IBAR is a new opportunity: the responsibility lies with authorities to ensure it is not another lost one

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) reminds that Montenegro opened accession negotiations with the European Union (EU) on this day, 29 June 2012. Over the past 12 years, we have had six governments and five chief negotiators, as well as a double-digit number of lost opportunities to make this process more efficient and of higher quality.

To date, all 33 chapters have been opened, with only three provisionally closed. A significant number of chapters are expected to be closed by the end of the year, following a positive Interim Benchmark Assessment Report in the area of rule of law – Chapters 23 and 24, known to the public as IBAR.

The CCE has closely monitored the negotiation process over the past 12 years, contributing within the scope of its areas of operation and capacity, highlighting shortcomings and veto players, calling decision-makers to accountability, affirming European values, and warning that this process of paramount public interest can and must be led more swiftly and effectively.

Since 2018, Montenegro has begun to stagnate regarding European integration, and since 2020 it has even regressed, resulting in the process being neglected at one point and then practically blocked, as indicated by various reports from the European Commission, as well as international and Montenegrin organizations. Changes on the geopolitical level have also led to new political will in Brussels, which was crucial in enabling Montenegro to receive the IBAR on 26 June 2024, thereby unblocking the process. However, a significant amount of work remains, and full responsibility lies with Montenegrin authorities to genuinely align the system with European standards and best practices. Reforms must be systemic and visible in practice, not simulated, as we have seen many times before.

Although IBAR has been loudly proclaimed by politicians as if it were Montenegro’s entry into the EU, we all know that the morning after IBAR did not dawn any bluer, nor did life in Montenegro improve. IBAR is a new chance given by the EU to Montenegro, and it is up to the authorities in Montenegro to ensure that it does not become another in a series of lost opportunities.

Therefore, it is necessary to quickly create a detailed action plan that provides a roadmap for reaching the final benchmarks. Furthermore, the capacities, breadth, and full commitment of the entire negotiation structure will be crucial, as it will undoubtedly face numerous administrative and technical challenges. Of course, the substantial challenges also lie with the authorities to adopt and implement policies in line with EU standards and not to open new bilateral issues with member states, as has been done with the adoption of the Resolution on the Genocide in the Jasenovac, Dachau, and Mauthausen camps. It is very important to nurture and improve good relations with EU member states and break with the practice of trivializing serious and sensitive issues for daily political interests or, even more dangerously, the interests of those who do not aim for Montenegro’s accelerated entry into the EU. Bilateral issues have been a significant obstacle for many at the very doorsteps of the EU, and it is particularly dangerous if Montenegro sets these obstacles for itself now.

Montenegro now truly has a new opportunity to, with strong EU support, establish a new dynamic in negotiations, start working on closing chapters, and move towards full EU membership. This requires a responsible approach to politics and state affairs, as well as constant efforts to improve the quality of life for citizens.

Finally, but very importantly – the inclusion of civil society in this process is necessary, as civil society has the capacity to contribute and a critical perspective that can be invaluable in keeping things on the right track, as it is evident how easily one can slip.

Nikola Mirković, Programme Associate