European Western Balkans: In November 2016 you assumed the position of the Minister of European Affairs of Montenegro, although you have been involved in the EU accession negotiating process as the Chief Negotiator since its very beginning. Will the election of the new Government affect the dynamics of negotiations, and if so, to what extent?
Aleksandar Andrija Pejović: The new Government is determined to finalise the initiated reforms, to fulfil all closing benchmarks, and thus to complete the European integration process by the end of its term of office. Furthermore, the fact that through new organisation of the Government we got a separate ministry which will be responsible for the coordination of the European integration reaffirms this determination. As concerns the dynamic of the negotiations, we will continue as before to work on the fulfilment of opening and closing requirements, whereas the dynamics of the intergovernmental conferences and the accession process is something that depends not only on Montenegro, but also the EU Member States and ultimately the internal situation in the Union.
EWB: In less than five years of the negotiating process, Montenegro accomplished a lot. Montenegro opened 26 out of 35 chapters, whereas 2 chapters are provisionally closed. In December 2016 Montenegro opened negotiations on chapters 11 and 19, where the former, related to agriculture and rural development, is considered to be one of the most demanding chapters. When do you expect to open the remaining chapters?
The dynamics of opening negotiations also depends on positions and developments in Member States and their readiness for opening negotiations on particular chapters.
AAP: Considering the fact that we have met the requirement for opening five out of the remaining seven negotiating chapters, I expect that to happen during this or the following year. The mentioned five chapters are Chapter 1: Free Movement of Goods, Chapter 2: Freedom of Movement of Workers, Chapter 3: Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services, Chapter 22: Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments, Chapter 27: Environment. What remains to be done is to meet the opening benchmarks for Chapter 8: Competition Policy and Chapter 17: Economic and Monetary Policy, which is something that we expect to be finished soon. Certainly, this concerns our internal readiness and plans. Apart from internal readiness, the dynamics of opening negotiations also depends on positions and developments in Member States and their readiness for opening negotiations on particular chapters.
EWB: In this year`s report, the European Commission commended Montenegro`s progress in fulfilling obligations in most fields. It was also stated that, despite some progress made regarding the fight against corruption and organised crime, they remain a serious concern for Montenegro. Are you concerned about this remark and what will be done to enable institutions to address this issue more seriously?
Fight against corruption and organised crime represents a challenge even for the countries more developed than Montenegro. We think that addressing this issue is a key priority.
AAP: Fight against corruption and organised crime represents a challenge even for the countries more developed than Montenegro. Similar remarks were given for all enlargement countries for which the report was prepared. Furthermore, this is a problem which cannot be solved overnight. Still, we think that addressing this issue is a key priority. In the previous years, in cooperation with international partners and experts, we rounded up the legislative framework in these fields and established required institutions, such as the Anti-Corruption Agency, Special Public Prosecutor`s Office, Special Police Department, as well as the Sector for the managing of seized property which operates within the Public Property Administration. We also trained employees in order to enable them to act efficiently in cases of corruption and organised crime and we are already achieving results in practice. We produce continuous results, and we are undoubtedly making progress in these areas, particularly with regard to handling cases in the area of fight against corruption and organised crime, where out of a little more than one thousand five hundred cases, almost 850 have been solved. Perhaps not everyone is equally pleased with the pace of the progress, but we must acknowledge that we have come a long way and achieved results that allow us to look ahead with optimism.
EWB: The progress report states that the competent state authorities are expected to swiftly investigate the cases of arrest and temporary closure of WhatsApp and Viber during the Parliamentary elections held in October. What is the state of play regarding the investigations?
APP: The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office are taking all the necessary steps to fully and swiftly resolve the case of arrests made on the day of Parliamentary elections in Montenegro. This is the most important case facing the prosecutorial organisation and I am sure that we will soon be able to see the results of these efforts in the form of indictment and beginning of the trial. As regards the problems that we experienced with the electronic media, it is worth noting that they were the first of this kind in Montenegro, but certainly not the only one that are increasingly taking place in the Western world, specifically during the elections. I believe that these new processes warrant a broader and closer look, and that we ought to pass good legislation and get ready for the new phenomenon that we are likely to face with increasing frequency.
EWB: Last year Montenegro received the invitation to become a NATO member. Assessments were made that your country would join NATO before it was expected, and that, due to all that has been achieved on the integration path, the same applies to the EU membership. One could also hear opinions that Brexit will accelerate Montenegrin membership in the EU. Your country set as its goal the fulfilment of all obligations by 2018. In your opinion, when will Montenegro realistically become an EU Member State?
AAP: Our goal, which we have also defined by our strategic documents, such as the Montenegro’s Programme of Accession to the European Union, is to have a country that will be internally prepared to join the EU by the end of 2018. This means that we will align the national legislation with that of the European Union by the aforementioned period, as well as set up required institutions and implement necessary reforms that will produce real results.
When it comes to the date of accession, it is impossible to tell in certainty what the exact day will be, since this is something that depends on us only to a certain extent. I have pointed out on several occasions that it would be good for Montenegro to enter into membership with the new financial perspective that starts as of 2021. However, what is much more important than the date of accession is for us to implement the necessary reforms fully and in a quality manner, as well as to bring Europe to Montenegro by improving the quality of life of our citizens through application of European regulations and standards.
EWB: In its European edition, “Politico” has recently published some forecasts according to which Montenegro, together with several Western Balkan countries (including Serbia), will not join the EU before 2027. Are you afraid of such forecasts? In your opinion, how realistic are these forecasts, i.e. that the membership of some countries will be postponed for a few more years?
I believe that the EU will remain true to its principles and rules and that, it will, regardless of internal situation and external influences, continue to recognise individual results and candidate countries’ commitment to the accession process.
AAP: No. I’m not. I believe that the EU will remain true to its principles and rules and that, it will, regardless of internal situation and external influences, continue to recognise individual results and candidate countries’ commitment to the accession process.
Finally, the Western Balkans is a region that is an integral part of Europe. Therefore, it is in the interest of the entire EU to have the countries belonging to this region as its members.