Montenegro as a test for EU enlargement policy

Analysts on the officials' messages that the European Union must be ready for expansion by 2030

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The headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels, Photo: Reuters

Montenegro and other countries that are candidates for EU membership badly need clarity about what and when they can expect from the Union, and any deadline longer than five years for full membership is realistic.

This was assessed by the interlocutors of "Vijesti", commenting on the recent messages of EU officials that the European Union must be ready for expansion by 2030 and that this includes the countries of the Western Balkans.

"Montenegro is the most important test of the credibility of the EU enlargement policy. If the EU is unable to provide support and enable the integration of an economy of 600.000 inhabitants, which has been negotiating membership for 11 years, and which is a NATO member and a reliable partner in the EU's foreign policy, then countries like BiH, Serbia or Ukraine have nothing to hope for. And therefore not everyone who hopes that in the long term the EU could have influence in those countries", the analyst of the Initiative for European Stability (ESI) from Berlin assessed for "Vijesti". Adnan Ćerimagić.

Montenegro became a candidate for membership in December 2010, and negotiations with the EU officially began on June 29, 2012. In 11 years, Montenegro opened all (33) negotiation chapters, and temporarily closed only three - the last one in 2017...

The region must seek all sincere allies in Brussels

Ćerimagić, commenting on the message of the President of the European Council Charles Michel, who said at the recently held Bled forum that the EU and the candidate countries for membership must be ready for the enlargement of the EU by 2030, and that this statement is part of the conversation that has been taking place within the EU since last year, in different ways and with different intensity , water about the future of the Union itself and its expansion.

"I think that it should not be understood as an end or a point to those talks, but as a continuation and one of several options by which those talks can end."

He reminded that the final decisions on enlargement are made unanimously by the member countries.

"For me, the most important aspect of this pale pledge by Michel is not the reference to the year 2030, nor the various other ideas he presented, but the political obligation he took upon himself, as president of the European Council, which brings together EU member states, to this year, talks about the future of EU enlargement have come to an end. I hope that they will succeed in this, because our region, as well as Ukraine and Moldova, need a clearer picture of what and when they can expect from the EU", Ćerimagić pointed out.

Clarity is needed on what can be expected from the EU: Adnan Ćerimagićphoto: Private archive

After Michel's statement, the European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelji he said that the enlargement of the EU until 2030 is feasible, but only if all EU institutions, all member states and all candidate countries - "redouble their efforts".

Ćerimagić said that the statements that came from the European Commission (EC) after Mišel's speech, some of which were interpreted as opposition to his ideas, in fact showed that the EC is aware of its position as an institution that can act on the issue of EU enlargement. only within the mandate given to it by EU member states.

"In this sense, their statements about their willingness to continue leading the enlargement process as before, but also statements that reflect the hope for a clearer and stronger mandate of the member states, are not surprising," Ćerimagić pointed out.

Belgrade lawyer and human rights expert, Milan Antonijevic assessed that Mišel's statement is positive and encouraging and should not provoke cynical comments from Balkan leaders, aimed above all at the domestic public, whether in Tirana, Belgrade or some other center.

"The preparation" of our countries, which were once united, but today are quite disunited, is not something that anyone from the outside has to force us to do, but we must see it as our common interest and an indicator of maturity," said Antonijević.

He said that the clear message from Brussels, from 2003 and Thessaloniki, to the last message from the Bled Forum, is that it wants mature countries in its composition, without its own, from the EU's point of view, "cheap tricks", deception and self-deception, weak institutions and bad attitude towards to its citizens. He states that, for the same reason, official Brussels today looks negatively at Hungary and its "cheap tricks", "deceiving, first of all, its own people and populist self-deception".

He pointed out that the statements of support of the outgoing commissioner for the expansion of Varhelji "in the year 2030" are positive, he believes and sincere, and that the region must seek all sincere allies in Brussels and in all the capitals of this largest successful peace project on European soil.

Coordinator of the Ministry of European Affairs, Minister Ana Novaković Đurović was, commenting on various statements of EU officials, previously told "Vijesti" that the enlargement policy has been in crisis for years and there is a lack of consensus in the EU itself regarding further courses of action.

Novaković Đurovićphoto: Boris Pejović

"True, it has recently been revived, primarily because of Ukraine. Messages that the Western Balkans are part of the EU are no longer enough. I believe that the EU must come out with a clear vision in which time frame it is ready for enlargement. The answer to this question will be the financial framework of 2027, that is, the budget. If the EU really decides to admit new members, the enlargement item will be included in the budget. Until then, Montenegro has time and opportunities to implement the requested reforms. I believe that they will succeed in this, and that all political subjects must be aware of this possibility that is before us", she said.

Much needed clarity

Answering the question of whether 2030 is a realistic deadline and whether it should be an additional stimulus for the countries of the region, Ćerimagić pointed out that the region, as well as Ukraine and Moldova, desperately needs clarity on what and when they can expect from the EU.

"It is, in the end, the basic ingredient for the successful functioning of the EU enlargement policy. As was the case with the countries that joined the EU from 2004 to 2013, when, for example, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia, with a clear goal and time frame, regardless of significant internal challenges, negotiations on EU membership and the reforms completed within 34 months."

He pointed out that the region is witnessing, from 2015 at the latest, what happens when that ingredient is no longer available.

He said that the EU's ability to influence political and other processes is weakening or completely disappearing, and socio-economic differences are increasing, "of course, to the detriment of the region". Such a situation, as he said, is a suitable ground for various authoritarian tendencies, which are not so rarely attached to malignant third actors, as well as ideas from the 1980s about border changes, ethnically clean environments, and the need to correct age-old injustices.

"This has brought us all to a situation where the renewal of conflict, of greater or lesser intensity, is no longer unthinkable in our region today. But even in the situation when the countries of the region break free from the jaws of authoritarian and backward policies, and hold elections for reform governments, as was the case with North Macedonia in 2017, the EU is unable to significantly help them. What's more, it seems that he repays them more often", said Ćerimagić.

photo: Shutterstock

Milan Antonijević emphasizes that any term longer than five years is realistic.

"Just as you can collapse the rule of law in five years, you can also build it if you direct all parts of the country in the same direction. This is a feat for each of the countries of the Western Balkans, a great challenge, but also a national interest. "Everyone who is collapsing European integration in Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo or Bosnia and Herzegovina is working against the interests of their country, and of course also against the interests of their people," said Antonijević.

The new government will need a significant goal

Answering the question where is Montenegro in all of this, which has been waiting for years at the door of the EU, Ćerimagić emphasized that Montenegro is the most important test of the credibility of the EU's enlargement policy, and that he is convinced that to pass that test it will not be enough for the EU to promise 2030 as the year when Montenegro and the EU could be ready for enlargement. He pointed out that the new government of Montenegro, as well as the influence of the EU in the country, will need a significant goal, the achievement of which can come much earlier and which will depend entirely on the readiness to implement difficult and important reforms:

"In this sense, my think tank's proposal for decision-makers in the EU is to offer support to the new Government of Montenegro to complete negotiations on EU membership by the end of the mandate and implement all necessary reforms. If the EU implements its internal reforms by then and is ready for enlargement, Montenegro would become the 28th member of the EU and take the place of the 100 times larger United Kingdom. If the EU is not ready, and until that happens, Montenegro would be guaranteed full membership in the EU single market, and enjoyment of all four freedoms of movement of the EU".

Milan Antonijević states that "whoever waits in front of the door is wasting his time".

"Waiting is the wrong word for European integration, as well as for all reforms. The period when the EU does not have a focus on the Western Balkans, and we have contributed to that in the past decades with our actions, should be used precisely for accelerated reforms, and not for whining that no one loves us while we wait for someone else to encourage us", he pointed out.

The EU is (not) ready for enlargement

Ćerimagić, answering the question of whether the EU is ready for enlargement, said that the Union is not ready for it at the moment, but that there are more and more voices in the EU who claim that they want to do everything necessary to become ready for enlargement.

"It is encouraging, but there should be no illusions, because there are many obstacles between the current reality and the realization of those wishes, from various national and European Parliament elections next summer to countless political, economic and other factors. That is why it would be important and good if by the end of this year our region, Ukraine and Moldova receive a concrete and clear goal, which is significant and which will depend solely on the will of our governments to implement reforms", said Ćerimagić.

Milan Antonijević said that it is sobering for the countries of the region to see "how small we are, both in terms of population and economic strength".

"There lies part of the answer to your question, the EU is always ready. We should not ignore that we are adding a lot of EU history and rounding off the unification, so that is a small wind at our backs," said Antonijević.

Whoever waits in front of the door is wasting time: Milan Antonijevicphoto: BETAPHOTO

He assessed that Europe can once again show its solidarity, which it expressed towards the former Eastern bloc in the early XNUMXs:

"That's how I would formulate messages to all European countries, but in the suitcase when presenting our region, there must be a lot of data on acceptance of values ​​and strong institutions".

Antonijević said that all processes of EU integration should be placed in the context of the war and Russia's aggression against Ukraine, and this additionally brings the readiness of the EU to respond to major crises in this part of the world.

Montenegro and Serbia have a starting advantage, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia have additional challenges

Speaking about the position of other countries in the region that want to join the EU - Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia, Ćerimagić states that currently all the countries in the region, together with Ukraine and Moldova, resemble passengers on a bus that has no wheels, and that neither moves nor has a destination. , but in which passengers fight over who will sit in which row.

"For now, among travelers, Montenegro is the closest to the door, but it is still far away, and even if it is closer, there is nowhere to get out. Because of those passengers who are behind her, as well as herself, the EU's decision regarding the future of EU membership negotiations with Montenegro is the most important test of the EU's credibility in the region."

He states that the realization that, for example, citizens and the economy of Montenegro could enjoy all the benefits of membership in the EU for the longest four years, as a full member of the EU or its single market, with or without the EU's readiness for enlargement, but with good will and hard work on the reforms of Podgorica, had a huge and positive impact on the situation in other countries of the region.

Milan Antonijević emphasizes that many details and clarifications must be obtained from the official Brussels.

"It is clear that Montenegro and Serbia have a starting advantage, and we must be aware that BIH and North Macedonia have their own additional challenges, both internally and in terms of self-sufficient politicians, and in neighbors who have their own interests that conflict with the entry of those countries into the EU ".

He said that the support given by the countries of the Western Balkans to their neighbors to speed up reforms will also be looked upon favorably.

"I hope that we will see this solidarity in every message of our governments".