The European Union and its member states are more willing than ever to welcome Montenegro to our club as soon as the country has completed its “homework”, i.e. undertaken the necessary reforms to live up to what we call the EU acquis. This is not rocket science – this being a crucial message of theGerman ambassador to Montenegro, Peter Felten. In an interview for Diplomacy & Commerce, ambassador explains that it requires strong political will to strategically address the issues still open, and hard and resolute qualified work on the technical questions to be solved. If this happens, as he says, EU accession can be a matter of just a couple of years.
• Saratov, New York, Lisbon, Juba, Islamabad, Baghdad then Podgorica. When first read, thislinemayresembleageographictrivia.Yetitisasimpledotdistributionmapofyourdiplomaticcareer.Withafullbagofknowledgeandprofessionalexperienceyouhavearrivedat Montenegro. Did you have a chance to get to know our country? Could you think of threelesser-knownspots you wouldrecommendtoyourfriendsasworthvisiting?
Yes, I have been lucky to work and live in numerous fascinating places around the world during my 30years so far in the German diplomatic service. But Montenegro is, without any doubt, one of the mostbeautiful and hospitable among them, and I consider it a real privilege to have been assigned the postof German Ambassador to your country. Since taking office I have seized every opportunity to explorethetreasuresofthisgreatcountry andto meet itspeople.
As to your question – of course, the first that comes to one’s mind is Montenegro’s superb coastline andits spectacular mountain region in the north. But there is much more to be seen. Let me choose thefollowingplaces:
First, Žabljak Crnojevica, founded in the 10th century, and the throne city of Ivan Crnojevič, the founderof Cetinje. It is just 30 minutes from central Podgorica, but still not easy to find: a hill with the ruins ofthe medieval castle on top and a splendid view of the Lake Skadar wetlands and the various mountainranges; with the houses of the village nestled against the castle hill. And all this surrounded by lushlygreenvegetation,rivers,canals,andlakes.Don’texpectsophisticatedtouristicinfrastructure.Justenjoythebeautyoftheplace.
Another gem I found is the village of Medun, again just a 30 minute drive from the capital, with itsmuseum dedicated to Marko Miljanov, where you will learn a lot about the remarkable history of thisMontenegrin tribal leader and writer, who participated in the wars of the mid 19th century to liberateMontenegrofromOttomanreign,andwho,onlyafterthat,alreadyinhis50s,learnedtoreadandwriteand became an important author and chronist of his time, with his famous work “The Examples ofHumanity and Bravery”, also available in English. And if you climb up to the castle hill right behind themuseumyouwillfindhisgraveonaplateau,withabeautifulviewallthewaytothe“sacredmountain”oftheMontenegrins,the Lovćen,with its mausoleumforPetarIIPetrovičNjegoš.
Finally, let me recommend you to visit Ulcinj Solana. Some years after salt production there wasdiscontinued in 2013, Solana become a nature park, and has since been internationally recognized asan environmentally valuable wetland under the Ramsar Convention. These days, the Government ofMontenegroandthecityofUlcinjareworking,withthesupportoftheGermanGovernment,onaconceptfor the future sustainable management of Solana. Take a walk, or a bicycle ride, in this vast area andenjoy the beauty of the landscape and rich biodiversity and, in particular, the around 250 species ofbirds that breed, rest or winter there, including flamingos and pelicans. My favorite time for a walkthroughSolanaaretheearlymorningoreveninghourswhenthebirdsareparticularlyactive,especiallyinspringandautumnduringbirdmigration.IreallyhopethatMontenegrowillmanagetopreservethisuniqueecosystem.
The analyses show a growing interest of German nationals in Montenegro. Not only in termsofaleisuretraveldestinationbutalsoasaplacetosettledown.Accordingtothestatisticspublished by the Central Bank of Montenegro, in 2022 German citizens were the first largestsource of the real estate investments, amounting to even 57 mil EUR. Moreover, in the lastfive years Germany invested over 230 mil EUR, while the commodity exchange has alsoshown signs of growth.What is your view of the dynamics of economic relations betweenthetwo countriesinthe firsthalf of 2023?AttheBusinessForumMontenegro–GermanyheldinPodgoricaearlierthisyear,youspokeofMontenegroasanattractivedestinationforGermaninvestors,withpossibilitiesforeconomic cooperation not being exhausted to the full extent. On the same occasion, thelargest potential was recognized in sustainable agriculture, green energy, sustainable andhealthtourism andICTsector.Arethereanyspecific plans athandatthismoment?
The figures you are quoting sound quite impressive, but, believe me, there is still a lot of untappedpotential. Last year, only 6% of tourists in Montenegro were from Germany, while in other countriesaroundtheMediterraneanwereachashareof20to30%.Weseeencouragingsignsofincreasethough,in particular during the off-season, including longer-term stays, e.g. to escape the dark and cold wintermonths in central Europe. But there is potential for even more long-term residents from Germany, e.g.thosewithprofessionsthatdonotconfinethemtoaspecificphysicalworkplace,likeintheITsector.
Overall,Iexpectasignificantincreaseinprivatebusinessactivitiesandexchangebetweenourcountries,providedkeyreformneedsarecourageouslyaddressed.ThiswillbesupportednotonlybymyGovernment, but also by the German Business Club, which was founded just two years ago by small,medium-sizeandbigcompaniesfromMontenegroandGermanythatareengagedineconomicexchangebetween our countries. The Business Club will give additional impetus to the expansion of our businessrelations.
• In the light of economic relations, would you say Montenegro today is a more businessfriendlyenvironmentthanitusedtobesomefiveyearsago?ThereisacollectiveopinionthatMontenegrinadministrationstillsuffersfromoftenredundantandtime-consumingprocedures, thus discouraging both local and foreign investors. Some of the enthusiasticallyawaited German investment projects are for example Lidl or Brajici Wind Farm. Would yousay now is the right time to team up and develop a case study aimed to identifying thebureaucratic hurdles that need to be cleared? You one noticed that such hurdles hinder efficientcooperationwhichotherwisemayleadtomutualbenefits.Thelawsandregulationsthereofapplyequallyregardless of the sphereof business.
YouarerightlymentioningtwoofthebiggestGermanprivateinvestmentprojectsthatarecurrentlyinthe pipeline. The sectors of green energy and retail are in general among those where German privatebusiness has a lot to offer to support Montenegro on its way into a sustainable and climate-friendlyfuture,andto stimulatecompetitionforthe benefitofconsumers.
Private investors must earn money, and they undertake very rational cost-benefit calculations beforeinvestingtheirmoney.Thesecalculationsalsotakeintoaccountthestabilityandreliabilityofthebusinessenvironment.Montenegroisnotabigmarket,duetothesizeofthecountryanditspopulation.All the more important is it that the business environment is conducive to doing business: supportivepolitics,aframeworkoflegislation,andadministrativeregulationsyoucanrelyon,competentandnon-discriminatory implementation of rules and regulations. Most of these issues are linked to the overallambition to strengthen the rule of law, which is, at the same time, at the heart of Montenegro’s reformprioritiesinorderto advanceonitspath into the EU.
We hope that the early elections in June will lead to a stable government, which can count on a stablemajorityinParliament,sothatnecessaryreformscanmoveforwardinafocusedandstrategicmanner.And let us not forget – EU accession will give the greatest boost to the development of our businessrelations. So, resolutely going the last mile and fulfilling the EU accession “benchmarks” is also a keystepto improvethebusinessclimate.
• In recent years, Germany has recorded impressive achievements in the renewable energygeneration,withthecurrentrenewableenergyshareofeven50%andthe80%targetsetfor2030. Back to Montenegro and its efforts to promote the brand of an ecologic state, ourcountryhasbeenaregionalrecord-holderwhenitcomestoenergygenerationfromrenewable sources, yet with evidently untapped potential. This above all refers to solar andwindenergy. BasedontheGermanexperience,what signpostshouldwefollow?
Therecanbenodoubt.Weneedtostopgreenhousegasemissionsassoonaspossibleifwewanttosaveour planet and preserve humane living conditions on earth. The German government has set ambitioustargetsforourcountry:wehavecommittedtobecomeclimate-neutralby2045.ThedespicableRussianwar of aggression against Ukraine has caused a short-term set-back on this path. On the other hand, ithasgivenadditionalimpetustoourambitionstoendourdependencyoncarbonfuelsassoonaspossible.When it comes to Montenegro, I believe that the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans adopted at theBerlin Process Summit in Sofia in 2020 is a key signpost. We are pleased that the Regional ClimatePartnership that Germany has offered to the Western Balkans countries at the last Berlin ProcessSummitinBerlininNovemberlastyearisnowtakingshapeandwillsupporttheeffortsofthecountriesintheregion.
Montenegro has ideal conditions to produce energy in a climate-neutral manner. In addition to theexisting huge hydroelectric power plants – by the way, I am pleased that a German company is activelyinvolved in maximizing the technological efficiency of these plants –, there is huge potential for windand solar energy. Montenegro should really create the conditions to make full use of its wind and solarpotential – by reforming spatial planning legislation, strengthening its grid, developing its energymarket.Indoingso,Montenegrocouldeasilymakecarbondioxide-intensiveelectricityproductionfromcoal superfluous and could become a major exporter of clean energy to the European energy market.Bytheway,energyexporthasthepotentialtoreduceMontenegro’s foreigntradedeficitconsiderably.
• Germany extended the privileged access to the labor market to period from 1 January 2021to2023forcitizensofMontenegro,Albania,BosniaandHerzegovina,Kosovo,NortMacedonia and Serbia.What does this privileged access actually mean and does Berlin havethe up-to-date overview of the number of visas issued to the nationals of the foregoingcountries?Canwesaythereis aspecificskillorqualificationin-demandatthismoment?
The Montenegrin diaspora in Germany is an invaluable bridge between our countries – of course froman economic, but equally from a human perspective. Labour migration has been, for a long time, animportant aspect of the relations between our countries and peoples. It is not – and should not be – aone-waystreet.
Giventhestrengthof oureconomyandthedemographicdevelopmentinGermany,weneedtorelyona labour force coming to our country from abroad, even without highly specified qualifications, and wehave established privileged conditions in this regard for the Western Balkans countries. ForMontenegro, for example, we have been granting 1,000 visa per year on this basis. This number willprobably be doubled from next year. In the future, we will also widen the existing possibilities forhigher-qualifiedprofessionalsacrosstheboardtoworkinGermany.Draftlegislationisunderway.
All this is, of course, only a prelude for full labour mobility that will come with Montenegro’s accessionto theEU.
• GermanEmbassyhascontinuouslyofferedscholarshipsforstudentsfromMontenegro.Whatis yourpersonalimpressionof thehumanpotentialofour country?
Personally, I am impressed with the level of education of many young Montenegrins that I have met onvarious occasions. In relation to the small size of the population, Montenegrin applicants are verysuccessfulinsecuringGermanscholarships.Thistestifiesnotonlytotheirqualifications,butalsototheirdetermination, and dedication to international exchange. Applying for German scholarships, such asIPS, a programme allowing scholars to work in the office of a German Member of Parliament, or DAAD,the German Academic Exchange Service, is a highly competitive and challenging process. No wonderthatmanyofthealumnilaterholdseniorpositionsinGovernmentandpublicservice.Amongthealumniof these and other German scholarship programmes are the current Head of State, a former Prime-Minister,variousMinisters,StateSecretaries,aformerMayorofthecapitalcity,andotherhigh-rankingpublic servants, as well as opinion-makers in civil society, the media or political parties. I think thealumni are a valuable resource for our bilateral relations, since it is always people, individuals, thatshape the relations between countries and societies through their concrete actions – in all fields ofcooperation:political,economic,cultural,educationalor,simply,people-to-people.
At the same time, Montenegro is on its way to elevate its entire education system, from basic schools touniversities, to the European level. Germany supports Montenegro in this endeavor,for examplethrough a Partner School Programme (“PASCH”) with intensified German language training, andthroughalecturerfromDAADteachingattheStateUniversity,tonamejusttwoprominentexamples.
TheEUanditsmemberstatesaremorewillingthanevertowelcomeMontenegro to ourclubassoonasthe country has completed its “homework”, i.e. undertaken the necessary reforms to live up to what wecall the EU “acquis”. This is not rocket-science. It requires strong political will to strategically addresstheissuesstillopen,andhardandresolutequalifiedworkonthetechnicalquestionstobesolved.Ifthishappens, EU accession can be a matter of just a couple of years. And I sincerely hope that this is reallygoing to happen. Because, every day, I hear from Montenegrin citizens that they see the future of theircountry,andtheirownfuture,inthe European Union.