European Western Balkans

Speech by Commissioner Johannes Hahn at the Parliament of Montenegro

PODGORICA – Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations is in his official visit to Montenegro. The Commissioner used this opportunity to adress the members of the Parliament of Montenegro and to emphasise that the EU’s commitment to Montenegro’s accession is firm and unquestionable.

Read his full speech below.

“This is an historic moment for Montenegro, the countries of the Western Balkans, the region, and Europe. Just a few days ago the European Commission presented its Western Balkans Strategy.

This strategy confirms that the EU’s commitment to Montenegro’s accession is firm and unquestionable. It has been reaffirmed by our EU Summit in March, the Trieste Western Balkans Summit in July, by President Juncker in his State of the Union speech and now put in more concrete terms in the Strategy.

You now have an historic window of opportunity to firmly and unequivocally bind your future to the European Union.

As I often say, geography is destiny. We have a common heritage and history, and a future defined by shared opportunities and challenges. As President Juncker said, in his State of the Union address last September, ‘in the future, the EU will be more than 27’.

The Western Balkans strategy outlines the path, how Montenegro would be ready for membership in a 2025 perspective. This is news for Montenegro and its citizens. The country now has a unique opportunity to grasp this perspective.

Let us be clear: this perspective is extremely ambitious. Whether this will be achieved will depend entirely on your objective merits and results.

Our strategy equips this Parliament and Montenegrin civil society to put positive pressure on the government to push ahead.

A credible enlargement perspective requires credible efforts and reforms. There are no free passes and the criteria do not change.

Joining the EU is a generational choice. The utmost priority is tackling the shortcomings that exist, in particular important weaknesses on the rule of law, fundamental rights, freedom of expression and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

Also on economic reforms and tackling high unemployment, or improving the functioning of democratic institutions and public administration reform, you must significantly step up your to move forward.

I am very grateful that Montenegro sets an example on the other key criterion good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation. In the region as a whole, pending bilateral disputes need to be settled in a legally binding way ahead of accession.

In Montenegro, a strong political push and a national effort that will mobilise all the talent of the country is needed to deliver on reforms.

Your leaders in particular must assume responsibility to realise the European perspective with determination.

Montenegro has already made good progress on accession negotiations. 30 of the thirty-five negotiating chapters are already open, with 3 of them being provisionally closed. Concrete action plans are in place for all chapters – now it is about their implementation. The accession process is not a paper exercise; it delivers cleaner water, better air & safer food in Montenegro. Today, not in 2025.

It is important to keep in mind that the pace of negotiations ultimately depends successful rule of law reforms. I look forward to further progress.

With the legal framework and institutional set-up in largely in place, it is now time to achieve tangible results. The institutions, including the Special Prosecutor and the Anti-Corruption Agency should exercise their mandates in an independent and transparent manner. There must be zero tolerance for corruption and organised crime, money laundering and trafficking in human beings. Freedom of expression and of the media should function without undue interference.

As regards the public broadcaster, I would like to highlight the important role the Parliament has in safeguarding freedom of expression and independence of media as a pillar of democracy.

There is no speed limit on the highway to membership. But ultimately, quality goes before speed. The process of preparing for EU membership is as important as the final goal of membership.

An independent judiciary, an efficient & transparent public administration… these are things Montenegrins want and deserve. Not just abstract obsessions of the European Commission.

This is also about prosperity: the rule of law and economic development go hand in hand! The EU’s prosperity is founded upon this smart mix of democratic values, fundamental rights and free market economics.

The EU will stand by your side and support you in the work ahead. That is why this Strategy includes six new flagship initiatives to increase our support to the region including:

  • strengthening support for the rule of law;
  • reinforcing engagement on security and migration;
  • supporting socio-economic development;
  • increasing connectivity;
  • launching a digital agenda for the Western Balkans;
  • and supporting reconciliation and good neighbourly relations.

The EU itself will ensure that it will be ready institutionally and financially to welcome new Member States once they have met the conditions.

Pre-accession assistance will also be significantly increased. In 2018, more than EUR one billion of Pre-Accession Assistance funding has already been foreseen for the Western Balkans. An additional EUR 500 million of assistance will underpin the strategy up to 2020.

We have laid out the path to the EU and now it is up to Montenegro to walk that path.

To make this ambitious scenario a reality, action must be taken now!”

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