The Council of EU concluded in its report regarding Montenegro that progress was made and encouraged the country to continue with reforms in order to advance on its path toward European Union full membership.
“The Council welcomes the overall progress made in the accession negotiations with Montenegro, with 32 out of 35 chapters opened and 3 provisionally closed so far. Important work on alignment with the acquis in most areas has taken place. However, with the institutional framework complete and the legal framework largely in place, it is now crucial that the entire rule of law system delivers results that are more tangible and a strengthened and sustainable record of accomplishment. In particular, the Council underscores that progress on the rule of law and fundamental rights chapters, as set out in the Negotiating Framework, continues to be essential and will determine the pace of accession negotiations overall. Therefore, Montenegro now needs to more proactively step up and reinvigorate its reform efforts – in particular in the critical areas of media freedom, fight against corruption and trafficking in human beings – to meet the interim benchmarks for chapters 23 and 24. Only when the outlined criteria are fulfilled, the EU will be able to set out the rule of law requirements as closing benchmarks, which Montenegro will have to meet prior to the closing of these chapters,” says the Council in its conclusions about Montenegro.
The Council strongly encourages Montenegro to demonstrate clear political will and make significant additional efforts in the fight against corruption and organised crime, money laundering and trafficking in human beings, including effective investigations, prosecutions and final convictions, and to improve on the seizure and confiscation of criminal assets. A robust criminal justice response to high-level corruption is also needed. The Council calls on Montenegro to guarantee a safe climate, conducive to freedom of expression and independence of the media, including by stepping up efforts to investigate and resolve cases of attacks against journalists as a matter of high priority. Ensuring independence of the national public broadcaster and establishing an effective self-regulatory mechanism covering all media bodies is crucial. Also, the Council underlines its expectations of strong political commitment and genuine engagement by all relevant institutions and actors in all these endeavours. Further actions are also needed to pursue the public administration reform and to strengthen administrative capacity and the independence of institutions, in particular of the judiciary.
“The Council underlines that electoral reform remains vital for re-establishing electoral trust, and expects all parties to assume responsibility and re-engage in a constructive and inclusive political dialogue in the parliament, including in the work of the temporary parliamentary committee for reform of electoral and other legislation, also with a view to further the country’s accession process.
On economic reforms, the Council positively notes that the economy continued to expand at a robust pace. In line with the Joint Conclusions of the Economic and Financial Dialogue, the Council encourages Montenegro to reduce the general government debt ratio, reinforce fiscal governance, resolve the remaining stock of non performing loans, improve the regulatory environment, develop a comprehensive strategy for the continuous assessment and reduction of the informal economy, adopt and implement the new legislative framework on public procurement, public-private partnerships and concessions, and increase labour market participation,” is stressed in the report.
The Council warmly welcomed Montenegro’s continued constructive and positive role in further developing regional cooperation and advancing good neighbourly relations.
The Council continues to strongly commend Montenegro for its consistent cooperation on foreign policy issues and in particular its continuous full alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. It also welcomes Montenegro’s continued active participation in missions and operations under the Common Security and Defence Policy./ibna