Popa: EU supports Montenegro stronglyand sincerely

The EU’s support to Montenegro is robust and sincere. It goes beyond political partnership. Our support also includes extensive financial assistance, economic investment, health and emergency response and exchange of expertise. The EU is the biggest donor, trading partner and investor in the country, said ambasador of the EU Delegation in Podgorica, Oana Kristina Popa.

How do you assess Montenegro’s current progress on the path towards EU accession and what are the key challenges it is currently facing?

Montenegro started the EU accession negotiations 10 years ago. It has opened all negotiation chapters, while provisionally closing three. We have repeatedly praised the country for its full alignment with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, including with the EU’s restrictive measures following Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.
However, political volatility, government instability and tensions within the ruling majorities have clearly led to the stalling of the decision-making processes and reform implementation. Consequently, key state institutions have not been able to function properly, which greatly affected Montenegro’s progress on the EU accession path in recent years.
Montenegro needs independent, impartial, effective and competent judicial institutions to move forward on its EU path. This is why we have repeatedly called upon all Montenegrin political actors to act beyond party lines and to ensure broad support for the appointment of Judicial Council members, Constitutional Court judges and the Supreme State Prosecutor without further delay. The lack of these long-pending appointments has a worrying impact on the overall functioning of the judiciary in Montenegro, and ultimately on its capacity to deliver justice. Too much time is wasted on divisive subjects. Now is the moment to set aside our differences and collaborate in strengthening the rule of law.
The EU will continue to do all it can to assist Montenegro and speed up the pace of its negotiations, in the interest of Montenegrin citizens and the country’s European future. We hope that Montenegro will seize this momentum and deliver immediate and concrete results.

What are the main areas in which Montenegro needs to make progress in order to get closer to full EU membership?

Montenegro needs to prioritise delivering on the key area of rule of law, and fulfil the so-called interim benchmarks under Chapters 23 and 24. Those priorities include judicial reforms and appointments, media freedom and the fight against corruption and organised crime.

If the interim benchmarks are met by Montenegro, the Commission will draw up an interim benchmark assessment report (IBAR). If the Council would approve the IBAR, the accession process could move towards the provisional closure of chapters.

With continued efforts, there are a number of technical chapters that could be closed in the short- to mid-term following the IBAR approval. The timing of the progress is fully in Montenegro’s hands.

How does the EU support reforms in Montenegro, and how can cooperation between the EU and Montenegro be further improved in this process?

The EU’s support to Montenegro is robust and sincere. It goes beyond political partnership. Our support also includes extensive financial assistance, economic investment, health and emergency response and exchange of expertise. The EU is the biggest donor, trading partner and investor in the country.

As a first step in facilitating further cooperation between the EU and Montenegro, we expect Montenegro to form a strong pro-European government, able to deliver on EU-related reforms, in a constructive spirit and in line with Montenegrin citizens’ expectations to advance in the EU accession process.

The absolute reform priority for Montenegro is to achieve concrete results in the rule-of-law area, in particular to fulfil the interim benchmarks under Chapters 23 and 24. We look forward to working with all political actors and institutions taking forward Montenegro on its EU strategic path, including the necessary reforms.

How does the EU view the role of civil society and media in monitoring and promoting reforms in Montenegro?

In every democratic society, civil society and media play a pivotal role in fostering pluralism, safeguarding human rights and giving voice to different communities and groups. They should be respected, protected and free to operate without any undue political pressure.
We, therefore, expect the Montenegrin authorities to create an environment conducive to media freedom and constructive involvement of civil society organisations in policy making.
Instead of engaging in strongly-worded public criticism and allegations against media and civil society representatives, the competent domestic authorities should address any alleged violation of law, in line with the national legislation and relevant international and European standards.

How does the EU perceive the prospects and expectations for Montenegro as a future EU member, and what are the benefits for both Montenegro and the EU from this membership?

A more united Europe simply means better safeguards for our shared values. With Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, there is a growing realisation of the immense geopolitical importance of enlargement. This creates a good momentum fora faster integration of our partners with whom we share the same values, the same foreign policy commitments and security concerns, and who are ready to deliver on the required reforms.
We have seen plenty of evidence that EU-related reforms are helping Montenegro to build a fairer and more prosperous society. It is no wonder that the EU accession is proclaimed as the country’s top priority, no wonder that it is seen as such by a huge majority of Montenegrin citizens.

What are the most important pieces of advice and messages you would like to convey to Montenegrin authorities and citizens regarding the EU accession process?

We are committed to support Montenegro in moving forward and eventually becoming a full member of the EU. However, Montenegrin authorities must follow through with the essential EU-related reforms, prioritising their commitment to their citizens and not just the pledges made to European partners. I hope that the current generation of Montenegrin politicianswill seize this historic opportunity and find a way to work together and do what it takes to bring the country into the EU.