European Western Balkans

Tensions in the Montenegrin parliamentary majority over prosecutorial laws

Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapić at a parliamentary session in Podgorica. Photo: Parliament of Montenegro

PODGORICA – The new parliamentary majority in Montenegro, which won in the elections at the end of August 2020, announced on February 3 that it would repeal the existing Law on the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office and pass a new one, but the postponement of the extraordinary session of the Parliament of Montenegro during which the change of the systemic prosecutorial laws was supposed to be discussed, came after several warnings from the EU.

The EU has expressed reservations about the intention of the new parliamentary majority to adopt the law on the prosecutor’s office for organized crime and corruption, and thus annul the current Law on the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office from 2015, which is harmonized with European standards.

The initiators of the extraordinary session, part od the MPs from Democratic Montenegro, URA, Socialist People’s Party, Demos, True Montenegro and Civis, stated that the goal of the new law is to implement shifts in the prosecutor’s office because they believe that the fight against crime and corruption is not possible with the existing prosecutors.

Adoption of this law would abolish the Special State Prosecutor’s Office and form a new Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime.

In this way, the mandate of the Chief Special Prosecutor of Montenegro Milivoje Katnić – chief prosecutor in the “Coup d’etat” case in which two leaders of the Democratic Front were sentenced to five years in prison each – and other special prosecutors who would take the status of “unassigned prosecutors”. The parliamentary majority led by the Democratic Front has insisted on Katnić’s removal since gaining power.

EU Delegation to Montenegro: Montenegro needs to advance and not reverse the implementation of the judicial reform

The Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro Oana Cristina Popa met with Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić and Minister of Justice in the Government of Montenegro Vladimir Leposavić on May 5 and reiterated that Montenegro needs to make further progress on rule of law reforms, including to advance and not reverse the implementation of the judicial reform.

“Montenegro already has the bodies and mechanisms to ensure judicial and prosecutorial independence and accountability. We encourage to make consistent use of these mechanisms and build on the work done to further develop results in the fight against corruption and organised crime”, Popa highlighted on her Twitter account.

The EU has already pointed out that the existing laws on the prosecution, which have been harmonized with the Venice Commission, should not be repealed, but their application should be improved.

On the same day, the Prosecutorial Council, the Association of State Prosecutors of Montenegro and the Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office issued a joint statement saying that if the changes to the law were adopted in the way the government planned, the constitutional order would be jeopardized. In other words, the constitutional principle of unity and autonomy of the State Prosecutor’s Office and independence in the work of state prosecutors would be endangered, which would open space for inadmissible political influence.

As the reason for giving up on holding on the extraordinary session, the initiators cited the Government’s request to postpone the consideration of the proposed laws for a short period “so that the Government would be able to hold the necessary consultations with European partners in accordance with the Stabilization and Association Agreement between Montenegro and the EU,” explained Prime Minister Krivokapić. On February 16, he warned the parliamentary majority that passing prosecutorial laws would mean that Montenegro “crossed the red line” in negotiations with the EU.

Krivokapić pointed out that it is a fact that the majority of Montenegrin citizens think that the Prosecutor’s Office is inefficient, but also added that Montenegro is obliged to respect the international agreements it signed and to consult with partners when passing systemic laws concerning the rule of law.

Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapić; Photo: Government of Montenegro / Flickr

“We need to have a broader discussion, to include experts from the European Commission and respect the opinion of the Venice Commission. On February 5 we received the laws from the Assembly, as the proposer of the law, on which we gave our opinion. We did not have enough time or opportunity to inform all our partners in the right way about the needs and the way of passing these laws”, Krivokapić explained.

The Montenegrin National Council for the Fight against High-Level Corruption also recommended that the Government, in direct communication with the Venice Commission and the European Commission, consider models for reforming the Prosecutor’s Office, the Prosecutorial Council and the Special State Prosecutor’s Office, according to a statement from the Government of Montenegro on February 18, FoNet reports.

“Such changes must follow quickly, if we want the fight against corruption to make any sense,” the Council said, adding that they fully support decisive prosecutorial reforms, including personnel changes in management positions.

Threats of blockades

The Democratic Front threatened to block the government’s proposals because part of the initiators of the session, members of the ruling majority, withdrew their demands.

“We will not vote on any bill, nor the budget, until the laws on the prosecution are passed,” said one of the leaders of the Democratic Front, Milan Knežević. The Democratic Front also said that straining relations with Brussels is less of a problem than shifts at the top of the prosecution.

The Democratic Front, together with the Democrats and the URA, has a majority in parliament – 41 out of 81 deputies, and is the main initiator of the change in prosecutorial laws.

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