Enlargement methodology and Law on Religious Freedom in focus of Várhelyi’s visit to Montenegro

Oliver Varhelyi and Duško Marković; Photo: Twitter / OliverVarhelyi

PODGORICA – The proposal for a new enlargement methodology and the Law on Freedom of Religion were among the main topics of the visit of European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi who visited Montenegro today. Várhelyi met with President Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister Duško Marković, Metropolitan the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro Amfilohije and representatives of opposition political parties.

European reform and proposal for a new methodology

Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković, said that although the new EC enlargement methodology does not apply to Montenegro, it could be considered, the Montenegrin Information Agency (MINA) reported.

“This is compatible with our commitment to putting the quality of reforms at the forefront”, Marković said.

Várhelyi stressed that reforms, especially in the rule of law and media freedoms, should be stepped up.

The European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement once again reiterated that his goal is to have at least one Western Balkan country join the EU by the end of his term. Várhelyi also indicated that Montenegro is the frontrunner.

He also said that he expects Chapter 8 – Competition to be opened this year, the last of 33 chapters in Montenegro’s EU negotiations.

Marković also informed Várhelyi of a letter to Metropolitan of Montenegrin-coastal Amfilohije and said that “the capacity to solve problems through dialogue was demonstrated in this way”, Beta reports.

Read also: Montenegrin Law on Religious Freedom: Polarization that benefits the government(s)?

An invitation to dialogue on freedom of religion

Várhelyi called on everyone in Montenegro to dialogue on the Law on Freedom of Religion and to find a solution that would be acceptable to everyone, MINA said.

The main controversy surrounding the Law, which was adopted in December and has since caused large protests across the country, is the provision giving the Government authority to nationalise some properties of religious communities, the biggest of which is SOC.

Várhelyi also met with Metropolitan of Serbian Orthidox Church in Montenegro Amfilohije today, emphasising that the only message of the EU is that “the world is watching the events in Montenegro”.

“It’s not up to the Commission to talk about it, it’s up to every country to figure out their own way. The world is watching you. This is an important question. We are interested in dialogue and finding a solution that would be acceptable to everyone. If we can help you, but I don’t think we can, we are here but it would be a priority to find a solution”, Várhelyi said.

“The conversation ended with a mutual hope that co-operation would be continued and a solution reached, because the current situation, as concluded, is damaging Montenegro’s image in Europe, as well as the image of its democracy”, the Church stated in a press release.

Asked by the Beta agency about the credibility of media allegations leaked to the Montenegrin media today, about Montenegro’s readiness to delay the implementation of the Law on Freedom of Religion, the Montenegrin Government replied that “Prime Minister Marković said everything he had on the topic at a press conference with Commissioner Várhelyi . ”

At the aforementioned press conference, Marković pointed out that the law was enacted in accordance with the sovereign right of Montenegro to regulate this area in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, which, he emphasized, were incorporated into the text of the Law.

“The common interest of EU integration goes beyond other interests and ambitions,” noted Marković, who did not mention delaying implementation of the law.

President’s Cabinet: Montenegro could be ready for membership by 2024.

Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović said Várhelyi’s visit was a sign of encouragement that the enlargement process would get the desired momentum and the Western Balkans a European perspective, President Đukanović’s office said. The statement also mentioned that Várhelyi marked Montenegro as the frontrunner in the EU integration process in the Western Balkans and a potential country that could be ready for membership by 2024″, Várhelyi  said.

Message to the opposition: Take part in the elections

As part of his visit to Montenegro, Marković also met with representatives of opposition parties today, emphasizing the importance of political pluralism for the success of implementing European reforms.

Varheli stressed Montenegro could be successful if everyone worked on it, Podgorica News reported.

“I appeal to the opposition to participate in the elections, to establish a national minimum, to make sure that no matter who is in the majority, reforms are implemented”, Várhelyi wrote on Twitter.

According to MINA, the EU-Western Balkans Summit, which is being held in Zagreb this May, should be an impetus for enlargement policy, Várhelyi concluded.