Council green light to opening membership talks with Podgorica
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Tuesday 26 June 2012
The Council of the EU has given its consent to the opening of EU membership negotiations with Montenegro, despite recent reports of high-level corruption in the country. By agreeing to the launch of accession discussions with the ex-Yugoslav state, ministers are saying that Podgorica has fulfilled all EU requirements related to combating corruption and organised crime.
“The Council endorsed the Commission’s assessment that Montenegro has achieved the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria [...] to start accession negotiations,” the ministers said in a statement, on 26 June.
But according to documents uncovered by the
BBC, the tiny Balkan state is still swamped with corruption. An audit, carried out by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2010, has raised questions about the transfer of funds to and out of one of the country’s primary bank, Prva Banka, which is controlled by the family of former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who is still president of Montenegro’s ruling party. The audit – which was never published – suggests that the money deposited in the bank comes mostly from public funds and that two-thirds of its loans were given directly to members of the Djukanovic family and close associates,
Djukanovic has already been investigated by the Italian anti-mafia unit over allegations of cigarette smuggling worth over US$1 million. The charges he faced were, however, dropped in 2009.
These corruption concerns were discussed by ministers as they met in Luxembourg, on 26 June, an EU source told
Europolitics. But they agreed that Podgorica could remedy the alleged problems over the long EU membership negotiation process. “Opening negotiations with Montenegro does not mean it will obtain EU membership straight away,” a source said. “It means it will have some breathing space to set its record straight,” the diplomat added.
According to another diplomat, Sweden, which had threatened to block the opening of negotiations with Montenegro following reports of alleged corruption, finally gave its consent in exchange for safeguards that these concerns will be tackled.
The Council therefore underlined the “need for Montenegro to step up its efforts in order to establish a solid track record in the course of negotiations” and invited Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency – to present a report on the situation with regard to organised crime in Montenegro. They asked the Commission “to ensure that this contribution is taken into account in the forthcoming screening reports”.
The formal decision to launch accession negotiations with the EU will be taken on 29 June, as the EU’s 27 heads of state and government meet in Brussels.
Podgorica, which unilaterally adopted the euro in 2002, officially applied to join the EU in 2008, and was granted candidate status two years later.