Speech by Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiationsto Members to the European Integration Committee of the Parliament of Montenegro
Excellencies, Members of the Skupština and the European Integration Committee, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to this meeting of the European Integration Committee. I am particularly happy to be with you in Podgorica at the very beginning of my mandate as Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations.
Future of EU enlargement and accession negotiations not in doubt
I understand that the statement made by President Juncker on the prospect of any country joining the EU in the next five years has caused some concern.
However, I want to reassure you that this concern is unfounded. Indeed, the fact that one of my first visit abroad as Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations is to two candidate countries negotiating their accession to the EU, Montenegro and Serbia, is ample proof of my commitment to the enlargement process.
My visit also comes at a crucial juncture for Montenegro: after the adoption of the 2014 Progress Report and before the December Council Conclusions, as well as before a possible Intergovernmental Conference in the same month.
So let me take a few moments to explain to you how I see my role in Montenegro's accession process – and how I also see your role in this endeavour.
As Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, my task is to support Montenegro on its path towards the EU and in its efforts to meet the accession criteria.
I. Not only about the Acquis but also about economic development
Of course, the EU membership criteria remain the same.
However, to become member of the EU family is not just about complying with the EU Acquis. It is also about making the country economically fit for membership to make sure that the candidate country can reap all the benefits of EU accession.
This is not only what citizens in your country want, it is also what citizens in the EU want to see. I don't want to hide the fact that the broad public opinion on further EU enlargement is currently rather negative. This is because EU citizens see enlargement as a burden rather than a benefit. So the public image of enlargement has to change and we all have to work for this as it is in all our own interests. Every 5th job in the EU is dependent on exports. So, developing economies in our neighbourhood is in your interest and the European interest.
This is also why I aim at organising investors conferences in your country as well as in other countries of the Western Balkans. People needs to see what the benefits and perspective can be in advancing with reforms. And this message must come from those in the private sector who create and secure jobs rather than from politicians or officials.
Montenegro has an impressive record as far as its economy is concerned. The economy grew by 3.3 % last year. However, an unemployment rate of around 19%, structural weaknesses and a disproportionate reliance on the tourism and services sectors are among the challenges that need to be addressed.
But economic performance is not only about money. It is also about important reforms.
II: economic performance not only about money but important reforms - Chapter 23
I just want to give you an example from my experience in Greece during the economic crisis. In order to help Greece I asked the German minister of economy whether he could send a delegation of investors to Greece to facilitate investments. These investors were not ready to invest and the reason why had nothing to do with a lack of finance. They all shied away from investments due to lengthy court procedures, unclear responsibilities in the administration including cumbersome procedures to get permits and legal uncertainties with regard to taxes.
So, legal certainty, a functioning independent judicial system and fundamental rights like property rights (who is the real owner of a piece of land) are preconditions to attract investors and to stimulate economic growth and jobs.
This is why we put so much emphasis on chapter 23 Judiciary and fundamental rights and chapter 24, Justice, freedom and security. In particular, they refer to the fundamental area of the fight against corruption and organised crime.
As you are aware, in this year's Enlargement Strategy and Progress Report on Montenegro, the Commission signalled an early warning. We recalled the existence of the overall balance clause envisaged in the Negotiating Framework. We have not activated it. But we stressed that progress in meeting the interim benchmarks on the rule of law and addressing the shortcomings identified in the Report, will impact on the pace of accession negotiations. This is essential for the credibility of the accession negotiations.
These issues refer to pieces of legislation, that have to be adopted and your role as law-makers is of utmost importance in this respect. I am particularly thinking of the law on political party financing; the law on lobbying; the code of ethics for Members of the Parliament; the law on anti-corruption and the law on the special prosecutor's office.
Of course, the adoption of legislation is not a panacea: they will not change Montenegro overnight. But, their adoption and enforcement will lead to establishing a credible track record of investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in corruption cases, including high-level corruption.
III. Role of Parliament and European Integration Committee: ensuring proper debate of legislation and alignment with the acquis
Ladies and gentlemen,
In all this, this Committee has a key role.
Aligning your legislation with the EU rules is an essential requirement of the negotiation process. Candidate countries can of course negotiate transition periods. But what is not up for negotiation is the fact that when a country joins the EU, it has to apply EU legislation.
Of course, the prerogative for proposing legislation lies in most cases with the government. You, as lawmakers, have the final responsibility – both legal and political. You are tasked to question the government and receive assurances about the work done in the preparatory drafting stage, and to subsequently check that laws adopted by you are properly implemented.
I am very glad to see that as members of the Skupština, you have an important asset at your disposal: the strong bipartisan consensus for EU integration. This is not always the case in other countries, so I can just strongly support this approach. The EU integration process cannot be a success without strong commitment of the different political parties.
The place for debate is in democratically-elected institutions
Montenegro is currently in the lead of the accession process in the Western Balkans. With this, comes additional responsibility. Montenegro will be more closely scrutinised than in the past. The country must behave as a candidate for EU accession at all levels, but especially where the functioning of democratic institutions is concerned.
This brings me to another message that I will be repeating to all the countries of the region: democratic, political debate takes place within democratically-elected institutions. The place for debate is here, in the Parliament. All parliamentary parties should ensure that this is the place for democratic debate and decision-making.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me stress that I am very happy to use this opportunity here today, in front of the elected representatives of the Montenegrin people, to make once again clear: the enlargement process is not in doubt.
Thank you for your invitation, and be reassured of my personal commitment to Montenegro's European perspective. A journey that Montenegro itself needs to complete, but the Commission will always be by your side.