This text looks at the transformation of the role of the European Union (EU) in Montenegro. It argues that the changing political context in the region induced shifts in the EU’s approach to the smallest of the post-Yugoslav states. In supporting this argument, the chapter first looks at the EU’s approach to Montenegro in the first years after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, when Montenegro was a constituent state of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and when the ruling Montenegrin elites were associated with Slobodan Milošević. The text further argues that the first significant relational shift between Montenegro and the EU occurred in 1997, when the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) split in two. The fact that the DPS faction, who remained in power in Montenegro, opposed the regime in Belgrade induced a more favourable approach from the EU towards the republic.
A further change in the relationship between Montenegro and the EU occurred in the context of the divide over statehood and identity after Milošević was ousted from power in Serbia. By looking at the process of transformation of the FRY into the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, the chapter highlights the development of the EU’s conditionality in the Western Balkans. This is supplemented by an analysis of the EU’s role in the post-independence period, whereby the major political compromises in Montenegro have emerged as a result of the aspiration to join the EU.
At the time of the dismantlement of the Iron Curtain, the European Community (EC) was marching at an accelerated pace in the attempt to construct an institutionalized mechanism for European Political Cooperation (EPC) and assert itself as an important factor in global affairs. However, the collapse of Yugoslavia resulted in a series of difficulties which undermined the reputation of the EC and later on the European Union. In terms of effectively resolving the crisis, ‘the civilian power Europe’ failed to turn its resources into effective power and provide a framework for peace-making, resulting in the perpetuation of its dependence on the United States’ (US) political and military resources. Yet, although in the 1990s the EU Member States failed to act cohesively, in recent years, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU has proven to be a viable tool for political cooperation among the Member States. This internal cooperation also strengthened the EU’s enlargement mechanism, which thus manifested itself as a positive incentive for the democratization efforts of countries in the Balkans. As a consequence, the process of Europeanization, mirrored predominantly in the EU’s conditionality, has emerged as the most efficient driver of domestic change.
The effects of this normative and substantial change in the EU’s approach to the post-Yugoslav states were also tangible in Montenegro, the smallest of the former Yugoslav republics. At the time of the Yugoslav disintegration, Montenegro was the only one of the former Yugoslav republics that did not seek independence. At the referendum held on 1 March 1992, 95.4 per cent of the 66 per cent turnout expressed their preference for Montenegro to remain in a common state with other former Yugoslav republics wishing to do so (International Crisis Group 2000: 6).
As a consequence of the referendum, Montenegro entered a common state with Serbia - the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - in 1992. Hence, Montenegro sided with Serbia in the political course that the FRY took in the first half of the 1990s, which included involvement in conflict in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, international embargo, and general economic and societal downfall. In 1997, however, the political circumstances in Montenegro changed, marking a new era in the republic’s relationship with the EU. The Montenegrin ruling party of reformed communists - the Democratic Party of Socialists – that captured most of the popular support split in two. One faction was led by the then President of Montenegro, Momir Bulatović, while the other was headed by the Prime Minister, Milo Djukanović. Initially, the conflict stood for either continuation of support for Slobodan Milošević - endorsed by Momir Bulatović’s wing of the DPS – or opposition to the regime in Belgrade - advanced by Milo Djukanović. In order to obtain external political and financial assistance for countering the Belgrade regime, Djukanović’s wing of the DPS turned to the West. As this faction of the DPS remained in power after the split, the government pushed a policy of ‘creeping independence’. The outcome of this policy was Montenegro’s gradual estrangement from the Yugoslav federal institutions.
After the demise of Milošević in 2000, the internal Montenegrin debate was channeled through amplified demands for independence on behalf of Djukanović’s government, and increased interaction of the opposition with the new Serbian elites to preserve the union. During this period, the key issue on the EU’s agenda was to preserve peace and stability in the Balkans, and Javier Solana, the then High Representative for the CFSP, brokered an agreement between the Serbian and Montenegrin elites in 2002, thus transforming the FRY into Serbia and Montenegro in the following year. The final political contest between the proindependence and the pro-union camps – the 2006 referendum on independence -occurred in a framework established by the international community, above all the EU. The EU’s final guidelines for the referendum envisaged a lower limit of 55 per cent of the population voting for the question (minimum turnout of 50 per cent) as a condition for achieving the independence of Montenegro (International Crisis Group 2005: 2). Following the peaceful separation of Serbia and Montenegro in June 2006, Montenegro emphasized EU integration as one of its political goals, and formally entered the accession process. It gained the status of candidate country in December 2010, with the date for opening of the negotiations still pending at the time of writing.
In order to prove its arguments, this chapter combines the theory on European foreign policy with the vast literature on Europeanization, supplementing it with empirical data acquired through the employment of qualitative methodology (documentary survey and context analysis). In the context of the evolution of the EU’s foreign policy, the primary theoretical framework for this text is the ‘capability-expectations’ gap model, defined as the ‘significant difference which had come about between the myriad hopes for and demands of the EU as an international actor, and its relatively limited ability to deliver’. Yet, in looking at the EU’s capacity to deliver as an international actor, a multilayered concept of Europeanization is essential. This does not merely relate to the political dynamics within the EU, but also to the normative effects of this process in the societies faced with ongoing institutional change. It is entrenched in the EU’s political conditionality, not merely through the direct relationship with the aspiring members promulgated in contractual obligations and Progress Reports but also in the indirect effect of the Council of Europe and other international organizations, which also drive the EU integration process. As such, Europeanization is an essential conceptual tool for understanding the evolution of the approach of the EU towards the changing political milieu in Montenegro in the past two decades.
The EU and Montenegro, 1991-1997
In the last decades of the twentieth century, the global political scene was faced with a myriad of challenges. The collapse of communism moved the ‘Montenegrin pendulum from one nexus of power to another’, with major consequences for the republic as it was absorbed into the structures of the last Yugoslavia. In line with the recommendations of the European Community Arbitration Committee for the former Yugoslavia (the Badinter Commission), Montenegro was granted the right to self-determination along with the other Yugoslav republics. Consequently, the referendum of 1 March 1992 was aimed at resolving its status, since Yugoslavia was ‘in the process of dissolution’. At the referendum, 95.4 per cent of the 66 per cent turnout (minorities and the pro-independence Liberal Alliance of Montenegro boycotted the referendum) voted for the preservation of the common state (International Crisis Group 2000: 6). The outcome of the plebiscite ultimately prompted the adoption of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 27 April 1992.
Furthermore, the political scene of Montenegro during the wars of Yugoslav disintegration was marked by the dominance of the Communist Alliance of Montenegro (DPS since 1990). The then unified DPS was allied with Milošević, and in relating to Montenegro, the EC/EU did not differentiate between the republics of the FRY. The collapse of Yugoslavia involved both the Montenegrin government and a vast proportion of the population in support of the operations of the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA) in the territory of Croatia in 1991. Influenced by the media in perceiving the need to ‘liberate Dubrovnik from the ustaše [the Croatian nationalist movement from the Second World War]’ (Obala Production 2004), Montenegrin soldiers in the JNA attempted to revive the myth of heroism.
Thus, the policy of the EC/EU towards Montenegro needs to be viewed within the context of the their overall approach to the disintegration of and the wars in the former Yugoslavia. In effect, in the aftermath of the Cold War, both internal and external expectations from the EC/EU were increased. In such an environment, the EC reactions to the collapse of Yugoslavia undermined the reputation of the Twelve as a serious global political actor. The disintegration of Yugoslavia showed the lack of cohesiveness among the Member States at the outbreak of the conflict.
Initially, the disintegration of Yugoslavia caused the Community a number of problems, since the Twelve failed to realize the dynamics of disintegration, and attempted to preserve the former Yugoslav federation at the beginning of the 1990s. However, upon the declarations of independence, first by Slovenia, followed by Croatia, the dissolution of the country proved to be a malum discordiae for the EC, which was too feeble to cope with a major crisis. Despite the attempts to coordinate their actions through the Troika of Foreign Ministers, which in mid-1991 concluded the agreement among the belligerents at the island of Brioni, The Hague conference in which the Community attempted to draft a solution to the conflict, and the arbitration attempts of the Badinter Commission, the divergence amongst Community members in terms of recognition proved the weakness of the EC/EU to deal with a major crisis in its surroundings.
In June 1991, the European Council was faced with the question of whether national aid to Yugoslavia should be suspended in the light of disintegration. Similar to the issue of recognition, the Member States of the EC were divided: Germany and the UK were in favour of suspension, Italy and France against, which resulted in failure to adopt the proposal by the Heads of Government. Furthermore, the question of embargo had geopolitical implications, since the disintegration of Yugoslavia would lead to the isolation of Greece, and deterioration of the country’s economic position. The aforementioned divisions, therefore, evoked a lack of coherence in actions by the Member States, which reduced the Community’s capability to act as a confident global actor, thus creating a myriad of problems for the EC, and subsequently the EU. The inability of the EC at the beginning of the conflict to reach a common stance on the action to be taken in Yugoslavia proved that the EC at the time did not have the institutional resources to assert its ‘actorness’ on the global political scene. This was clear even at the early stages of Yugoslav disintegration, and increased the reliance of the EC upon the UN since 1991. The EC’s position was exacerbated by the internal lack of coordination in terms of sending a military force to stop the belligerents, due to the opposition of the UK, and, more importantly, the lack of actual force to be sent in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the events in Yugoslavia occurred at ‘the hour of Europe’, that is, during the negotiations of the Maastricht Treaty, which increased both internal and external expectations of the Twelve to act at least coherently. In terms of internal expectations, the negotiations on the Treaty were perceived as a benchmark for the establishment of an ameliorated cooperative structure among the EC Members, which, accompanied by negotiations on economic and monetary union, raised expectations within the Community itself of being able to tackle an international crisis.
Yet the consequences of the EC/EU’s policy in Montenegro were not felt only in the fact that the Community failed to prevent the Yugoslav breakup. Rather, the major socioeconomic effects were sparked by the EC/EU’s imposition of sanctions on the FRY, of which Montenegro was a constituent republic. On 5 July 1991, as a consequence of the FRY’s involvement in military operations in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EC imposed an arms embargo, while freezing all trade and financial aid to the ex-Yugoslav republics. This was furthered by subsequent EC trade sanctions, imposed against the former Yugoslav republics on 8 November 1991, and lifted a month later against all republics apart from Serbia and Montenegro. The two republics became sanction-free only after the conclusion of the 1995 Dayton–Paris Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The general economic downfall was not the only result of these measures for Montenegro. The international embargo also allowed for the flourishing of a shadow economy, in which the DPS leadership played an important role. According to Uzelac, the grip that the political elites held over the Montenegrin institutional set-up at the time of international embargo allowed for the creation of irregularities in the process of transition. These transitional irregularities allowed a small oligarchy to use the power vacuum at the top of society, created by the fall of the previous system, in order to seize the state and gain wealth and power. As will be explained in detail later, the combination of these factors contributed to the perpetuation of the DPS’s power in Montenegro, but it also had an important effect on the polarization of Montenegrin political and social life in 1997, which also changed the EU’s policy towards the smaller partner in the FRY.