The EU and Montenegro, 1997-2000
The aftermath of the conflict period in the Balkans brought about a shift in the EU’s approach to the common foreign policy, which increasingly became the ‘silent disciplining power on the “near abroad”’. Still, unlike the hard military power and coercive mechanisms ensuring compliance often used by the US throughout the 1990s, European foreign policy primarily involved the export of EU norms and values as a means of stabilizing the fragile Western Balkan region. This process was initiated immediately after the signature of the Dayton-Paris Agreement ending the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but did not gain momentum until the post-Nice period. The contextualization of the EU’s approach to the region was of particular significance in Montenegro, which, after 1997, embarked on a distinct political course marked not only by domestic political polarization but also by detachment from the FRY institutions.
The latter induced Montenegro to turn to the West (the US and the EU) for financial and political support to counter Milosevic’s regime. Although the US’s support was manifestly larger during this period, the EU’s striving to redeem its failures from the early 1990s allowed for a distinct EU policy towards Montenegro at the time when it was still a part of the federation with Serbia. The understanding of these complex and interrelated dynamics requires an overview of both the developments in the EU and those in Montenegro.
The post-Dayton approach of the EU involved the strengthening of regional initiatives with the countries for which the Council had not at that time developed guidelines for association agreements. Consequently, the political commitment by the countries to engage in promoting stability and growth in South Eastern Europe (SEE) was not established as an instrument of the EU’s foreign policy, but through the Stability Pact for SEE (1999), further implemented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This means that, although there was a certain degree of coherence in the European foreign policy at the time, it was the lack of capabilities for dealing with large-scale conflicts in a fragile political environment that prevented the redemption of the earlier failures of the EU related to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Still, some advancement was brought about by the institutional changes at the EU level introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam (entered into force in 1999), which represented a significant step in the legal codification of European values - progressively evolved to epitomize the ‘Respect for Human Dignity, Freedom, Democracy, Equality, and the Rule of Law and respect for Human Rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities’. Although most of these values had already been spelled out in the Maastricht Treaty, they were reiterated in 1993 in the Copenhagen criteria for accession, the Amsterdam Treaty, and at the Nice European Summit where the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights was adopted in view of a harmonized approach to the respective values. As a result of the development dynamics within the EU following the Nice Treaty, there was an intensification of the Union’s involvement in the Western Balkans, yet through a strategy that involved the export of European values both by presence on the ground, stabilization initiatives and socialization into Europe. This reveals the progressive nature of the EU’s ‘redemption’ in the region.
As noted in the introduction, in 1997 the Montenegrin ruling party of reformed communists (DPS) split in two. The political parties thus created formed the two axes of political attraction in Montenegro in the decade following the split. In the political discourse, the power mêlée created by the split originally revolved around endorsing or countering Milosevic’s regime. The wing of the DPS led by Milo Djukanović constructed its identity in opposition to the regime in Belgrade. The competing wing (Socialist People’s Party as of 1998), led by Momir Bulatović, took on the role of supporter of Milosevic’s politics. Simultaneously, it emphasized the corrupt nature of Djukanović’s DPS, and claimed that the Montenegrin ruling elites sought to retain their grip over the state that was created in the years of the international community’s sanctions.
The resources of Djukanović’s DPS, which remained in power in Montenegro, were largely dependent on external support in the years immediately following the split. In the period from 1997 to 2000, both the internal and the external support of Djukanović was built around his opposition to Milosevic. By countering Milosevic’s policies in this way, the Montenegrin leadership embarked on a course of ‘creeping independence’. The table below presents the gradual detachment of Montenegro from the FRY. Many of the policies adopted by the Montenegrin government in the second half of the 1990s were responses to actions of the authorities in Belgrade. This shows that the policy of ‘creeping independence’, and thus the externalization of Belgrade by Djukanović’s camp, were largely triggered by the latter’s opposition to Milosevic’s politics.
By 2000, only a few competences remained at the federal level. Out of the competences that formally remained at the level of the common state, some were also partly enforced by Djukanović in Montenegro alone. Montenegro introduced several economic, fiscal and monetary policies that distanced it from the Yugoslav authorities, including customs and the Deutschmark. In addition, the DPS-SDPNS government took control of the civil airports in Montenegro, as well as the railway services, thus transferring most of the transport and traffic regulation from the federal level to that of the republic. From 1997 until 2000, Montenegro, which had its own Foreign Ministry, opened representative offices in Washington (DC), New York, Brussels, Rome, London, Ljubljana and Sarajevo. The Citizenship Law of October 1999 instituted a separate category of Montenegrin citizenship and established a separate visa regime. Additionally, in light of Djukanović’s opposition to Milosevic’s politics, Montenegro was granted ‘early beneficiary’ status in the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe (European Stability Initiative 2001: 7-9).
The by-product of such a policy, which entailed detachment from the federal institutions, was that the DPS gradually transformed its opposition to the regime in Belgrade into a quest for statehood. Wim van Meurs claims that the ‘[p]roponents of Montenegro’s independence consistently painted a black-and-white picture of FRY as the state associated with the reactionary and repressive Milosevic regime and of Montenegro as a paradise of pro-European reforms. This rhetoric was further affirmed by international assistance, half of which came from the EU. The importance of sustaining the DPS’s policy through financial assistance in the late 1990s was also highlighted by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) and International Crisis Group (ICG) analysts as an important aspect of Montenegrin ‘Westernization’ in the second half of the 1990s (European Stability Initiative 1999, International Crisis Group 1999, International Crisis Group 2000). Most of the EU’s assistance to Montenegro was granted in 1998 and 1999, at the time of the crisis in Kosovo. In fact, another outcome of the DPS’s government orientation towards the West was the acceptance of refugees from Kosovo and neutrality during the crisis. During 1998 and 1999, approximately 29,000 refugees and internally displaced persons from Kosovo, mostly of Albanian or Roma origin, found shelter in the territory of Montenegro, as well as some members of Serbia’s pro-Western elites (European Council on Refugees and Exiles 2001: 151).
The population of Montenegro increased by 15 per cent, which required special attention on the behalf of the EU. Hence the financial and political support thus provided to Montenegro is understandable in the framework of the Union’s role as a stability factor in the post-Yugoslav space after the Dayton agreement. Yet, such support also reaffirmed the detachment of Montenegro from the FRY institutions, and induced a pro independence drive on the behalf of the ruling elites. Given the complex situation in Kosovo, and the perception of the EU that the preservation of the common state would be a stabilizing factor for the fragile region, there was an inevitable shift in the EU’s policy towards Montenegro after Milosevic was ousted from power in Belgrade.