Relations between France and Montenegro are strengthening

The bilateral ties between France and Montenegro are seeing a notable strengthening, within the framework of France’s stepped-up involvement in the region and Western Balkans’ rapprochement with the European Union. The increase in France’s technical support, particularly in terms of embedded experts, will allow us to beef up our cooperation across several domains and actively support Montenegro on its path towards the European Union, which is the main priority of my mandate, said the newly appointed French ambassador in Montenegro, Anne-Marie Maskay.
To begin with, could you please tell us more about your diplomatic experiences and background before being appointed as the ambassador to Montenegro?
When I first joined the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 2002, my area of expertise lay in the central European region. I was fortunate enough to quickly build up solid EU-related knowledge, first as a seconded national expert to the European Commission (where I dealt with the first version of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance – IPA), and then at the French Permanent Representation during the 2008 French Presidency of the European Union. I have since occupied a number of multilateral and bilateral positions, respectively in New York and Paris for the former and Budapest for the latter. In terms of expertise, I have touched upon environmental issues and administrative and financial matters along the way. My latest assignment before I had the honour of being appointed to Montenegro was in the Ministry’s HR Department.
France and Montenegro have a long history of diplomatic relations. How do you perceive the current state of relations between our countries, and what priorities would you set for your mandate in preserving and enhancing those relations?
The bilateral ties between France and Montenegro are seeing a notable strengthening, within the framework of France’s stepped-up involvement in the region and Western Balkans’ rapprochement with the European Union. The increase in France’s technical support, particularly in terms of embedded experts, will allow us to beef up our cooperation across several domains and actively support Montenegro on its path towards the European Union, which is the main priority of my mandate.
How do you intend to support economic ties between France and Montenegro during your tenure?
In strong correlation with the commendable efforts undertaken by the French-Montenegrin Companies Club, I will endeavor to highlight the know-how of French enterprises in sectors that are key to the economic advancement of Montenegro, notably tourism. Given France’s significant expertise in this domain, as both a primary destination and a notable origin of diverse categories of tourists, ranging from sea resort enthusiasts to nature lovers, I firmly believe that there remains substantial opportunity to strengthen our connections. France has the potential to actively engage in the advancement of tourism and transport infrastructure, given its prominent position in these domains.
French businesses also have essential expertise that might support Montenegro in areas like renewable energy production, water and waste treatment and management, as well as industrial site decontamination. We can rely on recent successes to pave the way for future cooperation. I have notably in mind the French company Valgo, which has just completed decontaminating the former Bijela shipyard.
Furthermore, the establishment of collaborations between institutions and local authorities in both of our countries, exemplified by the visit of a substantial delegation from the Normandy Region of France in spring 2023, serves to foster economic interactions and will be encouraged further.
Security is a crucial aspect of diplomatic work. How do you plan to contribute to strengthening security and stability in Montenegro and the Western Balkans region?
While the region is facing many challenges, France has decided to appoint a seasoned diplomat, Mr. René Troccaz, as its first Special Envoy for the Western Balkans. Mr. Troccaz will be involved in important regional policy issues in coordination with his European and American counterparts.
France is also investing to help Montenegro cope with new threats, like cyber security. France supported Montenegro in the wake of the cyberattack suffered last year, with 13 experts dispatched to Montenegro, in addition to those working in the back office from the French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI).
To fend off future threats, a Western Balkans Cyber Capacity Centre (W3BC) was launched in Podgorica last year. This French initiative led to a Franco-Slovenian project, which has become a trilateral organisation in partnership with Montenegro. The W3BC has been providing training to professionals since spring 2023. The next step towards establishing the Centre as an international institution in 2025 has been taken with the signing of an international treaty during the Berlin Process Summit held in Tirana in October. As the stakes are particularly high, full regional ownership will be the key to success.
How do you see France’s role in supporting Montenegro’s European path and the Western Balkans region?
Allow me to recall first what President Macron said last June at the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum: «All the questions as to “whether” another EU enlargement is needed and, if so, “when” it should happen, have already been answered. And the answers are respectively “yes”, and “as soon as possible”. The only valid question remaining today is “how should we do it?”, directed towards both the EU and the pre-accession countries».
Against this backdrop, France will fully participate in the reflections on the deepening and functioning of the EU, as well as lend support to all actions taken to bolster the Western Balkans’ European path. In this respect, the European Political Community (EPC), initiated by the French President, is meant to support and complement the pre-accession process, to favour convergence, and to develop concrete cooperation projects in numerous areas of common interest.
As a country with years of experience, Montenegro has it all to be a front-runner in the process and seize the current momentum. Like we have in the past, but perhaps more than ever, France will stand by Montenegro’s side, notably as regards capacity building and the exchange of good practices.
A new French resident expert on enlargement negotiations has been appointed to this end, who will serve where most useful within the host administration. France is also mobilising technical support on the issue of public administration reform, as well as support for agriculture and rural development. Training by professionals and the exchange of expertise are often key to overcoming theoretical stalemates.
Climate change is a global challenge. How do you plan to support environmental protection and sustainability initiatives in Montenegro?
The recent appointment of a French expert to the Environmental Protection Agency of Montenegro paves the way for new partnerships in this crucial domain, both in a broader context and also within the framework of EU accession negotiations.
I will also rely on the growing involvement of the French Development Agency (AFD) in the region, with a primary focus on providing assistance for the energy and ecological transition. The AFD has established a partnership with the Investment and Development Fund of Montenegro (IRF) in order to execute a 50-million euro project aimed at enhancing climate investments for Montenegrin small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and municipalities. This initiative aligns with Montenegro’s National Sustainable Development Strategy.
Lastly, the Embassy supports initiatives undertaken by non-governmental organisations in the realm of environmental protection, as exemplified by our recent participation in World Cleanup Day. This aligns with France’s prominent position in advocating for a Global Treaty to End Plastic Pollution.
Achieving justice and the rule of law are key elements of democratic development. How will you support Montenegro’s efforts in the fields of justice and the fight against corruption?
Support for consolidating the rule of law and the fight against corruption and organised crime is closely linked to the European integration process, and I am confident that the Montenegrin government will devote substantial and necessary efforts in these fields.
Our enlargement expert’s work will be particularly focused on the priority subjects of the rule of law and governance covered by Chapters 23 and 24 of the accession negotiations. The Embassy’s specialised attachés in justice, police, and customs will also further develop partnerships with Montenegrin institutions.
What cultural and educational exchanges between France and Montenegro do you plan to promote during your tenure?
Thanks to our cultural centre (Institut français du Monténégro) located in Podgorica, France has a long-standing tradition of cultural exchanges with Montenegro. We will continue to work with local cultural institutions to foster partnerships and actively support the main festivals organised in Montenegro.
On the educational level, we are maintaining our effort to revitalise the learning of the French language at schools, in line with Montenegrin authorities’ ambition to become an associate member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). This includes promoting French as a possible second foreign language option, beginning instruction in early childhood education settings, and creating a bilingual education track at the Podgorica Gymnasium. Establishing partnerships between French and Montenegrin schools will also be one of our priorities. The same goes for the university level, by making greater use of the opportunities offered by the Erasmus+ programme.
Could you highlight some specific areas or initiatives that you plan to initiate to enhance cooperation between our countries?
To mention just a few examples, the Embassy is taking part in a regional project to create a French meta-institute aimed at supporting exchanges in the cultural and creative industries. We encourage collaboration with the national Film Centre and are supporting a documentary workshop in Kotor for the spring of 2024 to take advantage of Montenegro’s thriving film industry.
Additionally, a partnership is in the works with the Montenegrin Music Centre, whose orchestra is under the direction of Marc Korovitch, a French citizen with deep ties to Montenegro. This partnership will in particular include cooperation relating to the maintenance of woodwind instruments.
Speaking of exciting opportunities for collaboration in the publishing industry, I am glad to inform that France will be attending the Podgorica Book Fair in the spring of 2024, which will be a rare opportunity to showcase cooperation projects in the field of publishing.
How do you envision the future of bilateral relations between France and Montenegro, and what are your personal ambitions in this regard?
I believe that the conditions are ripe to enable our bilateral relations to flourish even further, including in strategic sectors. France unwaveringly supports Montenegro on its European path, which is the aspiration of the overwhelming majority of Montenegrin citizens. If the country is able to seize the current momentum by implementing the necessary reforms, I am certain that within a few years we could be united within the European Union, with a wealth of new perspectives open for fruitful cooperation.