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Stefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood

Opening remarks in EP debate on Montenegro

European Parliament, Brussels

Brussels, 28 March 2012

President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to address the European Parliament today for the debate on the resolution on the 2011 progress report on Montenegro.

I would also like to express my warm gratitude and congratulations to the Rapporteur for Montenegro, Dr. Charles Tannock, for his excellent report.

The decision of the December European Council is a fair recognition of the progress the country has made over the five years since its independence and in particular since December 2010 when it was granted European Union candidate status. This decision has opened the door towards the start of accession negotiations.

Key to this success was the determination of the Montenegrin authorities to conduct ambitious reforms, together with the active involvement of the parliamentary opposition, civil society and media. I am positive that this broad national consensus on the country's European integration is a major asset for Montenegro. It will facilitate its continued steady progress towards the European Union

I met the Montenegrin Prime Minister, Igor Lukšić last week. His determination to pursue the reform process and commitment to sustained progress in the country's European Union agenda are commendable.

I am further encouraged by our shared understanding that the opening of accession negotiations will not mark the end of a process, but the beginning of a long and a demanding journey.

President, Honourable Members,

As acknowledged in Mr Tannock's report, Montenegro has made significant progress so far, but needs to deploy further efforts in the area of rule of law, in particular in the fight against corruption and organised crime. The track record of final convictions, notably for high-level corruption and organised crime, needs to be substantially developed and all alleged cases thoroughly investigated. In line with the 2006 renewed consensus on enlargement, we know the importance of addressing these issues as early as possible in the accession process.

The new approach for the negotiation chapters 23 on judiciary and fundamental rights, and 24 on justice, freedom and security, will allow them to be opened early in order to give Montenegro sufficient time to produce a solid track record in the fight against organised crime and corruption. As I am speaking to you, the first explanatory phase of the screening of Chapter 24 is taking place, while the one on Chapter 23 took place earlier this week.

A further important milestone for Montenegro will be the finalisation of the ongoing Constitutional reform, in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, in a spirit of consensus and constructive dialogue with the opposition parties. This will provide a solid guarantee for the independence and accountability of the judiciary.

Compliance with European standards in the field of human rights and minority rights is also of crucial importance, in particular regarding freedom of expression and anti-discrimination. The recent attack against an investigative journalist is unacceptable, and needs to be thoroughly investigated along with past cases of violence and vandalism directed against the media.

Further efforts are also needed to strengthen anti-discrimination policy, in particular from the aspect of gender equality and effective protection of minority rights. Efforts undertaken to increase the number of legally registered displaced persons also need to be actively pursued.

The responsibility for addressing these outstanding challenges lies with Montenegro and its capacity to maintain the pace of reforms and ensure their effective implementation.

The Commission will continue to support Montenegro's efforts on its path towards the European Union through financial and expert assistance.

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