Where are we on the road to the European Union?

Montenegro is on the brink of European integration. For people across the Balkans, EU membership is a symbol of the peoples’ hopes of enjoying the same democratic and economic benefits that our neighbors do. But why do different Balkan nations have such different levels of progress toward this common goal? One former Yugoslav country is already a member, Macedonia and Croatia are formal candidates, and Montenegro and Serbia have applied for membership. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo remain far behind.

What makes one country a candidate and the other a slow starter?

In my view, the European Union considers just three factors when deciding on a country’s readiness for membership. Of course, this may be misleading, since each factor is a composite of dozens if not hundreds of separate considerations.

First and foremost, Brussels wants you to respect its values. Human rights, democracy and fundamental liberties, as laid out in the Copenhagen criteria, are not matters for debate. Humanistic considerations are accompanied by economic ones (e.g. a functioning market economy), as well as “state-of-the-art” standards such as environmental protection. These requirements do not just represent moral imperatives; they are tokens of political stability – something that European states hold in very high regard.

Second, a country’s foreign policy must be consistent with the fundamentals of European foreign policy, or more precisely, foreign policies – no matter how inconsistent they might be with each other. Brussels needs to know that your government will not cut deals with the bad guys.

The third part of this political trinity is economic policy, the core of the entire integration process. This has two aspects: The first is openness, with a particular emphasis on openness to innovation. The other aspect is being reasonable and disciplined in the long run. It’s the trustworthiness issue again – they don’t want any house in the European neighborhood to blow up.

So where does Montenegro stand with respect to these three coordinates? What remains to be done?

One of the core elements of human rights is tolerance for others (people of different ethnic origin, mother tongue, religion etc.). A few days ago the US Congressman William Delahunt, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, described Montenegrin policy towards people with different backgrounds as “a marvel to emulate, obviously not just in this region, but elsewhere in Europe and elsewhere in the globe”. The Freedom House NGO says democratic development in Croatia and Montenegro is well ahead of the regional curve, even if significant challenges remain. In Montenegro, top concern is clearly organized crime and corruption. The causes of this are mainly structural: We are a small country and criminals established their relationships well before the borders were drawn in their current forms. Overcoming corruption requires laws and institutions that are currently being built up, brick by brick. But better legislation cannot be effective without stronger public awareness. Once we have achieved stronger laws and a public that is less tolerant of corruption, then it is only a matter of time. Habits don’t change overnight.

Let’s go on. The EU cannot take issue with Montenegro’s political stability or foreign policy, which is not the case with some of its own members. According to Foreign Policy, a leading US journal, some EU members Bulgaria and Romania are in greater danger of becoming “failed states” than Montenegro and other aspiring candidates. What’s more, Montenegro has recognized Kosovo, putting it in greater harmony with EU foreign policy than the member states that have not recognized Europe’s newest nation.

Many people in Brussels view the Balkans as the continent’s powder keg because of the region’s shaky economies. But, this time, the focal point of their concern is not a former Yugoslav republic, it is longtime member state Greece. The smoke is not coming from Montenegro’s house — but even so, we need to get our fire extinguishers ready. Fiscal discipline is vital, as are long-term structural reforms that will render public finances sustainable. If we achieve fiscal stability, which we clearly will, the remaining factors – openness and innovation – will pose no obstacle to Montenegro’s accession. Why? Because they have already ceased to be obstacles.

So what is missing? What still prevents us from becoming a full-fledged EU member? Let’s be honest. An average 30 year old citizen of Hamburg (biggest city of the former West Germany) experienced the following enlargements in his lifetime: Greece ’81, Spain and Portugal ’86, East Germany ’90, Austria, Finland, Sweden ’95, and 12 more countries in the 2000s. That is a lot of change in one’s life, and change can easily be viewed as threat — especially when the poorer EU countries, plus some irresponsible rich ones, are putting a serious strain on wealthier, responsible countries’ finances. Popular economics convince our 30-year-old German that if more people are slicing into the pie, he himself is going to get less. So why should he want to hurry to accept new states? Moreover, why should he do it anyway? This phenomenon is called “enlargement fatigue”.

What popular economics misses is that the pie is actually getting bigger with every enlargement, as does Europe’s potential for growth. Since European citizens’ wealth is increasing, this argument is not just correct, it’s convincing too. Clearly, enlargement became less attractive when the economic crisis struck and took a bite out of Europeans’ personal incomes. The end of the global downturn will hopefully end these setbacks, as well as certain member states’ spendthrift ways.

So what is still missing for Montenegro to gain candidate status? From our part, nothing is missing in general, but a lot of things are missing in particular. A structural overhaul is underway, but social systems remain delicate and their behavior still cannot be fully predicted. If you want to affect that behavior in some way, you set forth small and controlled impulses  — in our case, reforms. You then watch these impulses accumulate and finally take on an inertia of their own. Time is surely a key factor. We also need constant supervision and corrections as change gathers steam. That is the playbook for the rest of the race, as the home stretch approaches.

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9 Responses to Where are we on the road to the European Union?

  1. Joe Arias says:

    its interesting to see how the world is becoming a larger and more connected commerce

  2. Vujo says:

    I wonder to what extent the opinion of the Minister is legitimate since Montenegrin government is under serious suspect of having connections with organized crime and corruption. The truth could easily be the opposite.

  3. My comment is awaiting moderation. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Way to go, Mr. Luksic!

    • “Humanistic considerations are accompanied by economic ones”

      Especially in the globalized, free-market, neo-colonized world. So humane, wonderful.


      “Brussels needs to know that your government will not cut deals with the bad guys.”

      Four legs good, two legs bad!


      “A few days ago the US Congressman William Delahunt, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, described Montenegrin policy towards people with different backgrounds as “a marvel to emulate, obviously not just in this region, but elsewhere in Europe and elsewhere in the globe”.”

      The enthusiastic congressman has to learn that ‘different backgrounds’ in Montenegro should not refer to ethnic or religious categories, but rather to partitocratic ones. In other words, if you don’t follow the Party lines, you are discriminated against. End of story.
      (Btw, your link is broken.)

      “Once we have achieved stronger laws and a public that is less tolerant of corruption, then it is only a matter of time. Habits don’t change overnight.”

      Especially the habits of ‘power elites’, which have plundered the country in the last 20+ years. The laws will thus not be passed unless they cement the position of the clique as de facto owners of the land and its people.


      “What’s more, Montenegro has recognized Kosovo, putting it in greater harmony with EU foreign policy than the member states that have not recognized Europe’s newest nation.”

      Harmony, what a wonderful word…

      Mr. Luksic, you are doing an excellent job, and if you continue like this, I’m sure you will receive guarantees that the problem with a 30-year old German will be circumvented.


      “If you want to affect that behavior in some way, you set forth small and controlled impulses — in our case, reforms. You then watch these impulses accumulate and finally take on an inertia of their own.”

      Great economic experiment, Montenegro, isn’t it? Almost like Chile and Argentina in the 70s! Tweak a parameter here and there, cluster, disregard outliers, conclude and apply. Big numbers are what counts, you cannot be responsible for individual lives that don’t fit the theory!

  4. Pirun says:

    Mr. Nedović as usual nothing is at all good in the world is it? Also your criticism would be better off if you understood that there is nothing smart or funny about your responses.

    Absolutely nothing that Montenegro and its elites have done deserves merit? In those blissful democracies you wish for they have no nepotism, no partitocracy… we all know that every citizen has rights to decide on large issues. Larry Summers gave billions to his buddies only after he asked us who pay taxes :).

    Only an ignorant scholar would compare Argentina and Chile with Montenegro… and really a very negative angry man would consider using them again and again as examples of failures. Sort of the same as when the Economist paints yet another Russian bear on its cover… it just shows cultural ignorance. Nothing else.

    I am as an observer disappointed with this new government for two reasons: one female minister only? I am in favor of positive discrimination for a period of time. I would follow Norway’s example… and in my opinion there are too many ministers who do not know their jobs but belong to the party. That is the unfortunate case all over the democratic world… a misfortune of a party based system.

    Our country is a great example of a warfare history and culture pulling itself up bit by bit towards a better future… global future is a different story but future we have to uphold and nurture. The past has certainly never been better than the future, in spite of what bards sing about.

    I have never been kind in my writing when criticizing Montenegrin politicians… those I disagree with. But I would be a damn fool not to recognize how much good work they have done in clearing a path to EU membership.

    Good luck to your criticism and your political activity. I think we need more citizens like you and more government officials who are like our PM actually multilingual. But we also need a different style of communication amongst us… leave the 90’s where they belong… at the garbage dump of history.

    Good luck to dr. Lukšić and thanks for having a blog.

    • Mr. Pirun,

      thank you for the compliments at the end of your post, as well as criticism in the beginning, I appreciate both.

      I haven’t said anywhere that nothing in Montenegro deserves merit – on the contrary, I will be the first one to congratulate Mr. Luksic if he opens up the Pandora’s box of Montenegro’s problems, but which I doubt he will do.

      And until then – until the state does not start fighting the corruption on top (Djukanovic, his family and friends are prime examples), pass a law about the extra-profit tax, starts fighting organized crime instead of flirting with it, reforms its secret services, etc. etc. – the economy of big numbers that Mr. Luksic presents here will be just a Potemkin village for a painful fact that the economy of Montenegro can be summarized by a single word: PLUNDER.
      Therefore, I don’t try to be funny or smart, but I’m stating that in such conditions, talking about currency, basketball and other such trivialities is cosmetics. And I don’t see the point in engaging in any such discussions.

  5. Beranac! says:

    Please forgive Mr. Nedovic, he still has trouble accepting Kosovos demise into sovereignty.

    It is normal accepted that new primeministers shouldn’t be blamed for past primeministers doings, and commentators should try to focus on the strategy and tactics with which he plans to fulfill his promises. After the famous 100 days we can start criticizing.

    My focus isn’t corruption or crime (the EU will see to that the proper laws and actions are taken) but the economy: Which steps will be taken to demonopolize some of the large market segments? Which steps will be taken to create new jobs?

    Futhermore, what is the plan for the large strategic important companies which are currently state-governed? EPCG? Has the last 15 years of privatization shown that this is the way to go?

    I whish the Mr. Luksic

    • “Please forgive Mr. Nedovic, he still has trouble accepting Kosovos demise into sovereignty.”

      Ha-ha, I love you, really, Mr. Luksic does not need any opponents with supporters like this. You’re completely off, Mr. Trifunovic, I’m sorry.

      But if you say that “My focus isn’t corruption or crime (the EU will see to that the proper laws and actions are taken) but the economy”, then maybe your conclusion does not come as a surprise, after all.

  6. I apologizefor my abrupt end on the previos comment – I wanted to whish Mr. Luksic the best of luck in his new job.

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