Balkanization instead of Europeanization – fight against corruption in Montenegro

Over the past eight years, Montenegro has not achieved the expected track record in combating corruption. The EU has also demonstrated political inconsistency regarding the continuous and necessary external pressure concerning Montenegro, thus Montenegro, despite of everything, has been making progress in the accession negotiations for a long time, with an evident deficit of political will to effectively approach the prevention and suppression of corruption, as indicated in the study “Balkanization instead of Europeanization – the fight against corruption in Montenegro“, published by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) and the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES).

How and to what extent the so-called transformative powers of the EU affect the internal political circumstances and effective systemic changes in Montenegro? Why has Montenegro, as a (self-) proclaimed leader in the European integration framework, experienced a substantial failure in the process of Europeanization, despite long-term reform interventions, which has brought into question the influence of the transformative power of the EU on systemic changes in candidate countries? These are some of the questions to which answers have tried to give the authors of this publication – dr Vladimir Vučkovic, CCE Programme associate, a lecturer at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic and the main author of this study, Mira Popović, CCE Programme Coordinator and Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director of the CCE, who is also the editor of the publication.

“Political conditions for EU membership are strictly defined and they underline the necessity of a strong and unequivocal internal political will of the candidate countries to achieve measurable and effective results in the area of the rule of law and to demonstrate unquestionable commitment and proactive approach to resolving open bilateral issues with neighbouring countries”, the authors explain, pointing out some of the reasons for Montenegro’s slow path towards the EU, but also the necessary internal reform interventions.

As one of the Montenegrin peculiarities, the authors list the existence of potential, capacity and support for dynamizing the EU accession process, but also the fact that Montenegro has been, until recently, subjected to the influence of “stabilitocracy”– a weak democracy, in which the state is governed by semi-autocratic (unautocratically-minded) leaders who strongly influence internal political processes through informal patronage networks and claim that they have the support of the West to preserve internal political stability. “The recent change of the government with the narrow victory of the former opposition still does not provide a convincing response in terms of vision and strategy for shaping a different Montenegro that integrates civic and democratic principles, but also can respond to numerous accumulated and emerging challenges“, consider the authors of the study.

The absence of consolidated democracy in Montenegro has opened the door for decision-making processes to be used to satisfy party and particular interests, but also for the development of clientelist networks based on the widespread abuse of executive powers of decision-makers, which has enabled corruption to take root in Montenegrin society, as noted in the study. The problem of widespread corruption, especially political corruption, has also been recognized by the European Commission and numerous relevant international non-governmental organizations, note the authors.

Anti-corruption policy in Montenegro was based on flawed laws and institutions, which had a limiting or blocking effect on the fight against corruption. Drafting a large number of strategic documents, the frequent and unelaborated enactment of inconsistent and inadequate laws and bylaws, accelerated and strategically unorganized changes in the legal framework represent poor foundations that have not strengthened the anti-corruption system nor paved the way to results in the area of investigations, indictments and final convictions of corruption cases. Some of the key institutions, such as the State Audit Institution (SAI), the State Election Commission (SEC) and the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (APC), have proven to be slow and selective.

Additionally, the Prosecutor’s Office with the “hollow net for big fish” did not justify the expectations of the interested public when it comes to the fight against corruption. The omission of the legislator and the passivity of the Supreme State Prosecutor have led to the fact that high-corruption cases can end with the conclusion of the plea agreement, i.e. with sanctions less severe than those envisaged by the Criminal Code for such crimes. Consequently, these legal shortcomings in the Criminal Procedure Code of Montenegro have been significantly exploited by those suspected of high-corruption and organized crime, resulting in significantly less severe penalties for serious crimes,” the authors note. The study emphasizes the weakness of the Prosecutor’s Office in prosecuting those who are known as powerful – especially officials of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which strengthens the allegations about the political influence of the former ruling structure on the judiciary.

Corruption is widespread in all parts of the system and the administrative apparatus, while politically influenced judiciary with a damaged reputation does not have the power to break the vicious circle of corruption nor to prosecute powerful individuals from the political sphere for whom there are serious suspicions, and often publicly presented evidence, that they were part of various corruption scandals. Legislative and executive powers have only declaratively adopted the European legal framework in the field of strengthening anti-corruption policy, while the practice of applying the adopted EU norms is sporadic and selective.

The EU’s reluctance in exerting consistent pressure on candidate countries to introduce new patterns in the fight against corruption is one in a series of explanations for Montenegro’s failure to Europeanize despite the long-term reform process. Thus, EU conditional policy consisted mainly of monitoring and constant repetition of the same recommendations that were not implemented. It is obvious that the EU tried to play a constructive role in strengthening the internal anti-corruption system, but this was not possible in undemocratic structures focused on the party and particular interests. Hence, domestic political structures began to consider themselves irreplaceable in the international community and they got the impression that the lack of results in the fight against corruption does not jeopardize their governance and power.

The fight against corruption in Montenegro during the accession negotiations so far was permanently determined by three interdependent factors – EU conditional policy, domestic political structures and efficiency, i.e. the manner of implementing reform activities. The EU’s reluctance to ultimately underline the need to establish effective measures of prevention and combating corruption on the one hand, and the lack of internal political will to address the omnipresent corruption on the other, resulted in a selective approach in meeting anti-corruption goals, which could not make truly independent and professional anti-corruption institutions, as it was indicated in the concluding remarks of the study.

Montenegro is currently facing the most demanding and challenging integration phase and it would be reasonable to expect the state to demonstrate a far stronger and more proactive approach to tackling corruption issues through effective implementation of obligations on its path towards the EU, particularly those concerning the strengthening of preventive anti-corruption measures and production of measurable results through final convictions of high-level corruption cases, the authors conclude.

Maja Marinović, Programme Associate