Membership talks with Podgorica get official go-ahead
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Friday 29 June 2012
The member states’ leaders green-lighted, on 29 June, the ministers’ 26 June decision to open EU membership negotiations with Montenegro, a few hours before officials from the two sides met for their first intergovernmental conference.
The European Council “endorsed the decision taken by the Council to open accession negotiations with Montenegro,” EU leaders said in their conclusions.
While no chapters of the
acquis communautaire were opened during the conference, it marked the official start of the Balkan state’s negotiating process with the EU. The conference is “just a formal opening of the negotiations,” Füle’s spokesperson Peter Stano explained. “It is for Montenegro to present its negotiating position” and the EU to present its “negotiating framework,” he added.
Member states still voiced strong concerns over allegations of corruption in the country. Sweden, usually known for backing enlargement to the Balkan countries, threatened to block the opening of negotiations with Montenegro. It finally gave its consent in exchange for safeguards that these concerns will be tackled.
“The debate among the member states has been very constructive,” Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle told
Montenegro Daily. “Instead of focusing on the question whether to open the negotiations at all, the exchanges focused on how to do it in the most effective way,” he added.
On 26 June, ministers underlined the “need for Montenegro to step up its efforts in order to establish a solid track record in the course of negotiations” and invites Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency – to present a report on the situation with regard to organised crime in the ex-Yugoslav state. The Commission is to “ensure that [Europol’s] contribution is taken into account in the forthcoming screening reports”.
The European Council backed the ministers’ conclusions during its two-day meeting in Brussels, on 28-29 June. However, the launch of the negotiations “does not mean that there are no challenges ahead,” Füle said, and this includes the area of rule of law. “During the accession negotiations, we will continue to put particular focus on this area, especially the fight against corruption and organised crime,” Füle added. “To this end, we will open negotiations on these issues right from the start,” he said.
The next step in Montenegro’s accession process is the screening of its legislation to see to what extent it already integrates the
acquis communautaire. “The screening process will be carried out jointly by the Commission and Montenegro, allowing the national authorities to familiarise themselves with the EU’s existing body of legislation,” Füle noted.
The screening meetings on judiciary and fundamental rights (Chapter 23) and on justice, freedom and security (Chapter 24) already took place during the spring.
Podgorica, which unilaterally adopted the euro in 2002, officially applied to join the EU in 2008, and was granted candidate status two years later.