EU-Montenegro SA Council meeting: Montenegro needs to step up its reforms in key areas

Montenegro and EU Flags; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Montenegro needs to step up its reforms in chapters 23 and 24, it was concluded during the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Council’s (SA Council) tenth meeting today.

The meeting was chaired by State Secretary Zoran Janković of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, Luminița Odobescu, Permanent Representative of Romania to the European Union, and Genoveva Ruiz Calavera, Director for Western Balkans represented the European Commission.

In the context of the accession negotiations, the SA Council welcomed the opening of two additional chapters since the last meeting. The SA Council encouraged Montenegro to continue its work on meeting all benchmarks and to continue focusing on the fundamentals of the accession process: rule of law, economic governance and public administration reform. It encouraged Montenegro to continue the genuine inclusion of civil society and other stakeholders in preparations for EU accession and in the policy-making process in general.

Concerning the Copenhagen political criteria, the SA Council noted the prolonged boycott of Parliament by parts of the opposition and encouraged all political actors to fully return the political debate to the democratic institutions, notably to Parliament, where it belongs. The SA Council recalled the importance of a comprehensive reform of the electoral framework, and of addressing the findings and recommendations of electoral observation missions. It also underlined the need to continue to provide a credible, independent and effective institutional response to allegations of corruption and illegal political party financing.

The SA Council noted the results already achieved by Montenegro on reforming its legal and institutional framework and establishing an initial track record in most areas under chapters 23 and 24. It stressed that Montenegro’s overall priority in the accession negotiations and the next important step ahead, was the fulfilment of the interim benchmarks set under chapters 23 and 24. It therefore encouraged Montenegro to continue intensifying its efforts, in particular by addressing the remaining shortcomings in certain key areas, such as media freedom, the fight against corruption and trafficking in human beings. It stressed that concrete results in the area of rule of law were now crucial.

Regarding the political criteria, the SA Council noted the preparation of new legislation in the media sector and encouraged Montenegro to continue to ensure a safe climate, conducive to freedom of expression and independence of the media in all respects. It underlined the importance for the authorities to continue showing unwavering respect for freedom of expression and media and called on them to step up efforts to credibly resolve all cases of attacks against journalist and media. With regard to public administration, the SA Council encouraged Montenegro to fully implement the new legal framework laws to ensure merit-based recruitment, depoliticisation across the public service and optimisation of the state administration.

The SA Council commended Montenegro for its continued commitment to regional cooperation and its constructive role in maintaining regional stability and advancing good neighbourly relations. It welcomed the active participation in numerous regional initiatives and the good bilateral relations with other partners from the region and EU Member States. The SA Council welcomed the continuity of meetings in the format of Joint Committees established under the bilateral agreements in accordance with the SAA, and the signing of the remaining bilateral convention on regional cooperation under Article 15 of the SA Agreement with Kosovo.

The SA Council strongly commended Montenegro for its consistent cooperation with the EU on foreign policy issues, in particular its continuous full alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Concerning the economic criteria, the SA Council welcomed the submission by Montenegro of its fifth Economic Reform Programme (ERP) in January 2019. The SA Council invited Montenegro to ensure a close and timely follow-up to the policy guidance provided in the Joint Conclusions of the Economic and Financial Dialogue between the EU and the Western Balkans and Turkey adopted on 17 May 2019. The SA Council noted the increase of public debt In this respect, the SA Council encouraged Montenegro to make further efforts to ensure fiscal sustainability, to control public debt, to improve the business and investment environment, to diversify the economy and to boost the productivity and competitiveness of its economy. It further invited Montenegro to ensure the adherence of any foreign-funded economic activity to EU values, norms and standards, notably in key areas such as rule of law, public procurement, environment, energy, infrastructure and competition.

The SA Council welcomed that Ulcinj Salina has been proclaimed a nature park and encouraged further efforts of Montenegro to protect the Salina and to improve the management of all protected areas and other potential Natura 2000 sites.

1The SA Council examined the state of bilateral relations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). It welcomed Montenegro’s positive track record in implementing its obligations under the SAA, including its trade-related provisions, since its entry into force on 1 May 2010, while encouraging Montenegro to strengthen its efforts to fully comply with the provisions on State aid.