After meeting Prime Minister Djukanović on 9 June in Brussels, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy praised Montenegro's progress in implementing reforms and its role in promoting regional dialogue and cooperation.
''I would like to commend the prime minister for the significant progress achieved in the course of European integration. I appreciate his government's efforts aimed at state building and the necessary reforms," Van Rompuy said.
"I would also like to highlight Montenegro's record in inter-ethnic dialogue and cooperation. In many ways, Montenegro serves as an example for the region," he said.
"I assured the prime minister of the EU's full support for the European vision of Montenegro. We agreed that work remains to be done. The EU is keenly interested in the implementation of the reforms. Sustainable progress in the fields related to the rule of law, such as judicial reform, and the fight against corruption and organised crime, remain of utmost importance for us. There are no shortcuts, the remaining challenges must not be underestimated," the Council president added.
"We also agreed on the importance of regional cooperation. The European integration of the Western Balkans must be complemented by vigorous efforts to promote regional cooperation. I praise the leadership of the prime minister and his government for assuming important responsibilities – from the Central European Initiative through the Adriatic Ionian Initiative to the South East European Co-operation Process,'' Van Rompuy concluded.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has said that he expects the country to gain EU candidate status in November 2010, as it "deserved'' to do after what it had done with ''economic and democratic reforms so far".
He also urged the EU to continue with its enlargement policy, saying it was "truly in the interest of Europe'' to continue with its unification. ''That is a strategic vision. If Europe fails to establish that vision I fear that it will lose competitiveness compared to other world players," he said.
Milica Pejanović Djurišić, Montenegro's ambassador to France, said that the country's situation in terms of corruption and organised crime was ''not worse than others'' in the region and that Montenegro is ''well advanced in comparison to other countries'' on the road to EU accession, as reforms had begun ''even before relations between Brussels and Podgorica were institutionalised''.
She called for EU-Balkan summits to take place more regularly due to ''Montenegro's accession process accelerating'' and said she preferred to follow the 'regatta' principle, by which the most advanced states towards accession cross the finish line first – rather than all the Western Balkan countries joining as a bloc.
Vladimir Radulović, Montenegro's ambassador to Germany, believes that Montenegrin society has undergone a radical transformation since the 1990s and is convinced that the country will be able to initiate membership talks next year.
''To sum it up: when I compare Montenegro today to Montenegro at the end of the eighties or in the nineties, we are talking about two completely different societies. We are not perfect. We are considered to be on the 'periphery' of Europe, insignificant to everybody but ourselves. But the progress that has been made in only four years is absolutely remarkable," Radulović said.
"I have no doubt that we will become an EU candidate country – either in December of this year or early next year – and that accession negotiations can be opened in the course of 2011,'' he told EurActiv.de in a recent interview.
Radulović also elaborated on the ''complex relationship'' between Montenegro and Serbia and the ties that many Montenegrins still feel to the former Yugoslavia. ''It is true that a lot of Montenegrin citizens declare themselves to be Serbs – even though they were born in Montenegro, as well as their ancestors, their fathers and grandfathers,'' he said.
''Most people in Montenegro still feel that they are part of this big, greater country that was known as Yugoslavia. There is a certain political, mental and psychological dualism that you will not find in any other country. There are lots of people who are very loyal or, at least, mindful of what Serbia says,'' he explained.
British Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, rapporteur on Montenegro in the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that the country's small size means that its administrative resources are struggling with the workload required to implement EU standards.
''One of the general problems Montenegro faces is that it is a mini-state, with a population of under a million. Therefore its administrative resources are very stretched in doing all this kind of work and are having to 'reinvent the wheel','' he told EurActiv in a recent interview.
''One of the things I have been urging is that the Croats – who translated the entire acquis – should make that available to the Montenegrin authorities, as they don't really have the expertise or the financial resources to do this kind of work and they need a lot of help from the Commission. But I think they should also get it from their neighbours who speak a commonly-understandable language. So I'm urging the Croats to make their documents available,'' he added.
Yet Tannock is confident that Montenegro will be able to open its EU membership negotiations in 2011 and will recommend this to the Parliament and Council – provided that the Commission is satisfied with the country's responses to its questionnaire.
''Provided they give the green light, in my report – which I aim to bring out immediately after – I will be arguing strongly that they should also be allowed to open negotiations, which in all likelihood should be able to start in 2011,'' he stated.
Zdeněk Sychra, a European studies expert at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, observed that Montenegro has made considerable steps towards the EU since 2006 but that problems remain – notably political influence on the judiciary and corruption.
''We can see some problems: the influence of political elites upon judicial bodies and public administration; insufficient administrative capacity; organised crime; extensive corruption and insufficient success in the fight against it; excessive centralisation of the decision-making process; the shadow economy; and so on,'' he told EurActiv.cz.
''Despite the aforementioned progress, there is still a problem with the practical implementation and application of new reform laws. These things can be improved step-by-step during the negotiation process,'' he added.
Sychra also lauded the impact of the euro in Montenegro. ''The euro helped the Montenegrin economy to reach macroeconomic stability and low inflation, and the country has become more attractive and safer for foreign investment.''