A stable, European, and civic government in Montenegro can fulfill all the reforms from the European Union (EU) accession process within four years, but it is questionable whether Montenegro will get such a government,” said former Minister of European Affairs and a member of BIEPAG, Jovana Marović, during the panel “Effects and Results of the New Negotiation Framework and New Models of European Integration” at the conference of the Regional Academy for Democracy Development (ADD), the Center for Civic Education (CGO), and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) “Time to Move Forward – 20 Years since the Thessaloniki Summit.”
She pointed out that there are three sets of circumstances due to which Montenegro is not part of the EU after 11 years of negotiations.
“First, from the beginning of the negotiations, I have not seen a genuine willingness to bridge the gap between the technical and political aspects of the negotiation process. We have success in the technical part, but not in the political part. We are still debating whether political parties have the will and desire to join the EU,” Marović believes. On the other hand, she stated that the EU advocates the principle of progress based on merits but does not apply it in practice. As she added, the third set of circumstances relates to the fact that neither the EU nor political elites have a clear vision of ‘where to go with the Western Balkan countries.’
“My recent experience in the government of Montenegro shows that political parties prioritize their interests. European integration is just a mantra to gain the votes of the citizens,” Marović explained.
She said that even though the vast majority of citizens support EU membership, political parties cannot reach a consensus on the most important issues that should accelerate the European integration process. “I primarily mean the transitional criteria from chapters 23 and 24 that we received ten years ago. During the past year, each of the political parties has blocked at least once one of the appointments of holders of judicial functions. Without that political aspect, we cannot accelerate European integration,” Marović emphasized.
She stated that the greatest responsibility lies with the government, but political parties also bear responsibility for Montenegro’s failure to enter the final phase of the negotiation process.
Marović pointed out that Montenegro has a 100% alignment with the common foreign and security policy of the EU, but it is not clear what it has gained from it. “How does the EU value it if one country incurs certain damages due to that alignment, while another only receives a lower rating in the annual report?” Marović asked.
She believes that the new methodology has not fundamentally changed anything in Montenegro’s accession process. “Without more active involvement on the ground of EU member states, without sanctions and incentives, without cluster reporting, I don’t see that it has fundamentally changed anything in this whole story,” Marović stated.
“The most significant problem remains – too many integration frameworks and too little integration. A year ago, we signed three agreements (within the Berlin Process) that did not bring us anything fundamentally new. If the common regional market is the primary framework for integration, then the question arises whether Montenegro must perpetually wait for those less prepared states,” Marović said.
According to her, the whole situation in Montenegro is, in her words, a defeat for the European Union. “You cannot blame only the Western Balkan countries for the lack of democracy,” Marović said.
She stated that it is impossible to determine whether any state will be ready to join the EU by 2030, but it is possible to create roadmaps for each state individually. “A stable, European, and civic government in Montenegro can fulfill all the reforms within four years. That is the essence. Whether we will get such a government, I really do not know and I am not sure,” Marović concluded.
The President of the Board of the Center for European Policy (CEP) from Serbia, Srđan Majstorović, stated that without political will, there is no possibility for progress in European integration.
“In the past 20 years, there has been a kind of cohabitation, a lack of political will on both sides – both the EU and the Western Balkans. Credibility has disappeared. No one here has shown the capacity to believe that progress will come,” Majstorović said.
He stated that 20 years since the Thessaloniki Summit represent a great opportunity to “sit down again” and define the future of Europe after 2030, and such a kind of “renewed commitment” can be symbolic but also a sign of a return of credibility to the whole process.
According to him, the EU remains seriously committed to the strategic importance of the enlargement process. “We need a new contract, a New Deal, based on which we will take the next steps, but again, without clear political principledness, which I do not currently recognize, it will be difficult to make those steps,” Majstorović assessed.
Ledion Krisafi, a senior researcher at the Albanian Institute for International Studies, stated that over the past year and a half, Albania has made significant strides, which may not necessarily be directly related to the opening of EU accession negotiations. “What Albania is doing now is related to the reform of the justice system, which has been ongoing for several years and has completely changed the country’s image,” Krisafi said.
He said that in the past few months, there has been an increase in reports of corruption, organized crime, and a message has been sent that there are no untouchable ministers, politicians, or even prime ministers. “I see the process this way, not so directly related to the negotiation and accession process as it is to judicial reforms,” Krisafi added.
Regarding the revised methodology for EU accession, he said that the EU does not want the Western Balkans to be a problem on the ground. “Countries like Serbia, with authoritarian regimes, regardless of the methodology, can hardly expect to become part of the EU. So, a lot depends on us,” Krisafi said.
He said that the new methodology can be a path to the EU and a way for the Union to resolve its own dilemmas and problems. “If we look at the previous methodology, we have Montenegro, where the situation is better than in Serbia. The methodology does not have much to do with what the country is doing. If the EU wants the Western Balkans to become part of the EU in six or seven years, they will do it whether we are ready or not,” Krisafi said.
Demush Shasha, the Executive Director of the Institute for European Policy in Kosovo, mentioned that Kosovo’s path to accession has always been closely tied to the dialogue with Serbia, and the next step towards obtaining candidate status for Kosovo is strongly linked to progress in that dialogue.
He also commented on the EU enlargement methodology, stating that after four years, one can evaluate the results of enlargement policies. It has been announced that the new methodology will be more predictable, leading to a more credible and dynamic process.
Shasha noted that following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, there have been visible changes in the enlargement process. For instance, Ukraine will begin negotiations within 20 months from the time it submitted its application. This represents an unprecedented pace in the history of EU enlargement.
He argued that the EU has never acted as quickly and predictably in its enlargement process, attributing this to the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, demonstrating that the enlargement process goes beyond documents and is significantly influenced by political factors.
Shasha emphasized that in the coming months, the EU will have a unique opportunity to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova and grant candidate status to Kosovo. He also highlighted the importance of making progress in negotiations with all countries in the region, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, and expressed hope that leaders will recognize the capital of EU enlargement and the peace, prosperity, and stability it can bring to the region.
Edo Kanlić, the Coordinator of the Initiative for Monitoring European Integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), emphasized that the start date of negotiations with the EU is important for BiH, but he personally finds it more critical that state institutions have the capacity to lead negotiations, even in the technical aspects. He pointed out that institutions in BiH lack knowledge and capacity in certain areas and expressed dissatisfaction with how EU institutions communicate with BiH’s institutions.
Kanlić commented on the country’s position, saying that the situation involving North Macedonia and Bulgaria could become a humorous example compared to Croatia’s attitude towards BiH during the accession process.
Albert Hani, the Secretary-General of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), emphasized that the Western Balkan countries have the responsibility to produce more results in line with European values. He stated that by working together, the countries in the region can achieve progress, but there is a need to address the challenge of retaining employees and offer concrete solutions to the issues faced in the region.
Hani also talked about the Berlin Process, noting that RYCO focuses on trust-building projects.
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria and Ambassador to Montenegro, Meglena Kuneva, stated that after the conflict in Ukraine and recent escalations in the Middle East, it is essential for the EU to redefine its geopolitical agenda. She argued that both the EU and the Western Balkans need each other for economic and political reasons to reduce the influence of third major powers, and that there is a threat of these influences growing if there is no clear vision for the region’s EU accession.
Kuneva emphasized that the methodology is not the key to enlargement; it’s a matter of political will and concrete results necessary for new milestones in terms of accession. She highlighted the importance of considering new ideas and proposals, such as French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion to establish a European Political Community, and called for a clear vision and clearer deadlines for the Western Balkans.