Post-Referendum Montenegro and the EU
With the resolution of the status issue in 2006, the relationship between the EU and Montenegro took up a distinct course, in which the EU’s conditionality mechanisms have proven to be the major driver of domestic political and institutional change. In fact, the stipulation of reciprocal mechanisms between Montenegro and the EU has revealed the power of both the EU’s conditionality and of broader forces in operation in the Western Balkans under the aegis of Europeanization. From the perspective of the aspiring members, the process of Europeanization primarily refers to the socialization into Europe through ‘processes of (a) construction (b) diffusion and (c) institutionalization of formal and informal rules, procedures, policy paradigms, styles, “ways of doing things” and shared beliefs and norms which are first defined and consolidated in the making of EU decisions and then incorporated in the logic of domestic discourse, identities, political structures and public policies’.
Consequently, the impact of Europeanization on the Balkan countries is reflected in the tendency to absorb the socio-institutional values of Europe and make them an essential part of the institutions and cultures stained with communist and post conflict legacies. This absorption of values and mechanisms of the EU takes place either through direct policy transfer envisaged in the process of conditionality, or, indirectly, through the activities of other institutions, such as the Council of Europe, that implicitly instill European norms and values in a society. This means that, through Europeanization, either direct or indirect, domestic political actors become increasingly subject to the policy making of the EU, which is gradually augmented with the approximation of the country’s status in the accession process. As the countries under consideration become increasingly norm takers, the ‘actorness’ of the EU is manifested through the appearance of a higher degree of coherence, which has a positive effect on conditionality itself. Hence, understanding the current EU dynamics in Montenegro requires an overview of both the direct and indirect mechanisms through which the EU seeks to secure norm compliance in an aspiring member.
Formal Aspects of the EU-Montenegro Relationship
In fact, the formal relationship between the EU and Montenegro, through which the EU’s conditionality has been exercised, along with the mechanisms of Europeanization, was established on 12 June, when the EU Council recognized Montenegro as an independent sovereign state. This was followed by a negotiating mandate for an SAA with Montenegro late in July the same year. In addition, after the parliamentary elections in 2006, the SAA negotiations were launched, and the European Partnership for Montenegro followed in January 2007 (European Commission 2011). The official signing of the SAA took place in Luxembourg on 15 October 2007, a mere four days before the adoption of the Constitution of Montenegro. By signing the SAA, Montenegro formally committed to functionally implementing policies that would have as their final goal the approximation to the legal and political order of the EU. Yet, the document was not ratified by all the current 27 EU Member States until 1 May 2010, and in the period between the signature and the date of entry into force, the Interim Agreement on Trade and Trade-related Issues was operational between Montenegro and the EU. Nevertheless, the fact that the entry into force of the SAA was postponed for three years following the document’s signature does not merely show the internal Montenegrin dynamics of adaptation to EU’s rules. Rather, it also reveals the length of procedures in the EU, whereby ratification is required in all of the current Member states.
A further Montenegrin commitment to EU integration was stipulated on 15 December 2008, when the young European country submitted its formal application for EU membership (European Commission 2011). By late April the following year, the Council of Ministers recommended to the European Commission to submit the avis (opinion) on Montenegro’s application for EU membership. As envisaged in the conditionality mechanism of the EU, the Commission’s assessment was based on the country’s answers to the Questionnaire. The Questionnaire, which the Montenegrin authorities responded to from July to December 2009, was based on requests for information on the capacities of the state to transpose the Union’s aquis, but also to meet the political criteria for accession, including the rule of law, and protection of human and minority rights, as well as the capacities of Montenegro to deal with the competitive pressures that the small country’s economy would be exposed to following its accession to the EU. Montenegro became an official candidate country for EU membership on 17 December 2010, while the Commission recommended the official start of negotiations in October 2011. The date on which the negotiations will be started depends on Montenegro’s progress in dealing with its transitional problems (European Commission 2011).
Conditionality and Europeanization at Work
The relationship of Montenegro with the EU required more than the conclusion of a number of agreements. It was precisely in the underpinning transformation of Montenegro required in the light of EU accession that the EU’s conditionality and Europeanization in general, were at their best. The most prominent drivers of change in Montenegro were: (a) the visa liberalization process, which was the strongest conditionality mechanism that the EU has exercised in the Western Balkans; and (b) the recommendations stipulated in the EU’s Opinion on Montenegro’s preparedness for EU membership. The reason these two mechanisms of conditionality had the strongest effect is precisely because they required Montenegro to make a specific series of political changes that would yield a tangible outcome in terms of the country’s relationship with the EU.
On 19 December 2009, Montenegrin citizens were granted visa-free travel to the Schengen area (European Commission 2011). Rather than being just the culmination of the Roadmap for Visa Liberalisation, this process also had a high symbolic value for Montenegrin citizens. The importance of visa-free travel in Montenegro is not only related to the practicalities of travel, rather, it has a historical and emotional dimension, since the citizens of the socialist Yugoslavia enjoyed visa-free travel both to the communist east and to the countries of the then European Economic Community. As a result of the series of violent conflicts, the citizens of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia lost their privilege of visa free travel. The subsequent initiation of the SAP in 1999 offered these countries the prospect of a European future. Yet, Council Regulation 539/2001 of March 2001 blurred the euphoria over the integration in a broader European family, as it placed the new Balkan States (apart from Slovenia and Croatia) and Albania on a ‘Black List’ (list of countries whose citizens needed a visa to cross an external border of the EU).
The 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda announced the prospect of visa liberalization for the Western Balkans, and in this context cooperation in justice and home affairs became a priority. According to Schelter, the Western Balkan states, including Montenegro, were marked as a soft security threat for the EU (Schelter 2006). That is, the region was considered a belt for the transit of illegal immigrants, while some of its countries were related to organized crime. The conditionality related to the visa liberalization process was stipulated in the 2008 EU’s Roadmap towards a Visa-Free Regime with Montenegro, which contained specific requirements (benchmarks) related to document security, tackling illegal immigration, readmission, asylum policy, public order, judicial cooperation in criminal matters, and non-discrimination in ensuring its citizens the freedom of movement. The fulfillment of these benchmarks on the behalf of Montenegro eventually resulted in the visa-free regime for the country’s citizens.
The second mechanism of EU’s conditionality, which also showed the importance of the broader process of Europeanization, was related to the seven conditions that the EC recommended Montenegro fulfilled before opening accession talks. These conditions were enshrined in the Commission’s Avis of November 2010, and were in line with the general observations of the state of the rule of law, democracy and human rights in Montenegro also noted in the reports of the Council of Europe and the OSCE (European Commission 2010). The first and the foremost requirement was for Montenegro to align its Constitution and its election legislation, which required a series of political compromises that the domestic political elites had been unable to reach since the country became independent in 2006. The importance of regulating franchise in a country of less than half a million voters, in fact, obstructed the compromise on electoral legislation between the government and the opposition.1 Yet, it was precisely the power of Europeanization, pushed through the EU’s conditionality stipulated in the Avis, that forced the political actors in Montenegro to agree on the changes to the Election Law. The compromise was necessary in the context of Montenegro’s 2011 Progress Report, which subsequently recommended the opening of accession negotiations.
The history of Montenegro’s relationship with the EU since the disintegration of Yugoslavia was not a linear one. It underwent dramatic changes, not only due to shifts in the domestic political context, marked by multiple disintegrations of states that Montenegro was party to and the bloody conflicts that consumed the neighboring countries for much of the 1990s, but also due to changes in the EU’s capabilities to act, and its general approach to the Western Balkans. Hence, the full understanding of this multilayered and transformative relationship assumed the overview of the four major stages in which Montenegro interacted with the EU. In the period from 1991 to 1997, the relationship between the EC/EU and Montenegro was a strained one, and was developed under the aegis of the Twelve’s interaction with the FRY, of which Montenegro was a constituent republic. In fact, the disintegration of Yugoslavia created numerous difficulties 1 Any changes to the election legislation require the support of a two-thirds majority in the Parliament of Montenegro. Given the current composition of the Parliament, the support of the opposition parties (most of which were members of the former unionist camp) for changing the election law was necessary. Thus, the opposition used its bargaining leverage to obtain concessions related to the citizenship of people from other republics of the former Yugoslavia, and to the name of the subject of language in elementary school as prerequisites for the political compromise on the change of the election legislation. for the Twelve. The capabilities of the EC were seriously impaired at the outbreak of the conflict due to the disharmonious actions of the Member States, especially regarding the recognition of the post-Yugoslav states. In this setting, and given Montenegro’s involvement in the conflict through the FRY, the relationship of the smaller republic of the third Yugoslavia with the EC/EU was strained due to the isolationist policies of Milošević’s Yugoslavia.
The subsequent increased involvement of the EU in stabilizing the region has somewhat redeemed the failures of the CFSP in the early 1990s. This has been mirrored in the shift of the EU’s policies towards Montenegro from 1997 to 2000 and in particular during the crisis in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. Due to the departure of a portion of the Montenegrin elites from the regime in Belgrade, the relationship between the republic and the EU took on another note. Montenegro became the recipient of the EU’s financial assistance, which was granted on the grounds of their support for the DPS’s policy of countering Milošević and to aid the republic to take care of the people who sought refuge on Montenegrin soil at the time of the Kosovo crisis. Such aid, as noted in the respective section, provided an indirect push to the DPS’s ‘creeping independence’ and the divisions within Montenegro over the continuation of the common state with Serbia. It was precisely this division within Montenegro that marked the third period in the republic’s relationship with the EU. After the departure of Milošević from power in Belgrade, the destiny of the common state became high on the Montenegrin agenda. At the same time, stability in the Balkan region and the projection of a single (or at least coherent) voice in international affairs after the Treaty of Nice were a priority for the EU. Hence, the conditionality principles of the EU played an important role at the time of the adoption of the Belgrade Agreement in 2002 and the negotiation of the referendum rules during 2005 and 2006. The desire of both camps in Montenegro to promote a pro-European agenda caused them to renegotiate their initial positions in order to meet the EU’s requirements. At the level of European foreign policy, CFSP’s involvement in the events related to Serbia and Montenegro increased the ‘actorness’ and ‘presence’ of the EU in external affairs. The enhanced coherence in the EU’s foreign policy throughout this period has been paramount for the EU’s redemption from its inactivity in the early 1990s, when the conflict in the former Yugoslavia erupted.
The final stage in Montenegro’s relationship with the EU is also the ongoing one, the one that was initiated after the country became independent in 2006. This period has been marked by an emphasis on the EU’s conditionality and the overall process of Europeanization in Montenegro, which aspires to EU membership in the future. In the context of the EU, following the formalization of the conditionality of EU membership in the Thessaloniki Agenda of 2003, the EU became a norm exporter vis-à-vis the countries of the Western Balkans and thus Montenegro. As highlighted in the respective section, the direct and indirect impact of the EU’s conditionality and Europeanization for the transformation and democratization of the Montenegrin political context were at their best during the visa liberalization process and at the stages when Montenegro sought to formalize its candidate status. The policy transfer in such cases included the adoption of a series of legislative changes which were previously hampered by the lack of domestic compromise. Hence, like the other aspiring members, Montenegro is in the process of acquiring and internalizing norms and values exported by the EU during its accession process. This means that Montenegro is subject to the process of Europeanization. In the context of the EU’s overall relationship to the region, this implies that (at least for the aspiring members) the EU projects a single voice in the context of requirements for transition to democracy.
In 2006 Montenegro's parliament declared independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2008, the new country applied for EU membership.
In 2010, the Commission issued a favourable opinion on Montenegro's application , identifying 7 key priorities that would need to be addressed for negotiations to begin, and the Council granted it candidate status.
In December 2011, the Council launched the accession process with a view to opening negotiations in June 2012.
The accession negotiations with Montenegro started on 29 June 2012.