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Commissioner Hahn’s interview with Montenegrin daily Pobjeda

Johannes Hahn

POBJEDA: Migration crisis jeopardises the external borders of the Union as well as the stability of EU institutions. To what extent can this crisis jeopardise the functioning of the Union and can it have a negative impact on enlargement policy?

HAHN: The migration crisis is indeed probably one of the biggest challenges the European Union has been confronted with so far. It is a global crisis that needs a global solution. Acting together as union makes us stronger to deal with such global challenges. Of course tensions and different opinions exist, but we are tackling the crisis together. In the past, when faced with serious difficulties, the EU had always come stronger and more consolidated. I believe this will be the case also this time, and that our enlargement policy will not be affected.

POBJEDA: EU Membership referendum has been scheduled for 23 June in the UK. How could the possible British exit affect the enlargement policy?

HAHN: The British referendum is something for the British people to decide in June and I will not speculate ahead of this.

POBJEDA: Montenegro is now at a stage of fighting corruption. Brussels insists on a greater number of investigations and final verdicts. Do you think our institutions are strong enough to bring this fight to an end?

HAHN: I very much believe it is firstly the citizens of Montenegro who are demanding less corruption and judicial consequences for perpetrators, not just ‘Brussels’. Such results will bring proof that the institutions are strong enough and working well. A robust and effective rule of law system is to the benefit of all Montenegrin citizens – legal certainty, functioning independent judiciary, transparent and depoliticized administration and protection of fundamental rights are preconditions for attracting investment, stimulating economic growth and allowing citizens to live better.

In order to achieve this, Montenegro must move from the phase of legislative reforms and institution-building – where progress has been made – to the phase of tangible results. And this means a track record of investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in corruption and organized crime. I trust that the Montenegro authorities are working now in this direction. It is not up to one or two ministries to ensure that the fight against corruption and organized crime brings results: it is the whole rule of law system that has to work together to achieve this.

It is positive that, already, the Special Prosecution Office, established in July 2015, has opened several additional new investigations on high level corruption and organised crime cases.

POBJEDA: Brussels has been encouraging Montenegrin parties to engage in dialogue. Who in your view is responsible for such a lengthy dialogue among the parties?

HAHN: Indeed, we had welcomed this initiative when it was launched and throughout this time we have been encouraging political parties to continue with the dialogue with a view to reaching an agreement leading to the organisation of credible elections this year. As noted on earlier occasions, it is the responsibility of Montenegro’s political leaders, both of those in power and those in opposition, to bring this dialogue to a successful end.

POBJEDA: If Montenegro continues with this pace, are there realistic chances for the country to close all chapters by 2018?

HAHN: I can only repeat what I have said on a number of occasions: the speed of the accession process depends on Montenegro and the reforms it undertakes, both on the rule of law and on the other chapters.

POBJEDA: Do we have sufficient administrative capacity for successful negotiations?

HAHN: Limited administrative capacity is, indeed, a concern. What is needed is not a big-size administration but a right-size administration: Montenegro needs to identify the areas that would benefit most from strengthening, and attract staff with the skills and competences needed. We are in close dialogue with Montenegro on public administration reform with a view to strengthening the civil service across the board.

POBJEDA: Can elections in Montenegro have an impact on the dynamics of negotiations?

HAHN: Elections, be they local or parliamentary, are an internal issue for Montenegro. The only aspect on which the Commission comments is the need for the full implementation of the electoral legislation, so as to ensure that the elections are credible. This is the responsibility of all Montenegro political leaders.

We expect that the new government, which will emerge from this year’s electoral process, will continue on the reform path. The strong support of a majority of Montenegro citizens for EU membership should further motivate the current and future government to double reform efforts towards that goal.

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