The EU and Montenegro, 2000-2006
Since 1999, most of the stabilization initiatives in the Western Balkans have been realized under the aegis of the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP), aimed at assisting the Western Balkan countries in meeting the criteria of EU membership. The conditionality of European integration envisaged in SAP introduced a paradigm for domestic institutional reform, through its pressure on the post-Yugoslav countries. The SAP envisaged the political, financial, logistical and professional assistance through trade liberalization, financial assistance and the signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA). Hence, the export of European values through the conditionality of the EU accession process has largely been perceived as an impetus for internal institutional reform in the countries of the Western Balkans.
By the same token, with the change of the political landscape in the FRY after the fall of Milošević, the international actors acquired different roles. Instead of the US, the Balkan region was faced with the salient influence of the EU. The poor track record of the CFSP in the Balkans in the years of Yugoslav disintegration, accompanied by the fear of the domino effect, provided an incentive for the EU to redeem itself. However, the policies of the EU, and in particular the European Commission, at the time of the existence of the State Union proved to be rather inconsistent with striving to preserve the common state. As a consequence, the EU’s involvement in Serbia and Montenegro from 2000 to 2006 provided an indirect support to the discord between the two components of the Union, while reinforcing the internal debate over statehood and identity in Montenegro. This was done, albeit in different ways, through the efforts of the High Representative for the CFSP, Javier Solana, to preserve the common state, and through the ‘twin track’ approach to institutional reform in Serbia and Montenegro.
The CFSP and the Montenegrin Divide
The international involvement headed by the EU resulted in the signing of the Belgrade Agreement on 14 March 2002. The Belgrade Agreement, which essentially maintained the status quo between the two republics, outlined that in the case of Montenegrin secession ‘Serbia would be the successor state, explicitly so concerning the implementation of the UNSC Resolution 1244 for Kosovo’ (Government of the Republic of Montenegro 2002). During the negotiations between Serbia and Montenegro on the nature of the new state, Solana exerted considerable pressure on the Montenegrin government to postpone its plans for an early referendum. Given Djukanović’s perceived image as ‘Western-oriented’ among the population of Montenegro, his political route was bound to follow the EU’s guidelines. That, however, implied the delay of the independence project that he had embarked upon after the fall of Milošević. Van Meurs indicates that the brokering of the Belgrade Agreement was not only attributable to Solana’s ‘diplomatic arm-twisting’, but also to the realization of the political actors ‘that they had out manoeuvred themselves (and others) into a “lose-lose” situation’.
Yet after the mediation of the Belgrade Agreement, the adoption of the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro remained in a political deadlock for over a year and was ultimately resolved by another of Solana’s interventions. The discord emerged with respect to the election of delegates to the assembly of the common state. Djukanović and his political allies advocated an appointment procedure, whereas the pro-union opposition rejected any proposals which did not contain provisions for direct elections. Another claim pushed the pro-union bloc to hold strongly to the idea of direct elections. The unionists enjoyed support from the Serbian authorities in their vision of the common state as a more centralized unit (The Economist 2004). Late in 2002, Solana fostered a resolution to the crisis, incorporated in the Constitutional Charter. The chief EU negotiator based his proposal on Djindjić’s previous plan to have a transitory period of indirect elections, while the popular vote would take place only after two years (European Stability Initiative 2005, Jovanović 2005).
The Constitutional Charter was finally adopted in December 2002, while the law on its implementation followed two months later, since the minor coalition partners of both blocs in Montenegro, as well as the minor parties of the government in Serbia, did not favour the document because they believed that it lacked substance. Given the fact that the Charter was negotiated with difficulty, and that it did not contain the genuine consent of the elites of Serbia and Montenegro, it did not provide a functional framework for the common state. Rather, it further emphasized the claims of the Montenegrin pro-independence bloc that any centralizing policy would result in Serbian control over Montenegro. As a consequence, Djukanović’s bloc ‘resisted almost all attempts at forming an effective and functional central State Union government’ (International Crisis Group 2005: 5), with the aim of reassuring their voters that the common state was of a temporary nature, and that the independence cause was ongoing.
Given the discord among the elites of Serbia and of Montenegro, a further political divide in 2005 caused the near collapse of the structures of the State Union, which further reinforced Dukanović’s claims. By that time, the prospect of a referendum in Montenegro was widely announced as a certainty. The issues that hampered the adoption of the Constitutional Charter re-emerged with the impending expiry of the three-year moratorium (International Crisis Group 2005: 9-12). According to the provisions of the Constitutional Charter, the representatives to the Assembly of the State Union were to be substituted by directly elected members in March 2005. Previously, they were appointed by the governments of Serbia and of Montenegro.
However, the Montenegrin government was reluctant to hold direct elections due to the lack of popularity of the State Union, its pro-independence agenda, as well as the fear of loss of influence at the federal level since the pro-union opposition was more likely to motivate its voters to go to the polls. This caused a fierce reaction in Belgrade and was described by Koštunica as ‘a rude violation of the Belgrade Agreement’. Subsequently, part of the Serbian intellectual elites called for the independence of Serbia and the removal of Svetozar Marović, a DPS member, from the post of the President of the State Union. A further Solana intervention reduced the tensions between Serbia and Montenegro in the short term. The two members of the State Union agreed to change the provisions of the Constitutional Charter and hold elections for the Union’s Assembly concurrently with those of the republics’ parliaments in 2006. However, with so many issues lingering in the political space between Serbia and Montenegro, and as many in Montenegro alone, the perpetuation of uncertainty widened the gap between the pro-independence and unionist followers, giving leverage to emphasize the statehood and identity debate.
The Commission’s ‘Twin Track’ for a ‘Twin State’
The major distinction between the actions of Solana and that of the European Commission in dealing with the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was a matter of approach, rather than of substance. Solana based his negotiations with the Serbian and Montenegrin elites on the conflict-mediation approach, thus trying to find a common denominator for a political agreement that would enable the sustainability of the common state, without reopening ‘Pandora’s box of border adjustments throughout the region’ by prompting the early departure of Kosovo. The Commission asserted that its involvement in the functioning of the State Union ‘was that of internal harmonisation aimed at furthering its EU integration’. However, it was precisely this difference in approach, and the Commission’s inability to balance out its policies at the level of the State Union with those in Serbia and in Montenegro that actually gave an indirect backing to Djukanović’s independence drive.
The main objective of the Commission was the creation of effective and functioning state structures within Serbia and Montenegro, which would facilitate the SAP. In the light of the integration of the region into the EU, the Brussels officials believed that ‘[e]ven though the two countries have no common currency, central bank or a unified market’, it was more practical to conduct negotiations with a single country. Unlike in the case of Solana’s intervention, where the lack of clarity gave enough scope for distinct interpretations of the actions of the elites, in the SAP (guided by the Commission) it was precisely the clear division of competences between the constituencies and the State Union that allowed the pro-independence and the pro-union camps to capitalize on the EU’s policies.
The latter was even more apparent in the area of economic relations between Serbia and Montenegro, which eventually resulted in the adoption of the ‘twin track’ for EU accession negotiations. In fact, this approach was adopted after a stalemate in the SAP of Serbia and Montenegro. The Feasibility Study for the State Union’s membership prospect was supposed to be initiated late in 2003, but was postponed until early in 2004 due to the problems in the institutional set-up of the common state. The ‘twin track’ was unique in terms of the Commission’s approach to aspiring members, as it allowed Serbia and Montenegro a large degree of flexibility in the process of integration. It highlighted the division of competences between the republics, and the shared competences of the republics vis-à-vis the State Union in the light of European integration. The EU proposed separate tracks for negotiations of institutional arrangements (harmonization of economies with the EU standards) with each of the states, whereas regional cooperation and noneconomic international obligations fell within the jurisdiction of the common state (European Commission 2005).
Such an approach, based on the asymmetry of the population and economic resources of the two constituencies, also envisaged the synchronization of the two economies, which proved to be a rather difficult task owing to the distinctiveness of the respective systems. Moreover, Serbia and Montenegro had rather diverging foreign trade, monetary and privatization policies, which somewhat disrupted the practical application of the ‘twin track’. Both in Serbia and in Montenegro, this eventually increased the general dissatisfaction with the functioning of the State Union, which, given the impossibility of internal economic harmonization, became described as ‘a virtual community that de facto does not exist.
The second component of the ‘twin track’ (the shared competences) was another point of discord for Serbia and Montenegro, which gave a further push to Djukanović’s government’s independence drive. It generated claims on behalf of the Montenegrin government that the Serbian government was hampering the process of EU integration, by breaking the conditionality principle through lack of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal for war crimes (European Stability Initiative 2005). At the Thessaloniki Summit of 2003, the EU envisaged the ‘promise of EU membership [as] the basis for all EU conditionality in the region, from compliance with the Hague Tribunal to institutional reforms, from trade liberalisation to the unresolved strategic issues’ (European Stability Initiative 2005: 2). The Thessaloniki Agenda resulted in the reiteration of the Union’s ‘determination to fully and effectively support the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries, which will become an integral part of the EU, once they meet the established criteria’ (EU Council 2003).
In early 2006, the negotiations for the SAA of Serbia and Montenegro with the European Union were blocked because of Serbia’s lack of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. This reinforced the message of the Montenegrin government that Montenegro was ‘a hostage of Serbian politics’ (B92 2006), through which the Montenegrin government justified its pro-independence course to the people.
According to international analysts, the pro-independence camp claimed that no war criminals had ever been sheltered by the Montenegrin state authorities, who emphasized their commitment to cooperation with the international authorities (International Crisis Group 2005).
In general terms, the adoption of the ‘twin track’ of the Commission provided for a temporary appeasement of tensions between the governments of Serbia and Montenegro during the preparation of the Feasibility Study for the prospect of EU membership in future. This was mainly because the governments of the constituents of the State Union could interpret the approach as beneficial to their cause. However, the actual effect of the ‘twin track’ on Montenegrin politics and society was somewhat different in practice, because the ‘twin track’ was inconsistent with the provisions of the Belgrade Agreement related to the harmonization of economies. It gave the government enough space to claim that it retained the elements of Montenegrin statehood in the process of EU integrations, through an emphasis on the division of competences. It also gave an indirect push to the claims of Djukanović’s camps that the process of EU integration was being slowed down because of Serbia’s failure to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). At the same time, it allowed the opposition to claim that the single SAA affirmed the EU’s commitment to keep Montenegro in a common state with Serbia, and that ‘Montenegro cannot survive on its own’.
Implications and Referendum
The EU’s efforts to preserve the stability in the Balkans effectively exacerbated the internal fissure in Montenegro in the period from 2000 to 2006. This led many international analysts to conclude that, regardless of the changes; the new state was the last stage of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. This was confirmed by the announcement of the prospect of the referendum on Montenegrin independence in late 2005. In January 2006, both Djukanović and the Speaker of Parliament, Krivokapić, claimed that the reality of the processes the region was faced with demanded the re-establishment of Montenegrin statehood. In interviews with the French and the UK ambassadors, Krivokapić maintained that ‘[r]eaching a consensus on referendum is not a matter of time; rather it is a question of political readiness and willingness to accept the reality of the process, which has been growing in strength in Montenegro in the past fifteen years’.
Due to the importance of the final outcome for both camps, establishing the rules and principles the two parties would accept was difficult, even for the external intermediary. For the government, whose agenda was the independence of Montenegro, victory in the popular vote was connected with its own political survival. As a result of the general atmosphere of utmost political mistrust, the political discourse in early 2006 revolved around finding ‘a constructive and efficient dialogue, through which either an acceptable solution or the lowest common denominator would be reached’. Thus, international mediation was essential in breaking the deadlock related to the May 2006 referendum on independence. Referendum rules were established by the EU. By introducing guidelines for an internal compromise, the EU attempted to provide for a consensus through which the statehood issue would be resolved in a manner acceptable to both parties.
Hence, the final political contest between the pro-independence and the prounion 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 (with a minimum turnout of 50 per cent) as a condition for Montenegro gaining independence (International Crisis Group 2005: 2). The adoption of such a formula not only indicates the degree of the divide in Montenegro, but also the importance of the EU’s involvement in the referendum process as a means of redemption for its failure in the Balkans in the early 1990s. The post-referendum relationship between Montenegro and the EU is described in detail later.