Unquestionably, Montenegro must stop being its own captor on this long and painful journey.
Montenegro is at the top of the list of countries wanting to become members of the European Union. In 2012, the state began membership negotiations, opened all negotiating chapters and fulfilled at least some of the conditions related to the adoption of the necessary legislation and strengthening capacity in each of them.
In May last year, Montenegro adopted the European Commission’s new methodology of enlargement, although it was not binding, thereby expressing its readiness to negotiate under stricter conditions, which practically means that fabricating reforms should be behind us. Moreover, after last year’s August elections and the changes that followed, for the first time in over 30 years Montenegro has a government with a different party majority to all the previous ones, which should mean that we have overcome the ‘lack of political will’ as well, at least on paper.
The latest research of De Facto agency shows that 75% of Montenegrin citizens support EU membership, and this is a consensus among political parties as well. We can read the optimism in the statements of new government representatives, and Montenegro is preparing a new and comprehensive strategy for fulfilment of the crucial commitments from the negotiation process.
So why is there still a question mark at the end of any projection for when Montenegro could move away from undemocratic practices and embrace European values, as per the founding agreement of the EU: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, human and minority rights?
State reforms aimed at embracing these values are slow and painful, mostly because democracy in our vicinity doesn’t seem to find fertile ground, considering states don’t have the necessary ‘democratic experience’, nor a multi-party system for more than 30 years.
The change of government does not automatically and essentially mean the transformation of the state and society, and the mistakes of the predecessors must not be repeated. Building institutions that will guarantee equal rights for all without discrimination is a real challenge in Montenegro, especially given the situation in the judiciary and the still strong political influence of the previous long-standing ruling party on this aspect of government. At the same time, Montenegro is a small country with just over 600,000 inhabitants and it is not an easy task to stand in the way of clientelism and nepotism. Representatives of the new government, although only in the cabinet for four months, have already shown that they are not immune to this disease, and that equal rights for all will remain only an empty phrase in the statements of politicians for a long time to come.
Citizens don’t have enough of an understanding of the integration and value adoption processes, nor the terminology itself, for example of rule of law. They are also not active enough in controlling the work of public service. Politikon’s research shows that 80% of citizens have never submitted a request for free access to information.
Finally, a weak culture of rule of law is a problem that cannot be solved overnight and we are in urgent need of a long-term strategy. It is possible that the starting point for this strategy should be an understanding of what has changed in our vicinity, an environment where moral laws have dictated rules of conduct for hundreds of years.
For all the reasons above it is difficult to predict when Montenegro will be able to boast of its commitment to truly embracing European values, while, at the same time, EU membership is a long way away, and because the Union’s strategy towards the Western Balkans is currently unclear and inconsistent…Unquestionably, Montenegro must stop being its own captor on this long and painful journey.
Jovana Marovic, Executive director of the NGO Politikon network, a Podgorica-based research center, and member of The Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG)