European Western Balkans

Angelina Eichhorst: Progress on rule of law will set the overall pace for the last phase of opening chapters

Angelina Eichhorst; Photo: Wikimedia Commons, EUinLebanon

PODGORICA – Following her visit to Montenegro on 8-9 February, the Director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service (EEAS), Angelina Eichhorst, gave an interview to MINA News Agency, in which she talks about Montenegro’s EU integration process as well as the EU’s relations with the Western Balkans. We are republishing the entire interview.

MINA: How do you assess the current situation in the EU, after the UK’s decision to leave the Union? How will this decision affect the future of the EU, especially bearing in mind the upcoming presidential election in France and the announcement of presidential candidates about this country’s exit from the EU?

Angelina Eichhorst: The EU and the EU Member States continue to attach great importance and priority to all the work needed to make the European perspective of the Western Balkans, as a whole, a reality, and to Montenegro’s European future.After all, the people and the governments of the Western Balkans have chosen the European path because they recognise that the European Union offers them a real prospect of better lives, security, jobs, a strong economy, a functioning justice system, solidarity, safety nets, and the European way of living. Today, enlargement is a reality in an era where, for the first time, a Member State chooses to leave the Union.This is unprecedented, but it does not change where we are in the world, neither our history nor our geography, and it does not change our strategy.The EU stands strong, and we will uphold the European core values of promoting peace and the well-being of our peoples.

MINA: Can this situation inside the EU affect the enlargement policy and can it have an impact on the dynamics of the accession process of candidate countries, particularly Montenegro and other countries of the Western Balkans?

AE: The Western Balkans are a key priority and also a core feature of the EU’s Global Strategy, which was launched by High Representative Federica Mogherini just after the referendum vote in the UK.Now more than ever, we are committed to work on peace and security in the region and we are working every day with our partners in the region to bring us closer and more united. It is joined-up action, we have the instruments, the tools, we have the vision and we have the determination. We see this also reflected in the region, here in the Balkans.

The dynamic of the accession or enlargement process is steady progress.Montenegro is fully engaged in this process, in good faith, through genuine and deep negotiations, having already opened 26 chapters. Actually, Montenegro is a great example, acting as a full member on many topics without having finalised the full process as yet. President Tusk said this clearly when PM Markovic was in Brussels only two weeks ago. Our partners in the region are all showing positive trends: Serbia opened two additional chapters in December and is scheduled to open more soon, Serbia remains committed to an effective dialogue with Kosovo; Albania has made significant progress on the reform of its judicial system, and the first International Monitoring Operation (IMO) Board meeting took place this week; Bosnia and Herzegovina is now seriously preparing for candidate status, these are all milestone achievements. Kosovo had its first SAA Council, a new strong agenda to get the economics right and work on rule of law and is engaged in a meaningful dialogue with Serbia; the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has had credible elections, which should make government formation possible.

MINA: What is your assessment of the current political situation in Montenegro? Is the EU worried about the developments in our country after the parliamentary elections?

AE: It is clear that Montenegro remains firmly committed to its EU path, and the EU remains fully committed to Montenegro’s future in the European Union.I discussed with Montenegro’s leadership and with civil society the current challenges. There has been improvement on the rule of law yet still some way to go. It is important the voices of the people who genuinely believe in progress and want to work constructively and democratically on a ‘mature democracy’ should be heard. I also believe there is the political commitment and determination to live up to the promises made during the election campaign.Almost 80% of decided voters want to join the EU.Now more than half of the population is in favour of NATO accession.This is good news for Montenegro and for the region.

MINA: What is your view regarding the boycott of the Parliament by the opposition MPs and do the EU officials have any contact with the opposition leaders in this regard? What would be your message to them?

AE: There is a clear message that boycott does not help anybody.Nowhere globally are there examples of boycotts having had the desired impact.This is not sustainable and voters will ask themselves why is my vote wasted?Differences have to be worked out, democratically and constitutionally in Parliament.That is what Parliaments are for. Parties who want to uphold the constitution will want to start their valuable work as opposition in the Parliament and hold government to account.

MINA: Do you think that the solution to the current situation lies in the organisation of new parliamentary elections, bearing in mind that the opposition leaders are firm in their stance that they do not wish to return to the Parliament unless new elections are called?

AE: The EU fully supports the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission and we are asking the executive, all political actors and civil society to work together to implement ODIHR’s recommendations, including the very important work of a new election law.

MINA: What should the Montenegrin authorities focus on in the coming period, and where should particular attention be paid when it comes to Montenegro’s EU integration?

AE: There is a stable majority of around 60% who believe that EU membership will be beneficial to the citizens in Montenegro, and nearly 80% of decided voters would vote in favour of membership.This is a strong signal to Montenegro’s leaders to work to improve the lives of Montenegro’s citizens through jobs, education, respect for human rights, business, investment opportunities, and fair and transparent justice for all.The EU has been very clear that progress on rule of law will set the overall pace for this last phase of opening chapters, and we hope that prosecutors and the justice sector will continue to build a strong track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Beyond domestic reforms – and here we look at the region as a whole – complex security challenges require Europe-wide solutions based on solidarity and cooperation. Montenegro is an exceptionally committed foreign policy partner for the European Union, has a positive role in the region, and is in full alignment with the EU’s foreign and security policy positions.

This interview is republished with the approval of the MINA news agency.

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