EU-Montenegro relations

  

Despite problems with corruption and organised crime, Montenegro, a small Adriatic country with a population of less than a million, is set to open EU membership talks as early as 2011.

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Overview

Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1992, Montenegro remained in a federation with Serbia. During the ensuing wars in Bosnia and Croatia, Montenegrin police and military forces participated in attacks by Serbian troops, yet Montenegro itself was untouched by the conflicts.

In 1996, Montenegro split from the regime of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević and forged its own economic policy, unilaterally adopting the German Deutschmark as its currency. When Germany switched to the euro in 2002, Montenegro did the same – despite not belonging to the euro zone.

Serbia and Montenegro formed a new 'state union' in 2003, but three years later Montenegro held a referendum on independence: in a poll strictly monitored by the EU, 55.5% of citizens voted for separation and 44.5% voted to remain with Serbia. On 3 June 2006, Montenegro's declaration of independence was adopted by its parliament.

For a couple of years before the split, the EU tried unsuccessfully to discourage the separation of Montenegro from Serbia. Up to now, the prevalent opinion in Brussels remains that the former Yugoslavia should not disintegrate any further.

The philosophy of those in Montenegro who had pushed for separation was that once liberated from Serbia's complicated regional context, the small country could advance much more swiftly towards EU membership. But on the other hand, it became clear after the split that Serbia had a much greater administrative capacity to take onboard the EU legislative 'acquis' than Montenegro.

A tourist country

Montenegro, a tourist country, has an attractive Adriatic coastline and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia to the north, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the south. It has a population of just under 700,000 – one-fifth of whom live in the capital city, Podgorica.

The major ethnic groups in the country are Montenegrins (43%), Serbs (32%), Bosniaks (8%), Muslims (5%) and Albanians (3%). Yet with their historical, religious and linguistic ties, differentiations between Montenegrins and Serbs tend to hinge on how people define their own identity.

Montenegro has experienced strong economic growth since 2006. The growth has triggered an increase in foreign investment. The global crisis has slowed the country's development – affecting tourism, infrastructure and exports – yet it is in a better position than many of its neighbours.

Montenegro's formal EU accession process began in October 2005, when the EU began negotiating a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) for Serbia and Montenegro. Following independence, Montenegro launched its own SAA negotiations – which were finalised in October 2007.

Montenegro officially applied for EU membership in December 2008. It is currently awaiting an opinion from the European Commission which, if positive, will lead to the country acquiring official 'candidate' status. If this happens, accession negotiations could begin in earnest in 2011.

In November 2009, upon the recommendation of the European Commission, the EU's member states agreed to lift visa requirements for citizens of Montenegro travelling to the Schengen area. The liberalisation came into effect on 19 December 2009 (EurActiv 01/12/09).

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