European Western Balkans

Media freedom and rule of law to be improved on Montenegro’s EU path

EU-Montenegro: Intergovernmental Accession Conference; Photo: European Council

Montenegro is a country that opened most of the chapters in the negotiation process and therefore is perceived as the leader of the European integrations in the Western Balkans. However, Montenegro still has to make an improvement when it comes to the rule of law, including a fight against corruption and organised crime, but also issues related to media freedom.

After Montenegro voted for independence in the referendum and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was dissolved, Montenegro applied for the EU membership in 2008. European Commission issued a favourable opinion on Montenegro’s application in 2010, identifying 7 key priorities that would need to be addressed for negotiations to start and the same year the Council granted it the candidate status. Later in 2011, the Council launched the accession process and finally, in 2012 Montenegro opened the accession negotiations. Since then, stable progress has been made on its European path.

On 6 February, the Enlargement Strategy will be presented during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg where more details about the future enlargement will be introduced. According to the information found in media in previous days, Montenegro and Serbia can (in a best case scenario) become full members in 2025, so the year 2019 will be a milestone when both countries are expected to fulfil transitional measures in the chapters of judiciary and interior affairs.

European Commissioner Johannes Hahn stated that 2025 is set as an indicative date for Serbia and Montenegro which is at the same time realistic and ambitious. Moreover, Commissioner Hahn said that ’’it is time to finish the work of 1989’’ referring to the EU’s eastward expansion after the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, this was just an indicative deadline and it does not necessarily mean that Serbia and Montenegro would become members of the EU at the same time. The accession negotiations of these two countries are not inter-linked, and each country is following their own path.

On the other hand, strong messages came from the Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković who openly confronted to the possible intentions that Montenegro as a leader of the European integrations in the region would join the EU  at the same time with other Western Balkans countries. The accession negotiation process is announced to be done under the current government said Prime Minister.

Furthermore, in June 2017 Prime Minister Marković got assurance from the Commissioner Johannes Hahn that the accession process would act according to the regatta principle and not as a “package” format. Also, Minister of European Affairs of Montenegro Aleksandar Andrija Pejović said that 2025 does not mean that the year of accession and if some of the states achieve the conditions for accession, doors of the EU will be opened for them.

It seems important for Podgorica on its European path not to remain the hostage of the current Kosovo-Serb issue on normalisation dialogue or Bosnian conundrum of constitutional arrangement.

It is quite obvious that this year will be of great importance for further developments towards the EU, especially having in mind the coming adoption of the Strategy of Enlargement of Western Balkans in February and Commission reports for candidate countries and potential candidates in April, but also because of the Western Balkans Summit that will be held in Sofia in May. The European Commission officials have stressed that Montenegro has recorded a good integration results and has earned the trust of the European Commission and the Member States towards their EU membership. Furthermore, they expressed optimism that with the continuation of the reforms, Montenegro would be ready for the next enlargement, stating that the EU membership depends only on the individual achievement of each candidate country.

Also, Pejović stated that the “messages coming from the EU and its member states indicate that the enlargement policy is a strategic issue of the Union and that the future of all Western Balkan countries is in the EU.” On the other hand, Pejović said that Montenegro will stay dedicated to the achievement of goals on its European path. According to the Minister Pejović, some of the current issues are the rule of law and fight against corruption, but also the stability of the whole region.

Besides the wish of the Montenegrin officials and the EU officials towards the integrations, an important aspect of the story is the perceptions of the public on the possible accession of Montenegro in the EU.

A recent study shows that 80.9% of the population would vote for EU membership on such referendum. The reasons that citizens mostly cited as the motivation for supporting Montenegro’s accession to the EU are the stability, better quality of life and the possibility of travelling. However, those who do not support the entry highlight the reasons such as the crisis in the EU and the refugee crisis.

As aforementioned, rule of law and media freedom is still one of the heating issues on Montenegro’s path towards the EU. In regard to that, it is worrying the statement made by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) where they condemned the way Montenegro’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) is seizing control of the supervisory council of the state-owned TV broadcaster, RTCG, threatening its independence.

“We condemn this abuse of power by the DPS, which is using its parliamentary majority to interfere in the public TV broadcaster’s affairs and to remove supervisory council members who are not to the party’s liking,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk.

Moreover, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced that “the authorities are showing that they do not respect European standards at a time when they would nonetheless wished that Montenegro joins the European Union”.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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