Dear governments in Albania and North Macedonia, congratulations! You have finally received the long awaited acknowledgment of your work. Or have you? Apart from its symbolic importance, the start of the EU membership talks does not mean that you have taken a major reform step. It just means that you are entering an even more challenging stage of the democratization process. Montenegro has been negotiating with the European Union for almost eight years. On this path we have become neither better nor smarter. The Government has perfected the copy-paste law exercise, but the rest remained the same as in 2012.

That’s why I can tell you: Harmonization of legislation is not at the heart of the negotiations. Regardless of the amount of laws and strategic documents that you modify and the quality of the solutions adopted, If you don’t show that you are willing to truly implement these solutions you will always be ”moderately prepared” with ”some level of preparation” for the EU membership.

The rule of law is not just a set of improved rules. It can only be achieved if you apply the law equally to all. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you can be trusted or not.

You should not wait to prosecute the high-level corruption cases and to put the organized crime out of business. Demonstrate that you are ready to constantly fight and eliminate it and then you will achieve the required track record.

Demanding reforms should not be delayed. Set priorities, have high goals, impress your citizens, provide them tangible benefits, fight for them.

Public administration is not a home for careless party members. The sooner you modernize, optimize and make it responsible, the better your results will be.

Don’t hide anything. Lack of transparency is a red flag that something is going against the law.

Welcome investors with open arms, but with strict rules. Any shortcoming of the rule of law means poor negotiating capacity and less chance of business being for the benefit of all.

Free media are an important indicator of the level of democratic development. Do not provide fertile grounds for unfair competition, provide journalists with the necessary means to work. Let them breathe and write freely!

The European Union is currently treating the Western Balkans as an unwanted child. Let us convince it that we are part of a large European family. Surely, civil society will help but you will not be able to do so by persistently faking reforms.

This article is written in the framework of the EU-funded project “Applying Sector Approach to Civil Society Contribution in EU Integration of Albania” implemented by Cooperation and Development Institute in partnership with Centre for Contemporary Politics and Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are not reflecting those of the supporting institutions.