EU broadens accession talks with Montenegro

La baie de Kotor au Monténégro

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. [Raging Wire/Flickr]

The European Union announced that it was broadening its negotiations with Montenegro on EU membership on Monday (30 March), even though the 28-nation bloc has frozen expansion over the next five years.

Both sides agreed to start talks on taxation and external affairs as part of the wide-ranging negotiations, the European Council, which represents the member states, said in a statement.

With the two new chapters, the EU and Montenegro are now negotiating 18 out of 35 chapters, it said (see background).

On taxation, the council urged Podgorica to “make significant progress” toward alignment with the EU in the areas of value-added tax, excise duties and direct taxation.

Montenegro was also asked to follow Brussels’ example on foreign policy.

The tiny southeastern European country has already followed the EU’s diplomatic lead on the Ukraine crisis, applying economic sanctions against Russia — something neighbouring Serbia, also an aspiring EU member, has not done.

The EU said that it would hold a conference on Montenegro’s membership bid in June, in order to “take the process forward”.

Podgorica began accession talks with the EU in 2012.

The negotiations have been held up by Montenegro’s delay in establishing an independent judiciary, as well as its fight against organised crime and corruption.

>> Read: Enlargement report package criticises Montenegro

In July, Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would freeze expansion over the next five years, stating that the bloc “needs to mark a pause in its enlargement process, so that we can consolidate what has been done with 28 members”.

The European Union had grown rapidly from 15 to 28 member states in the previous 10 years, with the former Communist countries of eastern Europe joining en masse in 2004.

With the exception of Turkey, Montenegro is the only country with which the EU is conducting accession negotiation talks. Serbia is expected to launch similar talks some time in 2015, depending on the implementation of an agreement to normalise relations with Kosovo.

In 2006, Montenegro's parliament declared independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2008, the new country applied for EU membership.

In 2010, the European Commission issued a favourable opinion on Montenegro's application, identifying 7 key priorities that would need to be addressed for negotiations to begin, and the Council granted it candidate status.

In December 2011, the European Council launched the accession process with a view to opening negotiations in June 2012.

The accession negotiations with Montenegro started on 29 June 2012. By mid-December 2014, sixteen negotiating Chapters, including the rule of law Chapters, 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights and 24 – Justice, freedom and security, have been opened, out which two Chapters (25 – Science and research and 26 – Education and culture) have been provisionally closed. Opening benchmarks have been set for eleven Chapters. [read more]

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