that provides to the candidate country enough space to show how successful it is in the implementation of reforms and the general application of the European legislation, following the adoption of the acquis. We have realized this approach very supportive, confident that it helps us to do our homework better, faster and easier and reform the society in all fields, fulfilling the obligations of the European agenda.
Of course, we should not neglect the other chapters. One of the most demanding is the chapter 27. Environment, in which is as a challenge imposed infrastructure investments and investments in adaptation and improvement of industrial equipment and technologies. Also, the process requires investment in administrative and judicial capacities in order to properly implement adopted regulations. In addition to the environment, a lot of work and effort we will have to invest in chapters such as food security, agriculture, fisheries and competition.
I always think, especially during the negotiations on the chapters we refer as the most demanding, we should be remembered that the overall positive growth and new opportunities that are opening are significantly bigger than the challenge and complexity of certain negotiating chapters.
EWB: Do you consult with your colleagues from other candidate countries in the accession process? If you do, which are areas in which you cooperate? Do you have consultations with a recently Candidate, now members of the Union?
AAP: Although Montenegro has gained a leading position in the region in terms of European integration, consultation and cooperation with colleagues from other candidate countries and potential candidates is an integral part of our negotiation process. I believe that membership in the EU should be the top priority of all countries in our region, because European integration is the only way to overcome the problems of the past quick and safely and establish a permanent sustainable cooperation. The dynamics of EU accession is different from country to country, but I am convinced that cooperation in the implementation of reforms in different areas we can help a lot to each other on the European road. We just have organized in mid-June in Montenegro a meeting of negotiation teams of Montenegro and Serbia, as well as bilateral workshop on negotiations in Chapter 23, in cooperation with our Ministry and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Serbia, in order to exchange experiences and provide support and assistance. This practice will surely continue in relation to other countries and negotiating chapters.
Regarding the recent candidates, certainly neighboring Croatia is the closest by various grounds, and it also the youngest member of the Union. Croatia, and the other candidate countries, are providing full support to Montenegro on its path towards the EU and in the process of implementing the reforms through which we are preparing for future membership. I am confident that the progress of each of the countries in the region positively influences others to step up internal reforms and accelerate its way to the EU. Therefore, it is important that we work together, share our knowledge and experiences in order to show that the Western Balkans is part of Europe in every way and that European values and standards are becoming part of our everyday life.
EWB: Do you think that, in addition to the harmonization of the laws and policies to the EU, should lead to changes in the relationship of citizens to their obligations to the government, but also administration, ministers, MPs to the citizens? In which direction would these changes should be directed?
AAP: I have repeatedly pointed out that the reforms we are carrying out our own internal needs, which we are achieving through the process of European integration, not for being a member, but for us. Harmonisation of the legal framework without changing the relationship of citizens to respect the adopted regulations is difficult to survive in its full capacity and importance. That is why we are equally dedicated to continuous informing of our citizens about every stage of negotiating processes, which all of us should understood as a way to raise the level of quality of life and to encourage whole society to the continuous improvement and development. It is the primary goal. The change in the attitude of all citizens to their responsibilities, but also the change of treatment of a number of opportunities that EU membership would bring, and which are seeking continuous learning, acquiring new knowledge and skills, and thus, the adjustment to the new, improved conditions positively affect standard of living. This is a change that we are talking about, and a change that brings perspective.
EWB: How is the adoption of European standards, regardless to the integration of Montenegro into the EU, important for citizens?
AAP: European integration is a project of the whole society, and comprehensive and well informed citizens are prerequisite to complete process reaches a high level of understanding and acceptance with the active participation of all stakeholders. We have directed the process from the beginning on the fundamental understanding of the importance of adopting European standards, and we have understood the process of European integration as an opportunity to make our society and the system better. So, our goal is that citizens, in the next few years as we negotiate, understand the reforms that we are implementing, adopt standards aware that in this way they contribute to better quality of their lives and their country’s future. Membership in the EU is not a goal by itself. The aim is our inner transformation and building society of the rule of law, economic and security. We insist on that from the day of the commencement of negotiations, and through various forms of cooperation with civil society, academia, local governments and the media, and we are trying to include in that process all segments of our society.
EWB: What is it that you consider particularly important for further integration of Montenegro into the EU?
AAP: Although we do have a lot of reasons to be happy, the most important for the further process of European integration is to maintain the already constructed responsible access to commitments, good organization of the work and the quality and professional work with which we have established the foundations of our European road. We still have a lot of work and we need to continue on the same pace, focused, as before, to the quality of work that is done, a wide-ranging fulfillment of all the obligations in the opened chapters and thoroughly preparation for the opening of the new ones.
The dynamics of the process of accession depends on the results that we are achieving, and we will continue in that direction, focused on the implementation of the adopted action plans and strategies in an effort to the sequel of the process Montenegrin citizens experience the benefits of changes that European integration of our country carries.
EWB: Thank you Mr. Pejović for time. European Western Balkans wishes you very best in process of integration of Montenegro into European Union.