fbpx
European Western Balkans
Politics

Key findings of the 2022 European Commission Report on Montenegro

Flags of Montenegro and EU; Photo: Nikola Ristić

BRUSSELS – European Commission has published the 2022 country reports for the six Western Balkans states and Turkey. Here we present the key findings in the country report on Montenegro.

The fundamentals of the accession process

As regards the political criteria, political tensions, polarisation, the absence of constructive engagement between political parties and the failure to build consensus on key matters of national interest continued and caused two fractious governments to fall on votes of no-confidence. The proper functioning of Montenegrin institutions has been affected by political volatility, government instability and tensions within the ruling majorities, stalling decision-making processes and reform implementation. The main judicial bodies, including the Constitutional Court, have been operating in an incomplete composition due to the Parliament’s inability to elect new members, thus undermining their proper functioning. As of mid-September the Constitutional Court was unable to fulfil its role due to the absence of a quorum, amplifying political uncertainty.

The conclusion of the Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church had an impact on the political atmosphere and raised further tensions. Overall, the governments and the Parliament failed to demonstrate in practice their engagement as regards the EU-related reform agenda.

There was no progress with regard to a comprehensive reform of the electoral legal and institutional framework, including on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) recommendations, following the observation mission of the 2020 parliamentary elections. The Parliamentary Committee for a comprehensive electoral reform was not operational from June until November 2021 and  met only twice in 2022, before its mandate come to an end in July 2022. Local elections took place in five municipalities. In May 2022, the Parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Local Self-Government allowing to hold all remaining 2022 local elections on the same day. In July, the Constitutional Court assessed these amendments as unconstitutional. A credible, independent and effective institutional response to the so called ‘envelope affair’ remains to be ensured.

The work of the Parliament has been marked by boycotts of the ruling majority and of the opposition, changes of governments and by the change of two consecutive Speakers in the process. The legislation-making process was significantly affected. There was no credible political dialogue and constructive engagement by political parties with a view to enhancing parliamentary accountability and government oversight. Government and Parliament cooperation should be further regulated to enhance Parliament’s participation in and oversight of the accession process.

The Parliament continued to strengthen its transparency, by establishing several citizen-oriented services. The capacity of Parliament to integrate and oversight gender equality issues needs to be enhanced.

The role of civil society is recognised and promoted, although the current legal and institutional framework needs to be further improved to strengthen the consultation and cooperation mechanisms between state institutions and civil society in the context of the EU accession process.

Montenegro is moderately prepared as regards public administration reform. Overall, limited progress was made, including the adoption of the new 2022‑2026 strategy for public administration reform. Conversely, the effects of the reorganisation of the public administration and the amendments to the Law on civil servants and state employees adopted in 2021 continued to be felt, with staff changes, a loss of know‑how on EU accession process-related matters and an overall slowing of the pace of reforms. The lowered requirements introduced by these amendments are a source of continuing concern with regard to the merit-based recruitment, competence and independence of civil servants. Furthermore, draft amendments of the Law on local self-government would similarly lower such requirements at the local level. Amendments to the Law on access to information have yet to be adopted by Parliament. Effective lines of accountability within the administration are still to be established. Strong political will is needed to effectively address issues related to merit-based recruitments, optimisation of the state administration and implementation of managerial accountability.

Montenegro remains moderately prepared when it comes to its judicial system. Limited progress was achieved overall during the reporting period. The implementation of key judicial reforms remains stalled. Certain long-pending high-level judicial appointments took place, while several others, including at the Constitutional Court (for which a qualified majority in Parliament is required) are still pending. Concerns remain over the institutional performance and consolidation of independent Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils. The track record on judicial accountability remains limited. The judiciary’s effective independence, integrity, accountability and professionalism need to be further strengthened, including by implementing the relevant constitutional and legal framework and by adopting legislative changes in line with European standards. The judiciary’s efficiency also needs to be strengthened. The adoption of a new strategy for the rationalisation of the judicial network is still pending, as is the implementation of the ICT strategy for the judiciary. Montenegro continues to make progress on the domestic handling of war crimes.

Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. Limited progress was achieved during the reporting period, with last year’s recommendations only partially met. The track record on prevention of corruption further improved, in particular due to the positive trend in the work of the Anti-Corruption Agency. However, more needs to be done to ensure the Agency’s integrity, impartiality and accountability, and to improve its tangible results and public trust, in line with the recommendations of the peer review mission conducted in 2021. To demonstrate a credible criminal justice response, Montenegro still must improve its track record of investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in the fight against corruption, including high-level corruption. Furthermore, the legal and insitutional framework must be improved in line with the EU acquis and European standards, including for the effective use of financial investigations and and asset seizure and confiscation in such cases. The sectors most vulnerable to corruption require targeted risk assessments and dedicated action.

In the fight against organised crime, Montenegro has some level of preparation/is moderately prepared. Some progress was made in addressing last year’s recommendations, in particular as regards the efficiency of criminal investigations. The full use of special investigative measures was restored. Legislative changes introduced safeguards against political influence over the appointment or dismissal of the Head of the police. A register of beneficial ownership was created. The administrative framework on firearms was improved and a new strategy on the prevention of terrorism, money laundering and the financing of terrorism was adopted. Some key figures in organised crime groups were arrested and another record of drug seizures was reached. The first joint investigation team with a third country was launched. The number of final convictions in organised crime cases is on the rise. However, the track record of court decisions on tobacco smuggling and money laundering, the use of financial investigations and the capacity to confiscate the proceeds of crime needs to be strengthened. Montenegro has yet to address some systemic deficiencies that exist across the board in its criminal justice system, including the way organised crime cases are handled in courts. This will require a more deterrent sentencing policy and a revision of the use of plea bargains in organised and serious crime cases.

Montenegro is moderately prepared in the area of fundamental rights. The legislative and institutional framework is largely in place and Montenegro continues to meet its international obligations on human rights. However, additional efforts remain needed to implement it fully. On freedom of expression, Montenegro benefits from a pluralistic media environment and has achieved some level of preparation. Limited progress was made on last year’s recommendations. The legal framework on the protection of journalists and other media workers was improved thanks to the adoption of amendments to the Criminal Code laying down more stringent penalties against attacks and threats against journalists and obstructing or preventing them from performing their work. However, the lack of effective judicial follow-up on important old cases remains a matter of serious concern. The revision of the legal framework and the drafting of a new media strategy remain pending, in order to ensure their mutual consistency and full alignment with the EU acquis and relevant European standards. Sustained efforts are needed to counter disinformation and limit the effects of online harassment and hate speech, without disproportionately limiting freedom of expression. The public broadcaster RTCG continued to produce politically balanced and diverse content. Deep political polarisation of the media scene persisted, while growing competition from big regional media placed additional strain on the local media market.

On the economic criteria, Montenegro has made good progress and is moderately prepared in developing a functioning market economy. After experiencing a sharp recession in 2020, the economy recorded a strong rebound in 2021 and kept growing at a steady pace in the first half of 2022 as the removal of COVID-19 restrictions buoyed both domestic and external demand. The recovery led to surging revenues and a very large improvement in the budget balance. The fallout from Russia’s war against Ukraine has been limited so far, despite these two countries’ very significant contribution to Montenegro’s tourism in the past. Driven by surging global commodity prices, inflation increased significantly. The government adopted an ambitious fiscal reform programme (called ‘Europe Now’) to support the post-pandemic recovery and provided fiscal stimulus measures easing the burden on households from rising energy and food prices. External imbalances decreased significantly thanks to the rebound of tourism, while the state of the labour market started to improve, even if structural problems persist. The banking system remained stable and non‑performing loans did not increase significantly in 2022 after the expiry in 2021 of the loan moratorium adopted in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

Montenegro has made some progress and is moderately prepared to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. The last two governments worked to improve innovation capacities and to set the basis for a green and digital transition in an effort to diversify Montenegro’s narrow production. In particular, modern telecommunications and ambitious green energy projects are being deployed. However, infrastructure gaps persist, as the country’s administrative and financial capacities to implement major public investments remains limited. The education system still faces numerous challenges over a chronic shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates. In addition, the low value added of domestic products, the small size of local companies and low level of participation in exports represent obstacles for increasing the productivity and competitiveness of local firms.

On good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation, Montenegro generally maintains good bilateral relations with other enlargement countries in the region and with neighbouring EU Member States, marked by continued cooperation and several high-level visits. Relations with Serbia remain challenging but both sides are signalling more willingness to reset relations and work toward adressing open issues. In general, Montenegro actively participates in regional cooperation.

On Montenegro’s ability to assume the obligations of EU membership, the country continued the work on alignment with the EU acquis in many areas, however overall the progress made was limited.

The cluster on the internal market is key for Montenegro’s preparations for the EU’s requirements in this area and is of high relevance for early integration and the development of the Common Regional Market. All nine chapters are open, with closing benchmarks that remain to be fulfilled in each chapter. Progress was achieved in several areas within the cluster, particularly on: (i) market surveillance, accreditation and standardisation; (ii) stepping up the Employment Agency’s capacity on the European network of employment services; (iii) continued alignment with the Services Directive; (iv) legislation on accounting; (v) acquis alignment on intellectual property rights and (vi) State aid transparency and ordering recovery of unlawful State aid. The stability of Montenegro’s banking sector also advanced, as did legislative alignment on consumer protection and the adoption of implementing legislation on health protection.

The competitiveness and inclusive growth cluster and the reforms concerned have significant links to Montenegro’s economic reform programme. All eight chapters are open, with closing benchmarks set in all but two, namely Chapters 25 (science and research) and 26 (education and culture) both of which are provisionally closed. Closing benchmarks remain to be fulfilled in each of the other six chapters. Some progress was achieved in various areas, namely on the alignment with the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive, on tax legislation and on administrative cooperation and mutual assistance. There was also progress on further implementation of the revised industrial policy. By contrast, there was slow progress on preparations for accession to the Convention on a Common Transit Procedure, on implementing actions envisaged in the 2018-2022 trade facilitation strategy, and on implementing the action plan for alignment with the EU acquis on economic and monetary policies.

The green agenda and sustainable connectivity cluster is at the heart of the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans and closely linked to Montenegro’s economic reform programme and the Commission’s Economic and Investment Plan. All four chapters are open, with closing benchmarks that remain to be fulfilled in each chapter. Some progress was achieved on creating a functioning day-ahead energy market and on preparing for membership of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control. There was limited progress on the review and implementation of the transport development strategy; on water management and by improved climate change reporting.

The cluster on resources, agriculture and cohesion comprises policies linked to EU structural funds and to developing capacity to assume the responsibilities of a future Member State. It also comprises some of the key policy areas crucial for ensuring sustainable food systems and helping rural communities to develop and diversify economically. All five chapters are open, with closing benchmarks that remain to be fulfilled in each chapter. Progress was achieved in various areas, notably in agriculture, food and fisheries, where there was further support for agricultural establishments and rural food companies to align with the EU standards, and in implementing IPARD. On financial and budgetary provisions, progress was achieved through improved coordination and management of own resources.

On the external relations cluster, Montenegro has provisionally closed Chapter 30 and has to fulfil the single closing benchmark on Chapter 31. Montenegro continues full alignment with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, including with the EU’s restrictive measures following Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. It also coordinates its positions with those of the EU, including within the WTO and maintains good cooperation with international organisations. Progress can be noted on the adoption of the Law on export control of dual-use goods, in line with the EU acquis, and the ratification of Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) Additional Protocol 6. Montenegro’s voting patterns on cybercrime at the United Nations are fully convergent with the position taken by the EU and its Member States.In the area of migration, Montenegro signed a cooperation roadmap with the European Asylum Support Office (now the EU Agency for Asylum) and joined the European Migration Network, an EU network of migration and asylum experts, as an observer member. The processing time for asylum applications was reduced. Montenegro’s visa policy is not fully aligned with that of the EU and Montenegro has not yet terminated its investor citizenship programme, despite previous recommendations and commitments. Montenegro is the Western Balkan partner hosting propotionally the highest number of Ukrainian nationals having fled the war,. It adopted a decision granting one-year temporary protection to people fleeing Ukraine, under which more than 5 552 Ukrainians, mostly women and children, have registered so far.

Related posts

COVID-19 in the WB: Measures loosened across the region, still tighter than in the EU

Sofija Popović

Politico: If the enlargement talks get the green light, it may not be for both countries

EWB

Vučić at GLOBSEC: Serbs have nothing against Ukrainians, but they remember 1999

EWB