Montenegro is leading the way among EU candidate countries, having already opened 20 negotiation chapters out of 35, with two being provisionally closed. Montenegro’s advanced position in the accession talks has much to do with the strong commitment from all sides towards membership. When I talk with government officials, opposition politicians, NGO activists and members of the public, all share the same goal of EU membership.
What role does the European Parliament play in this process?
There is a constant exchange of views between stakeholders in Montenegro and in the European Parliament. However the main formal arenas for discussions about the EU accession of Montenegro come in the form of the European Parliament’s resolution on the European Commission’s progress report on Montenegro, and the two annual Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) meetings.
As Chair of the EP Delegation to EU-Montenegro SAPC, I am co-presiding over the Committee together with the Speaker of the Montenegrin Parliament. The joint committee meets once a year in the European Parliament and once in Montenegro.
During our last SAPC meeting, we discussed – among other very important issues – the following points:
a) Reforms relevant to the negotiation chapters 23 and 24 (on the rule of law and fundamental rights)
These two chapters are the key for the successful continuation of the accession process. They were the first to be opened and will be the last to be closed to give enough time for reforms to take place. The fight against corruption is a crucial element of these. Important legislative work in this area has already taken place but this needs to be accompanied by real progress in implementation and enforcement. The proper prosecution of high level corruption, in particular, remains the litmus test for the independence of the judicial system.
NGOs and the free press play an important part in the effective fight against corruption and the competent authorities in Montenegro need to create an environment in which they can work without fear.
Unfortunately however, the 2015 World Press Freedom Index (based mainly on data from 2014) ranks Montenegro as taking 114th place out of 180 places. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, has stressed the importance of “measures to strengthen media self-regulation and the fight to end impunity for attacks against journalists in the country” in her recent meeting with Prime Minister Milo Đukanović. So more action is still needed in this area.
b) The situation of disabled people in Montenegro and the EU disability strategy
The values of dignity, autonomy, equality, participation and inclusion are central EU principles and I am therefore pleased that Montenegro is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
While there have been improvements in the legal framework over the last few years, further actions are needed to comply with the EU acquis. Legislation has to translate into real change on the ground. Just to highlight one important point, the vast majority of public buildings are still not accessible for people with disabilities. This includes the 13 buildings which the government selected for priority adaption – with the very positive exception of the parliament where construction works to make it accessible for disabled people are currently ongoing and should be finished next month.
c) Environmental policy
As the famous poet Lord Byron once said: “The most beautiful contact between the earth and sea took place at the Montenegrin littoral.”
It is very important that Montenegro protects its exceptional environment. One example in this area is the Salina in Ulcinj, the most important resting area for migratory birds on the East Adriatic coast and home to millions of birds such as rare Dalmatian pelicans and spotted redshanks. Until very recently the habitat of these birds was in danger. In July 2015, the government of Montenegro took the first crucial steps to protect biodiversity there, but more needs to be done to save the Salina and the birds that live there, including designating the Salina as a protected area.
To conclude, Montenegro is currently the only candidate country which is continuously opening new negotiation chapters and is pressing forward fast with negotiations. However there are still important issues which need to be addressed, most notably in the area of rule of law and fundamental rights.
Author: Anneliese Dodds MEP, Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee