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In an interview to Politiken, ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit, DPM Pažin speaks about Montenegro’s reasons for wanting to join the EU, when it will be ready, about geopolitical and security challenges, progress in EU integration, fight against corruption and organized crime and other topics…
In an interview to Politiken, ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit, Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Pažin speaks about Montenegro’s reasons for wanting to join the EU, when it will be ready, about geopolitical and security challenges, progress in EU integration, fight against corruption and organized crime and other topics.
Below is the English translation of the full interview and a link to the original text.
Montenegro: We will be ready for EU by 2025
Why does Montenegro want to join the European Union?
The reforms that Montenegro is implementing with the aim of joining the EU represent the key engine of our overall social and economic development.
Since we embarked, as an independent state, on the path of European reforms, wages and pension benefits have doubled, our citizens travel without visa, our students, scientists and lecturers have access to the best European scientific and educational programs, while our farmers receive significant assistance from the EU funds.
On the other hand, the EU integration process transforms our society into the society of European values. We are changing our laws and the overall social environment in line with the highest European standards, and we are building stronger guarantees of justice and fairness for all Montenegrin citizens, businesses, tourists and investors.
Will your country be ready for membership in 2025?
In the accession process we are moving faster than any other enlargement country. We opened 30 of the 33 negotiating chapters and temporarily closed three. We are ready to open all of the remaining chapters this year and focus our reform energy on the final phase of the negotiation process.
Although the quality of reforms is more important to us than speed, we have made a thorough and feasible reform plan by which we will achieve internal readiness for membership even before the given date.
Do you have fears, that there is no real appetite in Europe for enlargement towards the Western Balkans?
After the defeat of extreme populist and isolationist movements in the elections in several major European countries last year, we again have a more favourable climate and greater enthusiasm for the united Europe project. This injection of European optimism, along with the revival of some of the old geopolitical and ideological threats to the idea of European unification, has helped raise awareness about the importance of spreading peace and prosperity in the European continent, a process that is administratively known as ‘enlargement’.
It is very important that the countries in the Western Balkans take advantage of this positive momentum and to demonstrate, through serious reforms and full adoption of the European standards and values, their true commitment to the European Union.
At the moment when one of the countries in the region becomes ready for membership, and I believe that the first one to achieve that will be Montenegro, I am convinced that the countries of the European Union will show, as always, their commitment to enlargement, a policy that sits at the heart of the idea of a united Europe.
The president of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, has warned the EU, that failure to make the Balkans part of the Union will leave an open door for Russian and Chinese influences. Do you agree?
It is quite clear that different actors in the international scene consider the Balkans as a region in which they see their geopolitical and economic interests. I believe that the statement you mention is given in the context of drawing attention to the need for the EU to express stronger support to the pro-European tendencies of the Western Balkan countries.
I certainly agree that, in order to maintain a good level of public support and enthusiasm for reforms in the Western Balkan countries, it is very important that the EU gives clear political support to the pro-European governments and exponents of pro-European policies.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said, that if Europe ignores the Balkan countries and the region’s unresolved conflicts, there will be war again. Do you fear that, too?
I do not think that in the present time the Balkans is threatened by war. Nevertheless, history teaches us that some parts of the Balkans lack sufficiently reliable mechanisms to preserve stability and peace.
This is one of the main reasons why Montenegro has decided to build security guarantees for its citizens within the Euro-Atlantic security community.
Is it your impression, that Russia is trying to gain leverage and cause dissent in Balkan countries hoping to destabilise Europe?
It is no secret that certain extreme nationalist parties in the Balkans receive open support, and even financial aid, from certain circles in Russia.
Although Moscow denies it, interference in internal political issues by certain circles from Russia is quite obvious.
I believe that these attempts to undermine the pro-European orientation of the Balkan countries will not be fruitful and that the future of all the countries of the region rests in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
With the development of democratic institutions and progress in the EU integration process, countries of the region are strengthening their resilience to these types of inappropriate external pressures. For that reason, credible European prospects for the whole region are of great importance for its stability, and for the stability of Europe, as well.
How serious a problem is organized crime and corruption in Montenegro in your view?
Montenegro knows that fight against organized crime and corruption represents the basic precondition for any form of social and economic progress.
That is why, apart from the traditional law enforcement agencies, in line with the best European practice and with the help of our European partners, we have built new specialized institutions for the fight against organized crime and corruption, which are already producing significant results.
According to the European Commission, which regularly monitors the situation in this field in the candidate countries, Montenegro has made continuous progress in this area, which is the basis for advancement in all other areas of European reforms.
Of course, the fight against organized crime and corruption is one of the main priorities of the Montenegrin government and the cornerstone of our European agenda, in order to send a strong message that crime in Montenegro does not pay off.
Montenegro has been characterized as a ‘Mafia state’. What do you say to this characterisation?
I absolutely disagree with that. Montenegro is a pluralist society in which decisions are made in the democratically elected institutions. We have a functional market economy, which is one of the fastest growing in Europe and which fully functions according to Western principles. Foreign investors from as many as 90 countries of the world are starting businesses in Montenegro, which is the best evidence of trust in a favourable economic environment, as well as the stability of the rule of law.
Public money is managed in a responsible and transparent manner, which is open for scrutiny by the citizens and independent media. We are a society were power is won in the elections, which are assessed by all international institutions that monitor elections as fair and democratic.
I’m sure you are aware that, under the new approach to enlargement introduced by the European Commission, progress in the area of the rule of law and the fight against crime and corruption is set as a precondition for progress in all other areas in the EU accession negotiations. Therefore, it is exactly our results in strengthening the rule of law and the fight against crime and corruption that have enabled Montenegro to become the frontrunner in the accession negotiations and the most advanced of all candidate countries today.
Can you assure Europeans, that Montenegro won’t be a source of lawlessness inside the EU?
Yes of course. According to the number of inhabitants, Montenegro is the size of a fairly small European capital. But, we are a proud nation and never in history have we received anything undeserved.
The last thing Montenegro needs or wants is to be undeservedly admitted into the EU, unable to fulfil its obligations and to contribute to the European family of nations.
That is why we do not ask Europe to turn a blind eye to our problems and weaknesses. On the contrary, all we ask from the European leaders and citizens is to keep the door to the EU open and to maintain a fair approach to enlargement, based on the individual merits of the candidate countries.
Source: Government of Montenegro