EC Report for Montenegro in regard to civil sector: Partial fulfilment of form, without substance

European Commission Report for Montenegro, in the part relating to civil society, has confirmed that there are formal preconditions for cooperation of government and NGO, but that alongside formal inclusion of NGO in various working bodies, conditions should be created for their substantial consultation. However, we assess that the document lacks some key findings which have marked the year behind us – foremost – increasingly intensive campaign against critically oriented NGOs and direct endangerment of their freedom of expression, and unprecedented illegal conduct of Parliament of Montenegro which stultified procedures for election of representatives of NGO to advisory bodies.

In simplest, EC has confirmed what we are speaking about for several years already, that Government is establishing formal preconditions for work of NGO, but that these laws, decisions and strategies are not being applied in continuity in the prescribed manner.

Report is, in the part relating to civil society, even three times repeating the need to ensure substantial inclusion of NGO in working groups and negotiation process, thus EC is recalling the quality of this process, not merely the quantity. This approach is encouraging, since it sends a clear message to Government, if it wishes to read it correctly, that laws, strategies, directions and advisory bodies must be applied and be functional. In contrary, mere listing of these mechanisms cannot pull the wool over Brussels’ eyes that cooperation with NGOs is truly established.

The most recent example in this regard is, we remind, passing of Strategy for Improvement of Encouraging Environment for Action of NGOs 2018-2020, in which drafting NGO representatives have not participated to the end, and in which there are no substantial measures in this area. Of all comments received from NGOs, the Government has enlisted in the Strategy only one – partially.

Unfortunately, a segment which was repeated in the previous two was absent in this report, and it pertains to campaigns being organised for the purpose of discrediting non-governmental activists. During 2017, these campaigns have been continued, even with greater intensity, and always against critically oriented NGOs, directly impeding their freedom of expression.

Some of the examples are multi-month pieces and TV reports, in media under direct control of the ruling party, directed against organisations which have been legitimately and argumentatively pointing out the illegal dismissals of members of Council of RTCG. During 2017, there were repeated texts in Pobjeda of allegedly 46 millions of EUR on bank accounts of NGOs, although we have denounced it orderly, by pointing out that under NGO in this classification of the Central Bank, are also international organisations, as well as diplomatic missions. 

The Report notes passing of Amendments to the Law on NGO and establishment of new system for project financing. However, it was not noted that the Government has ultimately enabled state officials to participate in evaluation of these projects, which is entirely contrary to requests of the most part of non-governmental sector, and highly likely could stultify the entire process.

We have heard in the previous period repeatedly from representatives of Government that the Report will in certain sense be serving as a roadmap in all areas that it encompasses. It is hard for us to believe that the Government will change its relation to non-governmental sector in this climate, since we have not seen will for substantial changes in even one example in the previous period.

Civil society certainly will not be a decor of European integration process of Montenegro. In this year, we will continue also to point out to all problems that non-governmental sector is facing in its work and action, as well as to propose solutions in this area.

Ana Novaković, president of the Management Board

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) is a member of the Coalition of NGOs Cooperation to the Goal, and in this capacity has a representative in the MB.