Brussels, 14 July 2022
The EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) held its eleventh meeting on 14 July 2022 in Montenegro. The meeting was chaired by Mr Josep Borrell Fontelles, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, represented the European Commission. Mr Dritan Abazović, the Prime Minister, represented the Montenegrin side.
This was the first time that the SA Council meeting took place in the Western Balkans region, underlining the European Union’s unequivocal commitment to the EU integration of the whole region and to the accession process of Montenegro. The meeting provided an opportunity to take stock of Montenegro’s progress in accession negotiations and to look forward to the further work needed within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
Participants welcomed the progress made in the accession negotiations so far, with all 33 screened negotiating chapters opened, and three chapters provisionally closed. Participants welcomed Montenegro’s EU strategic direction and ambition to move forward in the accession negotiations based on continuing reform progress and underlined their expectations of strong political commitment, genuine engagement and consensus building by all relevant institutions and actors in carrying out Montenegro’s EU reform agenda.
The EU side strongly commended Montenegro’s full alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, including EU restrictive measures following Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. This is a strong signal of the country’s strategic orientation and commitment to the goal of EU accession. Participants also welcomed the efforts already taken to implement the sanctions and encouraged to continue with the necessary steps to fully apply the restrictive measures adopted.
Participants stressed that the next milestone is meeting the interim benchmarks for Chapters 23 and 24. In this respect they noted Montenegro’s commitment in the field of rule of law and encouraged Montenegro to continue working on implementation of all relevant aspects of the fundamentals cluster. Once Montenegro addresses all remaining gaps in the areas of freedom of expression and media freedom, the fight against corruption and organised crime, and accelerates and deepens reforms on the independence, professionalism and accountability of the judiciary, Montenegro will be able to take further steps forward in the accession process. Participants noted that the pace of this work will be determined by Montenegro.
The EU side welcomed the progress made by Montenegro in aligning its legislation with the EU acquis and implementing its commitments under the trade and trade-related provisions of the SAA. It encouraged Montenegro to move forward rapidly with new appointments to the negotiating structures and to retain experienced staff in EU-accession process-related matters.
The EU also commended the authorities for their timely and targeted policy response to the economic crisis, which was adjusted as the situation evolved. It also complimented the government on the economic recovery observed from the second quarter of 2021. The EU underlined, at the same time, that the post-COVID-19 recovery will depend on continuous government efforts to contain public spending, bring down the deficit and put public finances (and the economy at large) on a sustainable path. These efforts will become even more central as the economic effects of the Russia’s war against Ukraine hit Montenegro’s economy, too.
Participants also welcomed Montenegro’s constructive commitment to good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation, which form an essential part of Montenegro’s European integration process and contribute to stability, reconciliation and a climate conducive to addressing open bilateral issues and the legacies of the past.
The EU called on Montenegro to accelerate the implementation of all EU financial support, in particular the programmes entrusted to Montenegro under indirect management. As Montenegro’s largest provider of financial assistance, the EU reiterated its commitment to assist Montenegro in intensifying reform work, with a clear focus on well-known critical rule of law gaps through thorough planning. It also underlined that strengthening the rule of law, together with the capacity of the Public Administration, as well as undertaking economic and social reforms is required to maximise the impact of the EU’s Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans.
The SA Council also held an exchange of views on developments in Montenegro and the regional situation in the Western Balkans.
Source – EU Council