BRUSSELS – EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said yesterday that the first official visit of the future Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić will probably be to Brussels, which will be a positive signal for all EU members.
Answering the questions of the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, he said that the new government in Podgorica has not changed its attitude regarding the international priorities of Montenegro, primarily the EU and NATO.
“I spoke with Krivokapić during my visit to Podgorica and he assured me of my commitment to the European path and NATO and there are no changes in his opinion regarding these obligations of the state”, Enlargement Commissioner said.
He stated that the first task of the new government, which should be elected on December 2, will be to deepen and accelerate reforms within the area of the rule of law, and the second to overcome the socio-economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.
Committee members are worried that minority parties will not participate in the government. However, Várhelyi replied that the EU will monitor the situation because minorities are very important for the stability of the state, but also that the EU can not determine that.
Speaking about freedom of religion, Várhelyi said that all interested parties should sit down and resolve the issue so that it loses its controversial nature.
MEPs also asked about the influence of Russia and China on Montenegro, as well as its relations with Serbia.
“This region is the closest to us and it will be difficult for anyone else to offer something like EU membership,” Várhelyi said, recalling the benefits and assistance that the EU sent to the region during the COVID-19 crisis, but also the overall financial support.
He also said that tensions between Montenegro and Serbia weakened after the elections and he expects them to continue to weaken.
Reforms in Serbia are a condition for new chapters
Speaking about Serbia, Commissioner said that Serbia has a key role to play in the region’s EU integration.
“Not only is the EU Serbia’s most important trade partner, covering around 65% of total trade, with very good dynamics of growth – the EU is also by far the biggest provider of financial assistance to Serbia and also the biggest investor”, he told.
Várhelyi said that he finds it very encouraging that the new Serbian government put the reforms linked to EU accession and the continuation of the EU facilitated dialogue with Kosovo as number one and two priorities, next to fight against the pandemic.
“I have confidence that the new government will move ahead decisively on these priorities and will reinvigorate its accession process with the European Union”, he said.
He said that the reforms will require a genuine dialogue across the political spectrum and expressed the hope that the government will move forward with reforms quickly.
Asked by MEPs what the European Commission intends to do to stop the decline of democracy and the lack of rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of the media, the Commissioner said that the government in Belgrade can now implement judicial reforms and more.
Várhelyi said that the European Commission is satisfied that the Serbian Government has developed a media strategy, so that progress is expected in strengthening freedom of expression and media.
He concluded that the European Commission believes that the new Government and the Parliament of Serbia will make efforts to include all political parties in political life before the next elections in Serbia in two years.