European Western Balkans

[EWB interview] Šarkić: EU will have to keep Western Balkans high on the agenda

Interview with H.E. Bojan Šarkić, Head of the Mission of the Republic of Montenegro to the European Union.

EWB: Many commentators believe that the Western Balkans will not be in the focus of the EU this year due to Union’s own internal problems. From your position as an Ambassador, is there truth to this statement and how much will it influence the process of EU integration?

Bojan Šarkić: I would address this issue from two angles. Firstly, the process itself won’t be affected as we have our own agenda and during this year we would like to open the last remaining negotiating Chapter 8, Competition, and we could close a few which are ready or entering in the “final stage” of the process.

Also, we are working together with our partners on receiving closing benchmarks for chapters 23 and 24 which are generally crucial for the closing of the negotiations with our EU partners. Politics is present even in this “technical “ part of the negotiations, but there is a positive atmosphere coming both from the Commission and Member states.

EWB: Elections for the European Parliament will take place in May. What are your expectations? Will the outcome significantly change EU’s policy towards the region?

BŠ: Yes, the EU is facing an election period, with the appointment of the new Commission and administration. It will take quite a bit of their political attention away, towards their own issues and problems. But, the EU for sure will have to keep the Western Balkans agenda high in their priorities, not only because of our accession processes but for the sake of European stability, migration issues, interference of the third countries etc.

EWB: In one interview you said that Montenegro needs to be “more present” in Brussels. What’s the image of Montenegro today in the European Union and among the member states? Is there room for improvement?

BŠ: Yes, indeed, Montenegro has to be more present in  Europe. Despite today’s technological possibilities, still, I would say that the average person in the EU  does not know very much about Montenegro. This is extremely important as politicians from Europe will have to take care, more and more, about the mood of their citizens concerning enlargement and acceptance of new Countries. That is already the case in countries like Holland, Belgium, France.

Montenegro has an advantage as in these last few years literally millions of Europeans are visiting our country and seeing how we are doing, what we can offer, how big (or small) we are, can we affect other labor markets, how European we are and what a beautiful part of Europe Montenegro is.

Montenegro is changing with every month of the accession process. Our legislation is being constantly adjusted in line with European law. Indeed, the process is huge.

But I was surprised that a lot of people do not know, for example, that we are using the Euro as a national currency, that the taxation is more preferable than in the EU and many other things, not to mention sport or culture. Today, Montenegro is a safer place to live, being a member of NATO. We definitely have to direct our activities towards European capitals and cities in the years to come, presenting all these things, while at the same time improving our own infrastructure, society, environment, the way of thinking.

EWB: Today, many consider Montenegro to be a regional leader in European integration, and many believe that it will be the first state from Western Balkans to join the EU. However, there is an alternative opinion according to which Montenegro will have to wait for Serbia to join together. How do you comment on this possibility?

BŠ: Montenegro opened 32 of 33 negotiating chapters, three are temporarily closed. So, yes we are far ahead of our close neighbor Serbia. What is also quite important is that we do not have any disputes or issues with our neighbors, which is and will be the important request from the EU, i.e. to join without any territorial issues with your neighbors. So, that also makes our lives easier in the sense of the European perspective.

On the other hand, we all live in the Balkans and every single tremor affects everybody – or can affect everybody. That’s why it is important that the issues between Greece and now Northern Macedonia are resolved for good. We are all looking towards Serbia and Kosovo to resolve their issues, and towards Bosnia to stabilize that beautiful country and people.

The sooner the better for everybody. This is why Montenegro is working on its own agenda being aware that Europe is very much supporting the so-called Regatta principles.

EWB: A little-known fact to the wider public is that EU candidate countries cooperate with each other in the process of European integration. For example, the negotiating teams of Montenegro and Serbia have very close cooperation. Is this also the case with the missions to the European Union? How do you assess your relation and cooperation?

BŠ: Of course, I am seeing my colleagues from Western Balkan countries nearly on an everyday basis. We are exchanging information and very often have common positions towards EU member states. We have had regular monthly meetings, inviting Commission functionaries or other Ambassadors to discuss all important questions.

One of our latest meeting was hosted by myself where the main guest was Commissioner Hahn, and he was able to hear all different opinions, questions, etc. That is very important and cooperation with all my colleagues is very important to me including with Serbia.

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