To find oneself acting in the centre of a process that deeply transforms a society is a unique opportunity and an enormous challenge. Such is the European integration, a transformative process that represents a specific model of political and economic transition. The responsibility of its actors is huge, as this is the process which establishes a new system of values.
The EU membership and accession negotiations are the best mechanism to bridge capacity gaps, adopt European standards and develop ourselves internally by using the model of a modern European state – to ensure better quality of life for our citizens.
Such is the nature of Montenegro’s integration process, which started picking up the pace following the renewal of independence in 2006, going through its different phases.
Today, nearly ten years after regaining independence, almost four years following the opening of the accession negotiations, Montenegro has made a significant step towards the membership. In a relatively short period, a high quality negotiation structure was created, cooperation and coordination mechanisms were established, both internally and with the European Commission and the Member States, screening process was completed, 22 chapters were opened, including chapters 23 and 24, two chapters were provisionally closed, negotiation positions for eight chapters were prepared, and three more chapters are in the drafting phase. Therefore, we are ready for the very end of the process. This is particularly important given the new concept of the negotiation process, in which Montenegro participates as a pilot country.
In parallel with this, quality implementation of obligations arising from the Stabilisation and Association Agreement has continued, as have the activities aimed at programming and implementing IPA projects.
In terms of the European agenda, the last decade was more than successful for Montenegro, even though the journey itself was not an easy one, and there are new challenges ahead. I would particularly highlight the period when Montenegro was granted the candidate status in 2010, but also seven demanding conditions. There was a prevailing sense of scepticism regarding the capacity of our country to rapidly respond and open negotiations. However, we obtained the recommendation to open negotiations as early as October.
With regard to our European, and to a certain extent Euro-Atlantic path, we have done a lot to transform institutions and adopt the European standards.
Starting from the demanding fulfilment of recommendations from the Opinion of the European Commission, which preceded the recommendation for opening the accession negotiations, Montenegro has carried out this task on its own, equally well as the big countries with much larger administration before us.
From today’s perspective, we can be satisfied with what we have achieved. We have considerably strengthened national capacities in the Government, the Parliament and civil society organizations and we are ready to welcome our future obligations. The past efforts and achieved results represent a good basis for grasping the forthcoming European obligations with better quality and show that we can live up to this task.
The Constitutional changes have been implemented, numerous laws adopted, and their consistent implementation is logically expected by the representatives of the European Commission and the Member States. Building of capacities of the institutions to be able to show their capability to tackle a challenge regardless of its complexity is a key indicator of success which will undoubtedly guide the overall assessment of the progress in this area, but also indicate further negotiation process.
To attain sustainable level of the rule of law, quality of state administration and economic governance will recommend Montenegro for the full EU membership, hopefully in near future. This is of paramount importance as, regardless of the current challenges being tackled by the Union with more or less success, integration is a strong transformative mechanism which builds and empowers institutions needed so that the process of political and economic development could be carried out continuously. The issue of the rule of law is inseparable from the other two pillars of the new enlargement strategy, state administration reform and economic governance. Certainly, the follow up activities on the improvement of transparency of the work of the public sector, clear determination and application of the principle of responsibility for the assumed goals, freedom of expression and creation of conditions so that all individuals can credibly expect that their problems will be addressed all remain the primary focus.
At the same time, elements of cooperation among six countries of the region within the process of stabilisation and association, in the area of fight against organised crime, reduction of trade barriers and coordinated implementation of mega infrastructure projects by connecting all capital cities via the highways network, railway corridors and energy links, in cooperation with EU, EBRD and EIB, will not only encourage the future economic development in compliance with the SEE Strategy 2020 as the objective of SEE cooperation process, but will also further affirm and accelerate European perspective, and simultaneously mitigate migration pressures.
The region has come a long way since the last decade of the 20th century, but the awareness of how easy it is to make mistakes and of how costly it is to correct them should never be neglected. Western Balkans directly witnessed this too many times. Therefore, the best response is a committed work in order to speed up the European perspectives in our region through cooperation in the field of infrastructure, removal of business barriers and improvement of the rule of law. Thus, regional cooperation remains the priority of Montenegro.
Although perhaps misunderstood at times, Montenegro, being the country recognised as the leader in the European integration, however overused that phrase might be, was sincerely committed in the previous period to project-oriented regional cooperation which should underpin our newly recovered economic growth in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
In addition to integration processes, in recent years Montenegro made a significant contribution to regional cooperation which, through Western Balkans Six, i.e. Berlin/Vienna and soon Paris process, is becoming increasingly intensive and important. Regional cooperation is a prerequisite for successful European integration. A lot has been done in that respect in the previous period, but all of us in the region have to be aware that it is never enough.
Croatia became the EU member state, Montenegro has been successfully negotiating on the EU membership, Belgrade and Priština have made progress regarding the normalisation of mutual relations which have been regarded as historic, Albania expects to open accession negotiations and Bosnia and Herzegovina expects to be granted the candidate status. It is of key importance that Macedonia achieves further progress.
It seems to me that all these important events have renewed the enthusiasm in this region that our societies, not only due to requirements from Brussels or our internal aspirations in implementing reforms and overcoming the differences, are truly ready for the step forward that should lead us towards values and standards of the 21st century.
Certainly, a lot of work is ahead of us in the forthcoming period, primarily related to the alignment of the national legislation with the European regulations and its implementation, follow-up work on building administrative capacities and strengthening institutions, creation of a stable and competitive economic system, as well as numerous other challenges and goals that we have set for ourselves.
Being the leader of the European integration process in the Western Balkans, we are preparing for the final stage which will be rather demanding, but with a clear picture of obligations and hopeful that we can complete membership negotiations by the end of this decade and, after receiving NATO invitation, complete the process of integration into the European structures.
I believe that Montenegro will become a full EU Member State by the end of this decade in accordance with the planned dynamics. At the same time, a range of initiatives that we have launched, in the context of strengthening regional cooperation, will also provide a strong impulse to the economic development of the region and our countries, which is a key goal and a driving force of our European integration.