Montenegro will be the first country to begin accession talks under a new system in which the first chapters under discussion are the hardest.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 02/07/12
EU officials Leopold Maurer (left), Stefano Sannino (centre), and Alberto Cammarata at a meeting with Montenegro officials on March 4th. [EU]
Along with the greenlighting of accession talks for Montenegro on Friday (June 29th), EU officials also issued the small country a big warning. Montenegro will need to make a great effort, especially in the fight against crime and corruption, to complete the negotiations successfully.
European ministers, meeting in Luxembourg earlier in the week, required that the Union launch early talks on sensitive issues -- rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and fundamental rights -- "to allow maximum time to establish the necessary legislation, institutions and solid track records of implementation."
"Starting with the hardest chapters reveals all the EU's reservations about the Balkan countries' preparedness to join the [Union]," Rosa Balfour, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, wrote in a report published on June 26th.
The European Commission said Montenegro will be the first candidate country to begin accession negotiations by the new system. Chapters 23 and 24 -- regarding the judiciary system and human rights and the fight against corruption --will be opened first, and progress in these areas will be monitored until the closing of negotiations.
"Montenegro must realise that the fight against corruption is of its greatest interest, and that the results can be made only with professional and qualified institutions. There will be a need for strong political will that is currently insufficient," Daliborka Uljarević, director of the Centre for Civic Education, one of the NGOs dealing with European integration and civil rights, told SETimes.
Last month, the BBC and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project uncovered numerous irregularities and high corruption cases in Montenegro's Prva Banka (First Bank), former Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic's family-run business.
Allegedly, the biggest loans from Prva Bank were made to groups and individuals linked to Djukanovic, the president of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, who were in power for 22 years. They included companies connected to Stanko Subotic, who was indicted by the Italian anti-mafia unit, and Darko Saric, a convicted drug smuggler now on the run.
Dritan Abazovic, a member of the NGO Forum 2010, says that Montenegro's accession process will be neither quick nor easy, and it will depend on the political will for reforms.
"Opening of negotiations is more [about] the EU's goodwill than the merits of the government in Montenegro. What is certain is that Montenegro will first try on its skin what it means to open negotiations with the most difficult Chapters 23 and 24," Abazovic told SETimes.
Miodrag Vukovic, president of the parliamentary Committee for European Integration said, however, that the launch of the talks is a victory for Montenegrins.
"A lot has been done, but the real work is yet to come. I expect we will finish the negotiations in five years," Vukovic told SETimes.
Podgorica resident Stevan Vukcevic, 28, said that this is a real opportunity for Montenegro to finally end its "partnership with crime," which, he added, is in all the pores of the country's institutions.
"Organised crime is closely linked with the state leadership ... However, nobody was doing anything about it. Europe will not allow that some criminals become its members. Therefore, I think that with the start of negotiations will also begin the extensive clearing of the crime for which Montenegro, unfortunately, has become [known]," Vukcevic told SETimes.
Zlatko Radovic, 29, an engineer from Podgoria, said that this is definitely good news.
"The accession can only bring additional benefits for the citizens such as cash funds, quality of life, and a more orderly society," Radovic told SETimes.