Montenegro – next to join the European Union


Last Thursday and Friday, the European Council gathered in Brussels to try to “reshape the three pillars of Europe: unity, sovereignty and democracy”, in the words of Emmanuel Macron. There is little doubt that Montenegro’s destiny lies within the Union. The former Yugoslav Republic, who became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -NATO – the 5th of June last year, will be the next state to join the EU. The only question is: when?

An accession to NATO with divided opinions

It is a peaceful afternoon in April 2017 on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Spring is in full swing. Cruise ships come and go with thousands of tourists onboard who have arrived for the day to explore the city of Kotor – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

However, the political destiny of this small state, independent since 2006­ – formerly Serbia and Montenegro – had a slight change in course on the 29th of April last year. By signing the NATO Accession Protocol, the parliament of Montenegro “betrayed” their Russian alliance at the same time.  This issue has divided the Montenegrins just as it has in parliament, where only 46 Members of Parliament – out of 81- took part in the vote. According to a recent survey conducted by Le Courrier des Balkans, out of the people questioned, 47% were in favor of the membership and 38.2% against. A part of the Serbian community has still not “digested” NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in 1999. This part of the community feels culturally closer to the Orthodox Russian “big brother”. A source working for the British embassy in Belgrade has confirmed to the JI that it “is clear that there is a pro-NATO government and a pro-Russian population”.

The incredible attempted coup

On the 16th of October 2016, according to the official version of the story, a group of “Russian nationalists” allegedly attempted to assassinate Milo Djukanovic, the Prime Minister of Montenegro for the past 25 years. The apparent objective of the coup was to give his main opponent, Miodrag Lekic, a seat in the Democratic Front – DF – which is considered as “pro-Russian”. The main objective of this extravagant scenario, according to those closely linked to the investigation, was to plunge the country into chaos and thus ruin any chances of joining the NATO. This version of the story has formally been denied by Moscow. The Kremlin accuses Milo Djukanovic of having staged the “coup d’état” himself, with help from NATO.

 “There is no evidence behind the accusations”

The DF leader, Andrija Mandić, for whom the Parliament of Montenegro has waived diplomatic immunity, repeats that the coup was orchestrated by Milo Djukanovic and “NATO’s security structures”. “The greatest proof [that the coup] is fake is that there is no evidence behind the accusations,” he declared to the Sunday Telegraph last March. The Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić stated that Belgrade disposed of the evidence which showed that “certain people were constantly following and informing others of the Prime Minister of Montenegro’s movements”. This is how the DF has interpreted the events: “The fact that Milo Djukanovic has deceived many partners is no secret to anyone. It would not be surprising that some among them wished to spy on his every move”.

JI’s source confirms that “what is certain is that Milo Djukanovic and his allies are a gang of criminals. There is no doubt about that.” Then could they have organized the attempted coup themselves? “No, they aren’t capable of it”. The mystery thus remains unsolved.

NATO completes the “Adriatic-Mediterranean puzzle”

Nevertheless, after securing Slovenia, Croatia and Albania, NATO tightens its stronghold on the Adriatic countries with the accession of Montenegro. More broadly, it is the entire northern Mediterranean coast, from the straits of Gibraltar to the Turkish-Syrian border which controls the organization. There is little doubt that Montenegro is the next state to join the European Union. Already possessing the single currency, accession negotiations in the EU picked up speed in 2015. That being said, at the beginning of his mandate in 2014, the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker announced that there would be “no expansion for five years”. However, nothing prevents the EU and the member countries from integrating Montenegro as early as 2020 – although chances are slim to none. 2025 is more likely.

28 out of 33 chapters opened

Considered as the “star student” in the accession process, Montenegro’s candidacy for EU membership was accepted by the European Commission in June 2010. For the moment, 28 negotiating chapters – out of 33 – are opened. Nonetheless, this small Balkan country of 600,000 inhabitants is a long way from fulfilling all of the membership criteria. As the newspaper Les Echos pointed out, the government is far from respecting all the criteria set by the EU, especially in the field of freedom of the press.

Other factors that might delay the accession include the drastic economic policies required by the EU in the Balkan countries – as well as elsewhere, the rise of unemployment in Croatia and Bosnia, and Herzegovina’s debt which has risen from 37% to 59% in ten years. In 2010, 62% of the Serbian population was in favor of membership. In 2016, this dropped to less than 37%. And what about Greece?

Furthermore, by supporting a corrupt power that has been mixed up in numerous affairs, the EU risks repeating the mistakes of the premature integrations of Bulgaria and Romania. As the philosopher and writer Georges Santayana wrote, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

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