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Brussels, 18 December 2013
EU-Montenegro: Inter-Governmental Conference
Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle participated today in the EU-Montenegro Inter-Governmental Conference. This is what he said after in the meeting:
'Dear Ministers, your Excellencies,
It is a great pleasure for me to join Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linkevičius and welcome Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration Lukšić and the Montenegrin Delegation to Brussels for what is now our 3rd Accession Conference at Ministerial level.
I would also like to welcome Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Marković and Minister of Interior Konjević. Their presence shows the importance of this Intergovernmental Conference, and of the specific subject of the rule of law which we will deal with today.
I thank the Lithuanian Presidency for its careful steering of the accession process with Montenegro over the last six months, which made progress possible.
The conclusions that the General Affairs Council adopted yesterday on enlargement welcome the implementation of the new approach for the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security. Therefore, I am particularly pleased that these two important chapters, which put rule of law issues at the heart of the enlargement process, will be opened today.
Today's IGC is a milestone in the accession negotiations with Montenegro. It is also the result of Montenegro's intensive work on the detailed Action Plans for chapters 23 and 24.
We now expect the Action Plans to be implemented in a timely manner, according to the set deadlines, so that Montenegrin citizens can see and feel the results. Because while the respect of rule of law is a pre-condition for EU-accession, it is also – and even more importantly – in the interest of Montenegro and its citizens.
At the same time, I would like to point out, and I quote from the EUCPs, the EU's "intention to propose updated interim benchmarks, whenever it is duly justified." I consider this important, in order to ensure that the benchmarks always reflect the reality on the ground.
Progress in Chapters 23 and 24 is pivotal for the negotiation process as a whole. This derives directly from the Negotiating Framework. And it will continue to be the case.
2013 was also a year dedicated to intensive work on the screening process. We expect that the last remaining screening reports will have been discussed in the Council in the first few months of 2014.
2014 should be the year when Montenegro focuses on addressing the Opening Benchmarks set in substantial chapters like Competition policy, Agriculture and rural development, Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, and Environment. These Opening Benchmarks include elements such as the elaboration of strategies and action plans, or legislative alignment.
They may even include the adoption of concrete measures: for example, for Chapter 8 – Competition policy, one of the opening benchmarks is the adoption of a restructuring plan for the aluminum producer KAP in line with the acquis.
For all these chapters, efforts are required to put these elements in place, so we can commence negotiating on substance. I look forward to working together to bring the process forward.
Let me just mention a few elements of importance here regarding chapters 23 and 24.
- The Action Plans constituted the opening benchmarks for these two chapters and outline a detailed and comprehensive reform agenda for the area of rule of law.
- The interim benchmarks in these chapters mirror the ambitious Action Plans. Continued perseverance by the Montenegrin administration and strong will at political level will be required for Montenegro to deliver results. They will be assessed through a rigorous monitoring system.
- The interim benchmarks set for chapters 23 and 24 cover issues that reflect the reality on the ground. These 83 benchmarks range from the prevention and suppression of corruption, to the handling of war crimes, the protection of fundamental rights, and the fight against organised crime. They will ensure that issues like the measures taken to address the alleged abuse of public funds for party political purposes will be monitored effectively.
- Montenegro now needs to continue implementing the Action Plans: the envisaged activities have clear deadlines and are set to be assessed against clearly-defined indicators.
In particular, the fight against corruption and organised crime at all levels will be a priority. The development of an initial track record in this area is essential.
With regard to judicial reform, we welcome the constitutional amendments adopted in July 2013 as a basis for strengthening the independence and professionalism of the judiciary. They now need to be implemented in line with European standards and best practice.
The protection of fundamental rights also needs to be ensured: this refers to freedom of expression, the protection of minorities, including the Roma; and the protection of vulnerable groups from discrimination, in particular on grounds of sexual orientation.
Where Montenegro's borders are concerned, efforts are needed to meet the challenge of the increased influx of illegal migrants and asylum seekers. Increased investments are required to modernise border equipment. Decent premises are needed to accommodate migrants and asylum seekers. The administration must be trained to deal with these cases.
The European Commission will of course continue to assist Montenegro in meeting the challenges ahead – including through IPA support. We are currently working on the country strategy paper for Montenegro, which will guide our assistance until 2020. The rule of law is one of its priorities.
The Commission will also closely monitor progress made on the implementation of the two Action Plans and in meeting the interim benchmarks. In this, we will also be assisted by peer review missions that will be carried out by experts from the Member States.
I expect Montenegro's first six-monthly report on the implementation of the Action Plans in January. This will be the basis for our assessment and discussion in the February meeting of the subcommittee on Justice, Freedom and Security.
A subsequent assessment will then be made in our 2014 Progress Report for Montenegro.
Today I am pleased that we are also able to open further chapters of importance to the business environment in Montenegro and its future participation in the internal market. Montenegro's preparations were adequate for the chapters to be opened. Closing Benchmarks have now been set in the EU Common Positions. They provide guidance for the next steps that need to be taken.
Chapter 5-public procurement is a cornerstone of the EU's internal market and essential for the responsible use of public funds. Montenegro has already made progress with the new public procurement law of 2012. A particular challenge now will be to strengthen the implementation capacity at all levels to ensure the effective enforcement of the legislation.
Further efforts are also needed in areas like concessions, public private partnership, and defence procurement. A well-functioning public procurement and remedies system plays a key role in the prevention of corruption. This is also linked to Chapter 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights; so we will monitor developments in this area very closely.
As regards chapter 6-company law, Montenegro has reached a good level of alignment with the acquis. However, it still needs to align with the Transparency Directive and must also complete alignment with the Directive on Takeover Bids. Montenegro also needs to introduce provisions concerning cross-border mergers of public limited liability companies. Montenegro needs to align with the new EU accounting directive and establish an independent and adequately funded and staffed public audit oversight body. This is of crucial importance for ensuring compliance with the rules on statutory audit.
And finally, chapter 20-enterprise and industrial policy, where Montenegro is broadly aligned with the acquis and has a reasonable administrative capacity to support companies and improve the business environment, most notably for SMEs. Some policy areas lack adequate administrative capacity and fragmented strategies still impede implementation, thus negatively affecting competitiveness. Montenegro should address these shortcomings by putting in place a comprehensive industrial competitiveness strategy which should be supported by a system of evaluation indicators and benchmarks.
The EU Common Positions and their benchmarks set out a busy agenda for us. We look forward to working with Montenegro and to continue to support you with technical expertise and financial assistance.
Important steps have been taken today towards the implementation of the new approach on the rule of law issues during the negotiation process. We end 2013 on a positive note.
The accession process is rigorous and demanding. Only with determination, commitment and political will you can reach a successful result. This will be to the benefit of the citizens of Montenegro, and of the EU as well.
I want to thank again the Lithuanian Presidency for its work and cooperation over the last six months. And I look forward to continuing in this manner with the incoming Greek Presidency.
It is only left for me to wish everyone here a well-deserved and restful Christmas period and we will meet again in the New Year, refreshed and spurred on to further achievements.