September 30, 2020 - "Montenegro must start working on negotiations with the European Union (EU) because if it does not undertake reforms, it will not progress towards the EU," the head of the European Parliament Delegation to Montenegro, Vladimír Bilcik, told Radio Free Europe (RFE).
"Montenegro was a leader in negotiations with the EU, it has all negotiation chapters open, but only a few temporarily closed, which is a problem. If reforms do not happen, Montenegro will not move closer to the EU. Everything is in the hands of the new government and the nstitutions in the country, so it would be a positive step to see that the goals and commitment of the new government, concerning the country's membership of the EU, are clear in that sense." Bilcik recalled that the EU would like at least one country in the region to be ready for EU membership by 2024.
How to achieve that and how all political forces, from the government and the opposition, can contribute to that, is what the new government in Montenegro needs to resolve, believes Bilcik.
"Achieving that goal requires broader political cooperation on reforms, reaching constitutional majorities in Parliament. Most importantly this means full implementation of reforms," says Bilcik, who expects the European Commission to release an Enlargement Package next week that will include a progress report on Montenegro's path towards EU membership, but also to point out areas in which there is no progress.
"That is why I say that Montenegro must start moving. I expect that this report will reflect on the priorities that the new government in Montenegro will have to work on," says Bilcik.
Currently, Montenegro has a candidate for prime minister-designate proposed by the new parliamentary government, whose candidacy is to be confirmed by President Milo Djukanovic.
The elections of August 30 removed the three-decade-old government of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), headed by President Milo Đukanović. A new parliamentary majority was formed, electing the new president of the Assembly.
When asked about the post-election period in Montenegro, Bilcik welcomed the fact that the elections were peaceful and democratic, with a high turnout.
"The people voted for the changes. I welcome the fact that this has already been reflected in the formation of new institutions, such as that of the new Parliament and its new president. We also expect the formation of a new government for which negotiations are underway, which is a good sign for democracy. Simultaneously, we in the EU and the European institutions expect the government to be formed based on a clear and stable majority. What is crucial for the European institutions, especially for the European Parliament, is that that government maintains a pro-European course. Not only in words but - more importantly - in action, "Bilcik said.
The new parliamentary majority of 41 deputies in the 81-seat Parliament consists of the coalitions "For the Future of Montenegro" (27 deputies), "Peace is Our Nation" (ten deputies), and "Black On White" (four deputies) led by Zdravko Krivokapic, Aleksa Bečić, and Dritan Abazović.
The pro-Serbian and pro-Russian Democratic Front (DF) has the most significant influence in the strongest coalition. The Democrats lead the second- Peace is our Nation, and the third coalition's backbone is the civic movement URA.
When it comes to problems during the negotiations regarding the new government (disagreements over whether to form an expert government or one of politicians), Bilcik considers this part of the Montenegrin domestic political scene.
"But it is also a kind of test of the stability and maturity of democracy in Montenegro. The government must be formed within the constitutional and political prerogatives of the country. We are following the negotiations and are encouraged that the Parliament elected a new president in the first session. This, alongside the fact that political forces that previously boycotted the sessions are now in Parliament. I hope that means a new government will be formed soon," he said.
Bilcik adds that Montenegro has been committed to EU membership for years, has become a NATO member, and has chosen the Western and European path.
"Concerning the profile of the new government, it is important that it is maintained and even strengthened. I hope that pro-Western, pro-European, and pro-reform goals will be at the top of its agenda. What could be discouraging in that sense is if we see any sudden changes in Montenegro's expected positions on international issues. It is something we will follow closely, "Bilcik said when asked by RFE about the profile of the new government that this could be an obstacle to the European integration process.
"This is an important time for Montenegro, these were important elections, and we all hope to have dedicated cooperation with the future government and parliament," Bilcik adds.
SOC and elections
When asked to comment on the participation of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in the election and post-election period, such as the negotiations before the formation of the new Parliament, Bilcik said that religion is an integral part of every society, but also underlines EU practices on this issue.
"It is important to preserve freedom of religion, but at the same time, it is important to have a clear separation of church and state. It is part of political practice across the EU, and it is something we consider should be a practice in candidate countries. There must be mutual respect for the independence of state institutions by the church, and vice versa. Therefore, political decisions on the future of Montenegro should be made by politicians and political parties and the citizens who elected them," Bilcik replied.
Commenting on the DPS's criticism that the EU did not, as they stated, adequately react to Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church's interference in the Montenegrin elections, Bilcik says that he has repeatedly said that the campaign should be free and fair.
"We are still waiting for the final report of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) observation mission, which will assess the election process, including the campaign. The Enlargement Package will also include an assessment of the political situation in Montenegro. We have followed the process, analyzed it, and expressed our concerns. Still, in the end, the political decision, the political campaign, and the political changes are in the hands of political actors and the citizens of Montenegro," Bilcik added.
He believes that the EU's role in the enlargement process must be separated from the political game in a country.
"In no case can it be accepted that the EU can in any way be to blame for the outcome of the elections in any third country, which includes candidate countries, including Montenegro," Bilcik said.
The situation in the region
Answering as to whether he sees the danger of conflicts in the region, an issue raised recently by President Djukanovic, who called for protection of the European space from a potential new war in the Balkans due to ethnic conflicts in Montenegro, Bilčík said that everyone must learn historical lessons from the tragic events of the 1990s.
In Djukanovic's message, Bilcik sees a clear need for what the EU and the European Parliament are advocating. That is the need for regional cooperation between countries and ethnic groups in the Western Balkans.
"Our policy is an enlargement policy with a significant focus on reconciliation, regional cooperation, and the ability of local actors to find common solutions to conflicts. In that sense, conflict is something that must be prevented, because that, of course, is not the way to move towards a European perspective," concludes Bilcik.
Source: Radio Free Europe (RFE)