After 11 years on the road to the EU, we can only talk about stagnation and regression

After 11 years of pursuing European integration, Montenegro can no longer speak of success in that process or its role as a frontrunner on the path to the EU membership. Instead, it can only speak of missed opportunities, stagnation, and regression.

Instead of being on the verge of membership after more than a decade of negotiations and alignment with EU regulations, Montenegro has become a problem, as European officials have clearly described.

Montenegro has failed to capitalize on significant political changes that have occurred to incentivize progress towards the EU. Due to the dominance of personal and party interests over the interests of society and the country, we have encountered institutional blockades, stagnation, and even regression in this most critical process for the state.

These messages were also conveyed in the latest non-paper from the European Commission (EC), which warned that Montenegro has lost focus on EU reforms, that there are numerous delays, and that there will be no progress in the negotiations until we fulfill the 82 interim benchmarks in Chapters 23 and 24. This entails resolving the deep institutional crisis in the judiciary, which requires broad political consensus in the public interest rather than party bargaining. The EC also reminds us that essential laws on the judiciary and prosecution, media laws, an anti-corruption strategy, and an action plan have not been adopted. The only positive aspect highlighted is the work of the Special State Prosecutor’s Office (SSPO) in combating against organized crime. However, citizens need to know that this is not enough to fulfill more than a third of the interim benchmarks, which are still partially or entirely unmet.

In the past year, our parliament has deliberately and with clear intentions passed unconstitutional laws, thus undermining democracy in our own state for the sake of narrowest party interests. Despite receiving a vote of no confidence long ago, the government still makes decisions on long-term policies on behalf of all of us. We have an interim state in the judiciary instead of proactive and efficient institutions governed by party interests rather than the Constitution and laws.

The only positive recent step has been the appointment of judges to the Constitutional Court and progress in the fight against organized crime. However, partisan considerations have predominantly influenced us, resulting in a Constitutional Court that cannot render difficult decisions in critical moments, due to the “three against three” formula.

Nevertheless, despite everything that has hindered Montenegro on the path to the EU, the new government and parliament will have the opportunity to reverse the situation by initiating a dialogue on all these important issues as soon as possible. Therefore, there is still a theoretical chance to take advantage of the slightly open door and fulfill this crucial strategic priority of the state.

Now, more than ever, Montenegro needs reformist and progressive forces willing to transcend the division of powers and four-year mandates, prepared to implement demanding and unpopular reforms that will ensure the long-term well-being of our community and society, even at the cost of poor electoral results. We need political elites willing to oppose party-driven and non-European patterns of behavior that have dominated this country for years.

Therefore, Montenegro must return to the fundamentals of democracy. We must urgently begin implementing numerous reforms, but keep in mind that Montenegro should not expect shortcuts or concessions from the EU. We should not listen to exaggerated claims of politicians regarding membership in one, two, or three years, but rather dedicate ourselves to self-improvement. After that, membership will become mere formality.

Milena Gvozdenovic,

Deputy Executive Director of CDT