Montenegro: EU negotiations entering into real substance
Commissioner Štefan Füle participated in the Intergovernmental Conference and the Stabilisation and Association Council with Montenegro. After the session he said this to the press: "This is the first Stabilisation and Association Council with Montenegro since we started the accession negotiations in June. I am particularly pleased that it coincides with the Inter-Governmental Conference which was able to open and provisionally close the first chapter in the accession negotiations with Montenegro, Chapter 25 “Science and Research”.
I would like to thank the Cypriot Presidency for putting enlargement again high on the agenda and making this event possible. I would also like to warmly congratulate the Montenegrin authorities for this achievement which has been made possible by their hard work.
We have indeed seen substantial progress of Montenegro: Accession negotiations were opened in June, the screening process is in full swing and the closure of the first negotiating chapter today marks the beginning of the substance of the accession negotiations.
In this context, I am pleased to announce that the Commission has just allocated from the IPA funds EUR 21.3 million to support key reform areas, including strengthening of the justice system and public administration, better protection of the environment, and rural development.
Now, let me focus on some key challenges we discussed today. First of all the strengthening of judicial independence. In this regard, the finalisation of the Constitutional reform, in line with the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission recommendations, is essential and needs to be treated as a matter of priority.
On fundamental rights, I stressed the importance of strengthening their protection and enforcement, and in particular the need to improve the situation of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian population.
I encourage Montenegro to strengthen the legal and institutional framework to counter corruption and organised crime. The country needs to develop a solid track record of investigations, prosecutions, convictions, seizures and confiscations of proceeds of crime and drugs.
Montenegro should continue to implement structural reforms, rigorously pursue fiscal consolidation, and enhance the business environment with a view to improving its economy, competitiveness and boosting employment. I also urged Montenegro to find a long-lasting solution to the complicated economic situation of the aluminium producer.
As regards research and development, they are essential to push innovation and thus economic growth. In this work, Montenegro has kept a close eye on the developments in the European Union. It has actively participated in the EU Research Programmes so that by the time it applied for membership it was already on track for fulfilling the requirements for accession on the Science and Research chapter - Chapter 25.
However, this is only the beginning. I am confident that the new Montenegrin leadership will build up on these achievements and maintain the reform momentum. It is also important to maintain the broad consensus on the country’s EU agenda among all relevant stakeholders and pursue the reform process, in particular in the area of rule of law. The progress of Montenegro in addressing the challenges in this area will determine the overall pace of negotiations.
Soon, more chapters will be on the table. For the well-known rule of law Chapters 23 and 24, Montenegro now has to prepare action plans, presenting the way ahead on the reforms in these areas and aligning the country with EU and international standards.
During lunch we had the occasion to discuss also regional issues, including the impact of the opening of accession negotiations with Montenegro on the neighbouring countries. We expect Montenegro to take the enlargement torch from Croatia, continue to play an active role in regional cooperation and remain a factor of stability in the Western Balkans."