It is time to refresh the negotiating structure

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) assesses that the seven years of accession negotiations, the importance of the integration dynamics of Montenegro, and the quality of implemented reforms, especially in the period when stagnation and regression in some areas of strengthening the rule of law are noted, require consideration of the negotiating structure, and contributes through the study Negotiation Structure in Montenegro and Comparative Experiences – Did We Find Best Model?

For short time, Montenegro, as the EU candidate country, had positioned itself as the “leader in the European integration process” in the Western Balkans. During the seven years of negotiations, Montenegro opened 29 negotiation chapters and provisionally closed three. It is already clear that the negotiation process is taking much longer than it was the case with other member states.

The negotiating structure itself has not experienced major changes over the seven years, which could be considered in the coming period, given the complexity of the process and the lack of expected track record. In support of this, study provides insight into both the negotiating structure of Montenegro and some others with which Montenegro once shared the same legal system, either from countries that are in the accession negotiations process (Serbia is candidate country for EU membership) or have successfully completed the negotiation process (Croatia and in 2013 and Slovenia in 2004 became members of the EU). The cross-section of these models indicates that Montenegro’s negotiating structure with the EU is almost identical to the one that led Croatia towards the EU.

After seven years of negotiations, fatigue within the Montenegrin negotiating structure, outflow of professional staff and reduced level of enthusiasm are evident. This cumbersome apparatus still seems to be highly bureaucratic to many and is quite far away from citizens.

The levels of responsibility within the negotiating structure are not sufficiently clearly defined at any level except at the political one, and essentially at the political level that responsibility has never been analyzed or opened. At the same time, there is prevailing narrative that political level is the key to the slowdown or acceleration of Montenegro’s negotiations with the EU.

Although Montenegrin authorities emphasize the participation of civil society representatives within the negotiating structure, in practice this is applied only to working groups for conduct of negotiations for individual negotiating chapters. Moreover, it is formal and with very limited influence, as continuously indicated by the civil society organizations themselves, especially those that have critical approach and expertise.

The Committee on European Integration of the Parliament of Montenegro is largely marginalized and self-marginalized from the accession process, which can have its reflection also in the degree of understanding and support of parliamentarians towards this important process.

Hence, the CCE recommends that the Government of Montenegro make an assessment of the impact of the negotiating structure, as a whole and its individual parts, and accordingly start reorganization that will lead to less bureaucracy but more impact, with clear lines of responsibility, especially due to the announcements of changes within the EU towards the negotiation process.

We also assess that the importance of European integration must reach citizens in a manner that is appealing and understandable to them, and in this segment the negotiating structure must have (pro) active engagement.

In order for the Government’s openness to the civil sector in the accession process to be adequately applied, members of civil society working groups need to be much more acknowledged, and the opening up of the Rule of Law Council to participate, whether for their full or consultative membership, should be seriously considered.

Finally, the Parliament of Montenegro should be given a more prominent role in the European integration process, both through strengthening of the activities of the competent Committee for European Integration and through wider scope of involvement of MPs, especially in communication of the process to different publics, and dominantly towards citizens.

We believe that these recommendations can be useful for intensifying dynamics and inclusion, as well as improvement of the quality of Montenegro’s EU negotiation process.

The study was produced within the framework of the CCE project “Let’s Negotiate Together with the EU”, supported by the Ministry of Public Administration of the Government of Montenegro.

dr Vladimir Vučković, Programme Associate