Montenegro accession talks should not be postponed, says EP
EU Observer - 26 Novemer 2010
By Zejko Pantelic
The European Parliament will call on member states to grant Montenegro the status of EU candidate country without delay, in a resolution next Thursday (2 December) which will support the European Commission's recommendations to the council.
The deputies will express regret, however, about the recommendation to separate candidate status from the right to open negotiations, and will stress that the decision to begin talks should not be unreasonably postponed.
"The EP expects the negotiations to start at the latest after the publication of the 2011 commission progress report, provided Montenegro makes good progress in fulfilling the benchmarks set by the commission," says the document, which has been seen by WAZ.EUobserver.
The author of the paper, the parliament's rapporteur for Montenegro Charles Tannock, has put together a remarkably government-friendly opinion. Like the commission, the British conservative politician has completely ignored the deep divisions of Montenegrin society.
Montenegro is split into those who describe themselves as Montenegrins (about 40 percent) and as Serbs (around 30 percent). Political parties are separated into Montenegrin and Serb entities and, as well as the language gap, this divide is visible in newspapers, restaurants and bars.
Mr Tannock does, however, reiterate the importance of the rule of law for the development of the country and for the credibility of state institutions in citizens' eyes. While the draft acknowledges that good progress has been made in adopting anti-corruption legislation, it also claims that the phenomenon is still far too prevalent in the country.
The author calls on Montenegro to take energetic steps to eliminate conflicts of interest in public administration as well as to amend the relevant law for those in public positions. The latter allows members of parliament and other elected representatives to take up roles as members of managing or supervisory bodies.
Despite improvements in legislation, the draft paper finds that organised crime, particularly money laundering and smuggling, remains an issue.
In line with the commission's opinion, the European Parliament is calling for further reforms of public administration, which it describes as overly politicised and suffering from a lack of resources. In particular, Mr Tannock is demanding a review of the law on civil servants and state employees to establish a comprehensive and merit-based employment system, including transparent rules for hiring and career advancement.
The draft resolution is most critical when it comes to media freedom. The paper explicitly requests further steps to ensure the independence and professionalism of the media as well as additional capacity and independence for the public broadcaster.
The paper points to "disproportionate fines for defamation, which continue to hamper the work of journalists" and concludes that legislation needs to be aligned to European standards.
"Alleged cases of intimidation and physical violence against journalists must be fully investigated and prosecuted where appropriate," the author demands, calling for "high professional standards" and a "professional code of ethics" for journalists.