European integration process of Montenegro
Delivered in Plenary - 8th March 2011
I visited Montenegro twice during the past eighteen months, with my colleague Anna Ibrisagic from the PPE as shadow rapporteur, to form my own assessment of the country’s progress towards, first, candidate status and, now, the prospect of EU membership.
I have been extremely impressed by the diligence and commitment of the entire Montenegrin Government. No matter how small it may be, it is certainly one that works extremely hard. I would pay very special tribute to the former prime minister, Milo Đjukanović, and his recent successor, Igor Lukšić, who have both been pragmatic and, at the same time, single-minded in their approach and in their quest to lead their country towards EU accession and NATO accession.
The onus is now on Montenegro to meet the EU’s expectations. In particular, the Montenegrin Government needs to address the seven key priorities identified by Commissioner Füle in the Commission’s opinion. I particularly emphasise the issue of corruption and organised crime, on which there are clear and well-defined benchmarks for measuring progress.
I am pleased that last month the government adopted a very well formulated action plan aimed at responding to these priorities and demands. In my view, Montenegro is now ready to start negotiating EU membership as an official candidate, and it is curious that the Commission should be insisting on a significant time-lapse between the granting of official candidate status and the opening of negotiations. This delay has no real justification or apparent basis, according to my reading of the Treaties. More importantly, it is hardly the most positive signal to send to Podgorica, or indeed to countries elsewhere in the region, such as Macedonia, working hard to obtain candidate status.
I only hope that this enforced wait, which now is inevitable and is frustrating to Montenegro, will not result in a weakening of the country’s commitment to an engagement with the European Union.
Montenegro should be judged solely on merit, facts and achievements. Its case should not be tied to the progress in other neighbouring states in the western Balkans. Montenegro is a small country but a beautiful country, which has enjoyed remarkable stability and economic growth since its peaceful divorce from Serbia. It has few, if any, internal ethnic or religious problems, unlike some of its larger neighbours. It has a minor border dispute with Croatia, which it will resolve peacefully before the International Court of Justice. It has recently negotiated and ratified extradition treaties with both Serbia and Croatia in the fight against organised crime.
It is euro-based: it has the euro without being in the eurozone, believe it or not. Its economy remains undiversified – sadly – relying mainly on tourism and one aluminium smelter. It needs to create more jobs in hydroelectric power for export, and financial services may well be another solution.
Personally, I remain optimistic for what is essentially a very good news story in the western Balkans.