In the exposes of three designated Prime Ministers of the Government since 2020 – Zdravko Krivokapić, Dritan Abazović and Milojko Spajić – accession to the EU has been kept within key foreign policy priorities, although little space is devoted to that topic, the situation and assumed obligations are superficially described while identifying some of the key issues, and acceleration of the process is easily promised, are some of the similarities that the team of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) came to by comparing these documents. The Government of Zdravko Krivokapić deepened Montenegro’s stagnation in negotiations, while the Government of Dritan Abazović not only missed the chance to restart the process but also blocked it noting regression, as evidenced by the three most negative reports of the European Commission. It remains to be seen whether and in what manner the Government of Milojko Spajić will be dedicated to the Montenegro’s accession to the EU.
Zdravko Krivokapić, as a mandate holder, promised that “The new Government will fully continue negotiations with the European Union, so that Montenegro becomes its full-fledged member as soon as possible”, noting that “it can hardly be slower in this process than the previous Government of DPS“. He also emphasized the importance of reforms in the area of the rule of law, specifically in Chapters 23 and 24, positioning European integration as one of the pillars of his policy, albeit without concrete measures on how to achieve it. He devoted to that topic a total of only 4% of expose.
“The new Government’s commitment to accession and readiness to join the EU are unquestionable… The goal of this Government is to ensure significant progress in our country’s accession to the European Union during its mandate,” it is stated in that expose.
With a review to new financial opportunities through the then presented Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, he hinted that Montenegro will move with great momentum towards the use of these funds through “seriousness in the implementation of obligations arising from the negotiation process and the adoption of recommendations from the European Commission Report and other guidelines”.
In terms of organization, the model of the Office for European Integration at the Prime Minister’s Office was retained, “so that we could express the greater importance of European integration and constantly remind ourselves of our obligations”.
Despite the promise from the expose that they will not “bid with the date of entry into the EU, but that the Government will be committed to fulfilling 80% of the requirements arising from individual chapters that have not been closed in four years”, Krivokapić publicly stated the dates, Montenegro received one of three of the most negative EC reports in which, among other things, it is stated that key ministries did not show sufficient commitment and constructive engagement in the EU accession process under the new leadership, and the first information about problems in the withdrawal of EU funds due to problems on the Montenegrin side also appeared.
Dritan Abazović in his expose, while maintaining his previous foreign-policy priorities, paid more attention to European integration – 8%, and as two key pillars of its Government he set the rule of law and economic development, along with five priority directions of action, including EU integration. The importance of “renewing and adapting the negotiation structure to the new enlargement methodology, due to the dynamism of the negotiation process with the EU” is also highlighted.
“I believe that Montenegro can request accelerated admission and that with urgent but wise decisions it can soon become a full member of the EU”, announced Abazović, stating that due to the geopolitical situation, new perspectives are opening up for Montenegro, underlining that this is “the most important goal of Montenegro , and on the way to it, Montenegro undertook to harmonize its legislation with legal acquis of the EU and adopt its system of values”.
With the explanation that “coordination is being raised to a higher level, in order to clearly establish direct political responsibility for everything that was or was not done in that process”, the earlier proven dysfunctional model with the Ministry of European Affairs was returned.
“With the decisive steps that we will take during the mandate, we believe that we will quickly get the green light to enter the EU… From there is the first task of the new Government to unblock the process of European integration, make a key turn in reforms and do what the previous governments failed to do, to come to grips with the problems that the European Commission points out year after year, the most significant of which are ubiquitous corruption and the associated unequal treatment of citizens before the law. This can be achieved only through the construction of strong and independent institutions“, promised Abazović, integrating those parts that are under the authority of the Parliament, the judiciary and the Prosecutor’s office, such as the appointment of judicial office holders or the fight against organized crime.
The work of the Government of Dritan Abazović was evaluated by the EC reports for 2022 and 2023, which are two of the three most negative that Montenegro has received since the beginning of the negotiations. Among other things, they state that during that mandate the Government and the Parliament did not in practice demonstrate engagement in the European reform agenda, that there was a lack of guidelines on issues related to EU accession, especially after the resignation of the Minister of European Affairs, that the SSP works in conditions that are not appropriate, as well as the fact that the Government and/or the Parliament have repeatedly ignored the recommendations of the EC and/or the Venice Commission, which is all contrary to the promises from Abazović’s expose. Also, there was no determination of political responsibility, although it was promised.
The work of the Government of Dritan Abazović was evaluated by the European Commission in the reports for 2022 and 2023, which are two of the three most negative that Montenegro has received since the beginning of the negotiations. Among other things, they state that during that mandate the Government and the Parliament did not in practice demonstrate engagement in the European reform agenda, that there was a lack of guidelines on issues related to EU accession, especially after the resignation of the Minister of European Affairs, that the SSP works in conditions that are not appropriate, as well as the fact that the Government and/or the Parliament have repeatedly ignored the recommendations of the European Commission and/or the Venice Commission, which is all contrary to the promises from Abazović’s expose. Also, there was no determination of political responsibility, although it was promised.
Expose of Milojko Spajić is, in the part of European integration, quite similar to Abazović’s, with slightly less space dedicated to this topic – 7.5%. Spajić also maintains the previously set foreign political priorities, among which is the full membership of Montenegro in the EU, and reads the electoral will as support for that goal.
With similar statements about the possibilities opened up by new geopolitical developments as in Abazović’s expose, Spajić states that “Montenegro is presented with a real opportunity to become the first next member of the Union”, promising “to remain 100% compliant with the EU’s foreign and security policy”.
The focus is on the fulfillment of the remaining temporary benchmarks in Chapters 23 and 24 to obtain the final measure in these chapters, but without a detailed explanation of what activities will be undertaken by the Government, but those that are outside of its jurisdiction and that, out of measure, appeared as problems are precisely stated. “Namely, the key prerequisite for the continuation and completion of the process of realization of the unfulfilled temporary measures is the appointment of the most important holders of judicial functions (the seventh judge of the Constitutional Court, the remaining members of the Judicial Council, the President of the Supreme Court, the Supreme State Prosecutor), which will, on the one hand, create the preconditions for the overall consolidation of the rule of law system, and on the other hand, to unblock reform processes in the field of justice and contribute to a more effective fight against corruption and organized crime,” the expose states.
“After the appointment in the judiciary, it is necessary to complete the remaining reform processes in the area of the judiciary, to additionally dedicate ourselves to the consolidation of the balance of results in the area of the fight against corruption and organized crime, and to improve the overall media environment and to fully investigate attacks on journalists, but also to intensify efforts to resolve numerous affairs and unsolved murders, which is a recommendation of the EC that is continuously addressed to Montenegro,” the general framework states.
The dysfunctional model of the Ministry of European Affairs is also taken over, with mostly the same explanations given by Abazović, but without the promise of establishing responsibility for what was done or not done.
Finally, it points to the announced benefits of the Growth Plan for the Western Balkans launched by the EU.
All three exposes keep European integration on a general level, with the inevitable underlining that general progress is conditioned by the progress in chapters 23 and 24, although the temporary measures from these chapters are not addressed in detail. One gets the impression that the road signs are clear to everyone, but that they are difficult to apply in practice, as was shown in the case of the Government of Zdravko Krivokapić and Dritan Abazović, and the effect of the Government of Milojko Spajić remains to be seen.
The review of these documents was conducted through the CCE’s programme, supported by the Core Grant regional project SMART Balkans – Civil Society for a Connected Western Balkans. This project is implemented by the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD), the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPM), and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway. The content of the text is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CPCD, CRPM, IDM, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.
Nikola Mirković, Programme Associate