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Montenegro has met the interim benchmarks in the rule of law and can start closing chapters, EU confirms

PM Milojko Spajić, Minister Hadja Lahbib and Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – The European Union has adopted common positions regarding Chapters 23 and 24 in negotiations with Montenegro, confirming that the country has met the interim benchmarks in the area of the rule of law. At today’s EU-Montenegro intergovernmental conference, closing benchmarks for this area were adopted. Based on the current enlargement methodology, this step also means that Montenegro can now start closing other negotiating chapters.

Montenegro has become the first EU candidate country to receive a positive Interim Benchmark Assessment Report (IBAR). This step follows the recent green light from the EU Ambassadors, indicating Montenegro’s substantial progress in the chapters of judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom, and security.

The European Union delegation at today’s 16th EU-Montenegro accession conference was led by Minister Hadja Lahbib on behalf of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, with the participation of Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi. The Montenegrin delegation was led by Prime Minister Milojko Spajić.

“Congratulations to Montenegro! You have met the interim benchmarks in the Rule of Law area. We can now start closing chapters. Enlargement process works! Our commitment to Montenegro’s strategic goal of EU membership is unwavering”, Commissioner Várhelyi wrote on X.

At the press conference, Várhelyi said that the EU and Montenegro were opening the final phase of accession negotiations.

“We are witnessing Montenegro moving forward towards the EU membership…We should now start closing the chapters… I think that by the end of the year will see many chapters closed”, he underlined.

Spajić: We are breaking the ice for other Western Balkan countries

Prime Minister Milojko Spajić stressed at the press conference: “We have regained the trust we lost before… Thank you, Europe… Winds of Euro-optimism are blowing in the Western Balkans”.

He reminded, in his statement for RTCG, that it took country 11 years to get here.

“After initial enthusiasm, a long period of stagnation began. Thankfully, over the last few months, we have been able to speed up all the processes. We’ve done amazing things comparable to the previous seven years in just seven months. We are very proud of these achievements…. It is a historical moment”, Spajić said.

He added that this was a big day for the EU as well, because we are the first country to meet the temporary benchmarks in accordance with the new methodology.

PM Milojko Spajić, Minister Maida Gorčević and Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi arriving at the Intergovernmental Conference; Photo: European Union

“In a way, we are breaking the ice for all other Western Balkan countries and other candidates hoping to reach these temporary levels“, Prime Minister said. 

In February 2020 Montenegro accepted a new methodology of EU accession negotiations, according to which no chapter can be temporarily closed, until an IBAR is obtained.

IBAR is the assessment of how much a candidate country has fulfilled interim benchmarks in chapters 23 and 24, which refer to the judiciary, fundamental rights, justice freedom and security.

Milatović: Montenegro can become a new EU member state by 2028

Earlier today, President of Montenegro Jakov Milatović stated for RTCG: ”We are pleased that today Montenegro will get a positive IBAR and that, in some way, it will mark the entry into a new, hopefully, final phase of European integration. Remember that last year I said that Montenegro could become a full EU member state in 2028. It is an ambitious plan, but I still think it is realistic”.

EU ambassador to Montenegro, Oana Kristina Popa, stressed that IBAR was the first for Montenegro, but it was also the first for the European Commission.

She underlined that IBAR is important because without it, the candidate country, according to the new methodology of accession, cannot go further.

“If you want, think of it as a video game. You cannot go to the next level until you finish the previous level. IBAR is necessary, but not enough. IBAR is not the end. In fact, it is a new beginning, but it opens the way to endless possibilities in order to speed up Montenegro’s EU accession process”, Popa explained.

IBAR gives a picture of what Montenegro has done in areas of importance, such as judicial appointments, implementation of recommendations of the Venice Commission and GRECO, rationalization of the judicial network, prosecution of war crimes before domestic courts, fight against corruption, prosecution of attacks on journalists, media freedom, fight against organized crime, etc.

After receiving a positive assessment of the interim benchmarks, the country obtains the final benchmarks from the European Commission. By fulfilling the final benchmarks and closing the remaining chapters, Montenegro will be able to close chapters 23 and 24, which also mark the end of the negotiations.

In 2008 Montenegro applied for EU membership. In 2010, the European Commission issued a favourable opinion on Montenegro’s application, and the Council granted it candidate status.

In December 2011, the Council launched the accession process with a view to opening negotiations in June 2012. The accession negotiations with Montenegro started on 29 June 2012. After eight years of accession negotiations, all the 33 screened chapters have been opened, of which 3 are provisionally closed.

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