The yearly enlargement reports to be unveiled today (8 October) will be critical of Montenegro, mostly because Prime Minister Milo Djukanovi? has been running the country as though it were a family business, diplomats told EURACTIV.
Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries are particularly critical of Montenegro, and this criticism is translated into diplomatic language in the Commission report, diplomats said.
Reportedly, some of these countries have suggested making use of a safeguard clause and freezing the accession negotiations with Montenegro, until the situation improves. But a majority of EU countries have taken the view that making use of the safeguard clause would be too big a punishment for Podgorica.
Montenegro has opened accession negotiations in 2012 and has already closed two chapters of them (Science and Research and Education and Culture) and has opened ten more, including Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and Justice, Freedom and Security. The Commission says that a limited administrative represents a challenge to ensure the success of the talks.
Milo Djukanovi? was first a close ally of Slobodan Miloševi? in the former Yugoslavia, but turned against him in 1996 and steered his country to independence in 2006. He was Prime Minister of Montenegro from 2008 to 2010, and returned to the post in December 2012. He has been investigated by the Italian anti-mafia commission for organised crime worth billions of euro, but in 2009 the Italian prosecution dropped the case.
Strangely enough, Montenegro is seen as the frontrunner for EU accession, and even Federica Mogherini, the prospective future Commission Vice President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs said on Monday during her hearing in the European Parliament that this country is on the top of the list of the Western Balkans enlargement countries (see background).
The report says a number of local elections held in Montenegro were marred by allegations of electoral wrongdoing and that they should be investigated. The report peaks of abuse of public funds for party purposes, of high-level corruption, of violence and threats against journalists.
Shortcomings with regard to the independence and accountability of the judicial system remain a matter of serious concern and hamper the fight against corruption, the report says.
In the case of Serbia, the Commission also makes warnings with regard to South Stream, the Gazprom-favoured pipeline that stretches from the Black Sea coast to Bulgaria across Serbia toward Italy. A Gazprom official recently said that Serbia said it will start building its stretch of South Stream in October.
Brussels says that the bilateral agreements signed with the transit countries with Russia contain breaches to EU law. The Commission recommends to Serbia it should align its internal legislation concerning South Stream with EU law.
In the Juncker Commission, Austria’s Johannes Hahn has been assigned the portfolio for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. The portfolio title has been revised, because no new EU enlargement could possibly take place during the next five years. However, accession negotiations are expected to continue.
The countries of the Western Balkans are moving toward the EU at different speeds.
All phases of integration exist in the region, from the initial to the final: while Kosovo is at the very start of the negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), Croatia became a full EU member in July 2013.
Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania are candidate countries, whereas Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are considered potential candidates.
Macedonia was granted candidate status in December 2005. However, the former Yugoslav republic has been unable to start accession negotiations due to a dispute over the country's name, which is identical to a Greek province.
In the Commission documents, Macedonia and Kosovo do not even appear under those names: Macedonia is referred to as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Kosovo called, under an asterisk, "Kosovo under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99" because the country's unilateral independence has not been recognised by all EU countries.
Membership negotiations have started with Montenegro in 2012 and with Serbia in January 2014.
Besides reforms, an important part of the Western Balkans’ integration with the EU is the development of regional cooperation and good relations with each other in the wake of the conflicts during the 1990s.