Give Montenegro a date for membership, the rest an offer

In order to really create and strengthen this regional dynamic, the EU will have to think about a specific tentative date for the full membership of Montenegro, as well as an offer for the rest of the region, which would include something big, regardless of whether the EU will finish its internal reforms. , says ESI analyst from Berlin Adnan Ćerimagić. It is important for the EU to reward the efforts that Montenegro made in the previous period, says analyst from North Macedonia Siniša Pekevski.

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IBAR is an important step on the EU path (illustration), Photo: Shutterstock

The positive and continuous dynamics of the EU path of Montenegro would mean for the region that something in the relationship between the Union and the Western Balkans is finally moving in a positive direction, and many in the member countries, including Berlin, are aware of the importance of Montenegro for the region.

This was assessed for "Vijesti" by an analyst of the Initiative for European Stability (ESI) from Berlin. Adnan Ćerimagić, commenting on whether the region expects that the European Commission (EC) could give Montenegro a positive Report on the Fulfillment of Interim Benchmarks (IBAR) for Chapters 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom and security) in June.

"But, in order to really create and strengthen that regional dynamic, the EU will have to think about a specific tentative date for the full membership of Montenegro, as well as an offer for the rest of the region, which would include something big regardless of whether the EU will end its internal reforms or not", said Ćerimagić.

He assessed that one possibility would be for the EU to offer Montenegro a specific date and place vacated by the United Kingdom, and to tell the rest of the region that there will be places for them as well if and when there are internal reforms in the EU.

"If it doesn't come, then at least it will become part of the EU single market and citizens and businesses will enjoy all four freedoms of movement. With that, the goal would be linked exclusively to reforms in female candidates", assessed Ćerimagić.

A positive IBAR would be good news for Montenegro: Ćerimagićphoto: Private archive

The highest state officials expect that Montenegro will receive a positive IBAR in June, and the Government has repeatedly reminded that they are committed to that goal. Prime Minister Milojko Spajic announced in mid-March that he is focused on getting the Report on the assessment of the fulfillment of temporary criteria and delivering the results, and after that he will deal with other issues, including the reconstruction of the Government.

"When we get the results, we will deal with all other issues, but the most important thing is to get that result", Spajić said.

There are a total of 23 temporary benchmarks for chapters 24 and 83, of which, according to recent informal assessments by the European Commission, 31 are unfulfilled. According to the new accession methodology from 2020, accepted by Montenegro, if the transitional benchmarks for key chapters 23 and 24 are not met , no other chapter will be able to close. Montenegro has opened all 2012 chapters of EU negotiations since 33 and for that period, and temporarily closed only three.

Spajicphoto: Government of Montenegro/Bojana Čupić

Political analyst from North Macedonia Siniša Pekevski told "Vijesta" that Montenegro is going in the right direction, but that it still needs to work a lot more on Chapter 23 - Judiciary, where there are many areas that need to be improved.

"I will emphasize that Montenegro is committed to that goal, but if it wants to close those chapters faster, it must work more dedicatedly and faster in those fields that are very important for the EU and which have been noted as very sensitive fields that must be improved," Pekevski said.

Answering the question of whether there is an opinion in the region that Montenegro can expect a positive IBAR by the scheduled deadline, Pekevski believes that it will:

"Because the EU is facing major challenges (crisis in Ukraine, election model in Bosnia and Herzegovina, elections in North Macedonia) in the coming period. It is important to support good policies that are going in the right direction, although not at the speed that the EU would like, but it is important to give incentives and to reward the efforts that Montenegro has invested in the previous period," Pekevski pointed out.

Montenegro is going in the right direction: Pekevskiphoto: Twitter

"Vijesti" recently announced, citing a source familiar with the negotiation process, that it is necessary for Montenegro to meet at least some temporary criteria, such as the adoption of media laws, at least one more law under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, as well as the possible initiation of another investigation in in connection with high corruption.

Ćerimagić assessed that a positive IBAR would be, first of all, good news for Montenegro because it would mean that the benchmarks were finally met and the necessary reforms completed.

"In addition, Montenegro could start closing other chapters. I will remind you that the last chapter, on foreign relations, was closed even seven years ago", said Ćerimagić.

He assessed that in its report from November 2023, the European Commission assessed that Montenegro was well prepared in seven chapters, including three already temporarily closed, and that it lacked very little in another four chapters.

"With their possible closure in the coming period, we could finally begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this process, and I am sure that it would be an incentive for further in-depth and essential reforms in Montenegro," said Ćerimagić.

The opening of negotiations with BiH does not mean that the EU is serious about enlargement

"Vijesti" interlocutors agree that the fact that the European Council approved the opening of negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina does not represent a particular sign that the EU is more committed to the Western Balkans.

"In Brussels, we would like to see the decision to open EU membership negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of a new momentum in the enlargement policy. The decision went much faster and easier than with North Macedonia and Albania. It also allows Bosnia and Herzegovina to follow the same path as Ukraine and Moldova. But I am not convinced that this shows that the EU is serious about enlargement", Ćerimagić assessed.

He recalled that when the EU decided to start accession negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia in 2011 and 2013, both countries were given a clear date by which the accession negotiations should formally begin. Also, as he said, the negotiation frameworks were adopted without conditions.

He pointed out that in the case of Ukraine and Moldova, and now also Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no final date for the formal start of accession, and the conditions have been set for the adoption of the negotiation framework.

"Now we even hear rumors that Bosnia and Herzegovina should perhaps fulfill the conditions for the European Commission to even start drafting the negotiation framework. This means that the accession process is further chopped into even smaller pieces", he pointed out.

Ćerimagić said that in the medium term, this will weaken the EU's ability to exert significant influence in the candidate countries.

Siniša Pekevski assessed that the opening of BiH's accession negotiations with the EU represents a positive development, but that he does not believe that the EU has seriously committed itself to the Western Balkans:

"At the moment, the EU's focus is on Ukraine and supporting Ukraine. I think that the Western Balkans and the promises made to the candidate countries are being forgotten".

Pekevski said that in the coming period he expects a bigger economic crisis in the EU, which will be fueled by energy prices, elections in the USA that will affect the EU and the growth of the economy, and emphasizes that the focus will again be on that, and not on the Western Balkans.

"The EU should also provide assistance to Ukraine, but also not forget that it should help and integrate the Western Balkans, and not leave the Western Balkans as a secondary issue," said Pekevski.

Hearing of ministers and chief negotiator on April 5

On April 5, the Committee for European Integration will hold a consultative hearing on the topic "Assessment of the fulfillment of temporary benchmarks in chapters 23 and 24".

Minister of European Affairs Maida Gorčević, Minister of Justice Andrej Milović, Minister of Internal Affairs Danilo Saranović and chief negotiator for negotiations on Montenegro's accession to the European Union Predrag Zenović will be heard.