EU foreign affairs ministers decided yesterday (26 June) to open accession negotiations with Montenegro on Friday, coinciding with the Union's leadership summit.
With Croatia set to join the EU in 2013 and Iceland beating speed records in accession talks, Montenegro is on a good track towards EU accession after getting the green light last October to open accession negotiations.
Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey are also candidate countries. Macedonia is unable to start accession negotiations because of its name dispute with Greece, and Turkey’s accession talks are stalled because of the Cyprus problem.
Potential candidates Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo are less advanced in the accession process.
It takes seven to eight years on average to go from opening accession talks to full accession, meaning tiny Montenegro is not likely to joint the Union before 2020.
In a statement from Luxembourg, the ministers said Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic (see background), has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria. But they warned that the country faces thorough scrutiny over its judiciary and its ability to fight organised crime.
The ministers also tasked the European Commission to “take account of the experience” acquired from previous accession negotiations, and start negotiating the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights, and on justice, freedom and security, at the beginning of the negotiations instead of at a later stage.
Balkan Insight reported that the outcome of the General Affairs Council meeting was anxiously awaited in Podgorica, because the support of some countries, such as Sweden, had remained uncertain until the last moment.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told journalists before the start of the Luxembourg meeting that his country still had major concerns about levels of organised crime and corruption in Montenegro.
He was quoted as saying that most drug networks of Europe came from the Balkans and that Montenegro will not be able to progress significantly towards EU membership without taking counter measures.
MEP Eduard Kukan (EPP, Slovakia), who is the chair of the Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, welcomed the Council decision on starting negotiations with Montenegro.
"It is not only good news for the country, but also an encouraging signal for the rest of the region. I hope that Montenegro will keep up with reforming processes and that the negotiations will proceed smoothly," Kukan stated.
While welcoming the decision, the shadow rapporteur on Montenegro Ulrike Lunacek (Green/EFA Group, Austria) warned of the remaining “areas of concern”.
“Corruption is widespread, with the political elite being deeply involved, as well as foreign investors. The main problem with Montenegro is that although many laws are being adopted which are in line with the EU acquis, they are only poorly implemented,” she said.
She also called on the Montenegrin authorities to reconsider plans to build large-scale hydropower plants. “In general, Montenegro must adopt a serious approach to environmental policy, in line with its constitution which says that Montenegro is an 'ecological state'."