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Brussels, 8 October 2014
Key findings of the 2014 Progress Report on Montenegro
The Progress Report on Montenegro is part of the 2014 Enlargement Package adopted today by the European Commission. This is the third Progress Report on Montenegro since the country opened accession negotiations with the EU in June 2012. The European Commission concluded that the country continues to sufficiently meet the political criteria, made further progress in establishing a functioning market economy and has improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership. The screening process was concluded. During the reporting period, ten negotiating chapters were opened, including the rule of law chapters, 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights and 24 – Justice, freedom and security. These chapters were opened on the basis of Action Plans submitted by Montenegro. Implementation of the action plans has started. Two negotiating chapters were already provisionally closed. Delays have been, however, noted on a number of measures, especially on legislative reforms. In other areas, legislative measures adopted have not yielded results in practice.
Montenegro continues to sufficiently meet the political criteria for EU membership. During the reporting period, a number of local elections were held. They were marred by allegations of electoral wrongdoing. Where appropriate, these should be investigated and, where necessary, prosecuted by the competent authorities. Due to the polarised political climate, the formation of the new administrations in certain municipalities after the elections was a difficult process. New electoral legislation was adopted in February and March. It fulfils several outstanding OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, while some issues remain to be addressed in line with European standards and best practices. The judicial follow-up to the alleged abuse of public funds for party political purposes remains to be finalised and political responsibility ensured.
The EU has set 84 interim benchmarks for the rule of law chapters, reflecting the measures in the Action Plans. The implementation of the action plans and progress in meeting the interim benchmarks will determine the overall pace of the negotiations. In the area of judicial reform, implementation of measures in accordance with the timelines foreseen in the Action Plan is ongoing. Following alignment of relevant legislation with the constitutional reforms of July 2013, several judicial and prosecutorial officials have been elected. After several attempts, the Supreme State Prosecutor was finally appointed in October. A credible track record of investigations, prosecutions and convictions in corruption cases, including high-level corruption, needs to be developed. The systematic use of the instruments of seizure and confiscation of assets should be ensured. Shortcomings with regard to the independence and accountability of the judicial system remain a matter of serious concern and hamper the fight against corruption.
A Commission for monitoring the activities of the competent authorities in the investigation of old and recent cases of threats and violence against journalists was established in December. Its recommendations need to be fully followed-up by the authorities. Some cases of violence against journalists and attacks on media property have been successfully investigated and processed, while in others investigations are pending and both the material perpetrators and those allegedly behind the attacks remain to be identified. Older cases need to be addressed as a matter of urgency to avoid them being time-barred. The government should continue publicly promoting and supporting media freedom, avoiding any statements that may be understood as intimidation.
The Montenegrin authorities took further steps to strengthen the protection of the rights of LGBTI persons. The first Pride Parade in Podgorica took place in October 2013, supported adequately by the authorities. However, attacks against LGBTI persons continued and related criminal convictions remain few. Hostility against them remains widespread in society.
Public administration needs to be further rationalised and the strengthening of administrative capacity in the area of European integration ensured.
Overall, Montenegro continued to broadly implement its international obligations and its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and to play a constructive role in the region.
Macroeconomic stability has been broadly maintained. The economy recovered from recession, growing by 3.3% in 2013, according to national data. Recovery remains fragile due to weak domestic demand, a narrow production base, and a high dependence on the external environment. The current account deficit declined in 2013 to 14.6 % of GDP from 18.7 % a year earlier due to a stronger contraction of imports rather than an improvement in exports. In spite of marginal improvements, the labour market conditions remain precarious in view of very high unemployment rates, especially among the youth and the long-term unemployed. Compliance with SAA state aid rules in the case of KAP needs to be urgently ensured.
Montenegro continued the alignment process over the reporting period. The country is now at varying degrees of alignment with the EU legislation.
Chapter 25 – Science and Research and 26 – Education and Culture were opened and provisionally closed.
Negotiations were opened and closing benchmarks set for Chapters 4 – Free movement of capital, 5 – Public Procurement, 6 – Company Law, 7 – Intellectual Property Law, 10 – Information Society and Media, 20 – Enterprise and Industrial Policy, 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security, 31 – Foreign, Security and Defence Policy and 32 – Financial control.
Opening benchmarks have been set for Chapters 1 – Free movement of goods, 3 – Right of establishment and freedom to provide services, 8 – Competition policy (opening benchmarks related to the restructuring of KAP), 11 – Agriculture and rural development, 12 – Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, 13 – Fisheries, 15 – Energy, 17 – Economic and monetary policy, 19 – Social policy and employment, 22 – Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, 27 – Environment.
Montenegro's limited administrative capacity represents a challenge in a number of areas and needs to be strengthened to ensure effective implementation of EU legislation.
1999: The EU proposes the new Stabilisation and Association Process for countries of Southeast Europe
June 2000: The European Council states that all the Stabilisation and Association countries are potential candidates for EU membership
June 2003: Thessaloniki Summit: EU perspective for the Western Balkans is confirmed
June 2006: the EU decides to establish relations with Montenegro as a sovereign and independent state
October 2007: The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU is signed
December 2008: Montenegro presents its application for membership to the EU
December 2009: Visa-free travel to Schengen area for citizens of Montenegro
May 2010: The SAA enters into force
November 2010: The European Commission issues its Opinion on Montenegro's application for EU membership
December 2010: The European Council grants candidate status to Montenegro
June 2012: The accession negotiations are formally opened at the first Intergovernmental Conference.
June 2013: The screening meetings are completed.
August 2013: The Commission recommends the opening of Chapters 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and 24 – Justice, Freedom and Security.
December 2013: Chapters 23 and 24 are opened, along with three more chapters.
May 2014: The screening process is completed.
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