A big step for the small Balkan state and a smaller step forward in the enlargement process. That is how can be described the news that on Wednesday, October 12, the European Union has officially launched accession talks with Montenegro. A day before visiting Podgorica, in order to personally deliver the news to Prime Minister Igor Luksic, Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule backed the Commission’s decision in the following way:
“Montenegro has worked hard. We have seen real progress, including in the judicial reform, revising the electoral law, media freedom, anti-discrimination and the fight against corruption and organised crime. I am therefore proposing today to open accession negotiations with Montenegro.”
The Commission reports that Montenegro, which officially gained candidate status last year, since October 2010, when the country received a recommendation to start negotiations, a lot had been done but a lot more work remained, especially in the rule of law area. “The Commission proposes a new negotiation approach in this area, which would include early addressing of the issues related to the judiciary, fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security,” the report reads.
According to EurActiv's sources, the new approach will mean the negotiations to start on chapters 23 and 24, "Judiciary and fundamental rights" and "Justice, freedom and security", at a very early stage and the opening of new chapters to be made conditional on the advance on these chapters, which is a completely new experiment in the accession negotiations.
With this new approach, the Commission is apparently trying to avoid what already happened in the recently closed negotiations with Croatia, which closed the most difficult chapters just before finalising the talks themselves. Besides, there was a similar experience with Bulgaria and Romania before. According to EurActiv, the decision to open negotiations with Montenegro could also mean that the EU is trying to show that the enlargement process will not be completely halted after Croatia’s entry because of all the other problems in Europe. Besides, it is also thought that Montenegro, in spite of the large scale of corruption in the country, is actually quite a tiny country, whose problems could hardly shake the entire EU.
Macedonia – momentum lost
And while some say the decision on Montenegro was done in order to avoid losing the momentum, for Macedonia, also a candidate country, everyone says that the country has already lost its momentum and this is the reason why it has not received a date to start negotiations.
Concerning the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we maintain our recommendation to open accession negotiations. The prospect of European Union accession has been a driver of the reform process. However, with the continued impasse over the name issue, the motivation for reforms has diminished, the Commission says.
There has been some progress over the past year. Core challenges remain, notably: independence of the judiciary, reform of public administration and fighting corruption. Freedom of expression remains a serious concern. It is, therefore, crucial that there is progress on the name issue. A solution is long overdue. Opening negotiations will benefit not only the country and the region but the EU as a whole. Another year should not be lost.
“Moving the accession process of this country to its next stage will benefit the momentum of reforms and the climate of inter-ethnic relations, and will impact positively on the region,” the report reads. According to the European Parliament's Rapporteur on Macedonia, MEP Richard Howitt, quoted by EurActiv, next year will be crucial for Skopje to demonstrate renewed impetus in the reforms designed to prepare the country for EU accession, but proper recognition should be given to achievements as well as criticisms.
One of the areas, where no progress has been made again, is the dispute over the country’s name with neighbouring Greece. The Commission reminds that solution is long overdue and that all efforts should be invested so that it is resolved without delay, so that this does not impact negatively the good neighbourly relations.