Brussels, Belgium (8 October 2014) — The European Commission published earlier today the 2014 Progress Report on Montenegro, which reads the country has made progress in the areas of justice, freedom and security, while highlighting the necessity to strengthen the overall capacities in combating corruption. The report also concludes that Montenegro continues to sufficiently fulfill the political criteria, it has developed a solid track record in establishing a functioning market economy and improved its ability to assume the obligations of the EU membership.
Key findings of the 2014 Progress Report on Montenegro
Montenegro continues to sufficiently meet the political criteria. The government has remained focused on EU integration. The structures for the accession negotiations were further strengthened. The adoption of the 2014-15 Action Plan for the implementation of the public administration reform strategy and the establishment of a new special group on public administration reform within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), should support progress in this area. Public administration needs to be further rationalised, transparency increased to limit the scope for corruption and the strengthening of administrative capacity in the area of European integration ensured. Serious efforts are needed to address the high level of politicisation in the civil service and to ensure merit-based recruitment and promotion. Increasing professionalism and efficiency is important, not least to equip the administration for the challenges of the accession negotiations and of implementing the acquis. On public financial management, the capacity for financial forecasting needs to be strengthened and the compliance with European standards reinforced.
Allegations of wrongdoing marred the electoral rounds held in a number of municipalities in early 2014. Where appropriate, these should be investigated and, where necessary, prosecuted by the competent authorities. Due to the polarised political climate, the formation of the new administrations in certain municipalities after the elections was a difficult process. New electoral legislation was adopted in February and March. It fulfils several outstanding OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, while some issues remain to be addressed in line with European standards and best practices. The adoption of amendments to the law on political party financing was marked by controversy, with the main governing party voting against. Following a constitutional court ruling in June, a significant part of the amendments to the law on political party financing were deemed unconstitutional. Montenegro needs to rapidly bring its legislative framework in this area fully in line with European standards and best practice, as well as provide an initial track record on the correct implementation of the law, including application of deterrent sanctions where required. The judicial follow-up to the alleged abuse of public funds for party political purposes remains to be completed and political responsibility ensured.
In the area of judicial reform, implementation of measures in accordance with the timelines foreseen in the Action Plan is ongoing. Following alignment of relevant legislation with the constitutional reforms of July 2013, several judicial and prosecutorial officials have been elected. After several attempts, the parliament finally appointed a new Supreme State Prosecutor in October 2014. Reforms introducing a single countrywide recruitment system for judges and prosecutors, an objective and merit-based promotion system as well as an improved disciplinary system need to be completed. While the efficiency of courts has overall increased, efforts to further enhance the efficiency of the judiciary should continue.
The impact of anti-corruption measures has so far been limited. Already prior to the start of operation of the new anti-corruption agency, existing institutions in the area of prevention of corruption need to be strengthened to take a more proactive approach. Corruption remains prevalent in many areas and continues to be a serious problem. A credible track record of investigations, prosecutions and final convictions in corruption cases, including high-level corruption, needs to be developed. The systematic use of the instruments of seizure and confiscation of assets should be ensured. While the track record has continued to develop in the area of the fight against drugs and new cases were launched on migrants’ smuggling difficulties remain in addressing other forms of organised crime, including trafficking in human beings, cybercrime and anti-money laundering. The number of final convictions, for both corruption and organised crime, is limited, with cases often referred to retrial based on procedural infringements. Fighting organised crime and corruption is fundamental to countering criminal infiltration of the political, legal and economic systems.
Human rights, media freedom
The legal and institutional framework for the observance of human rights is in place and the main elements of international human rights laws have been incorporated into the legal system. The capacity of the institutions in charge of protection and enforcement of human rights require strengthening, including for the judiciary and police. Vulnerable groups, for example the Roma and disabled persons, are most affected by shortcomings in this area.
Serious concerns remain with respect to freedom of expression, which has been undermined by cases of violence against journalists, and attacks on media property. Old and recent cases of threats and violence against journalists remain to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted, to identify not only the material perpetrators but also those behind the attacks. Older cases in particular need to be addressed as a matter of urgency to avoid them being time-barred. A Commission for monitoring the activities of the competent authorities in the investigation of old and recent cases of threats and violence against journalists was established in December. Its recommendations need to be fully followed up by the authorities. The government should continue publicly promoting and supporting media freedom, avoiding any statements that may be understood as intimidation. Self-regulatory bodies responsible for maintaining and promoting professional and ethical standards are weak.
The Montenegrin authorities took further steps to strengthen the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons. The first pride parade in Podgorica took place in October 2013, supported adequately by the authorities. However, attacks against LGBTI persons continued and related criminal convictions remain few. Hostility against them remains widespread in society.
Some progress was made regarding the situation of the Roma, especially concerning school attendance; nevertheless, drop-out rates and the low share of female Roma students among the total population of Roma students is a cause of concern. Discrimination against the Roma and their political underrepresentation needs to be addressed.
Montenegro continues to maintain good bilateral relations with the other enlargement countries and neighboring EU Member States and is strongly involved in developing regional cooperation. A border agreement was initialted with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Montenegro still maintains the 2007 bilateral immunity agreement with the United States, granting exemptions from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Montenegro needs to align with the EU position in the framework of accession negotiations.
As regards the economic criteria, Montenegro undertook some further steps towards a functioning market economy. The country should be able to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union over the medium term, provided that it continues to address current weaknesses through appropriate structural reforms.
The economy recovered in 2013 from a double-dip recession, but the recovery remains fragile due to weak domestic demand, a narrow production base, and a high dependence on the external environment. The current account deficit somewhat narrowed but external imbalances remain high. Substantial and persistent budget deficits point to the need for fiscal consolidation measures to ensure a reduction of public debt. In spite of marginal improvements, the labour market conditions remain precarious in view of very high unemployment rates, especially among the youth and the long-term unemployed.
Montenegro should increase workers mobility and strengthen the effectiveness of active labour market policies, as well as enhance the quality of education, including vocational education and training. To support private-sector development, measures should be taken to further simplify the regulatory and legal environment, including strengthening contract enforcement, reducing administrative costs and barriers, and facilitating privatisation procedures. The unsettled situation of the aluminium conglomerate KAP calls for a sustainable solution, implemented in compliance with SAA rules, in order to avoid a new round of contingent liabilities.
Assuming obligation of membership
As regards the ability to take on the obligations of membership, Montenegro is at varying degrees of alignment. As a result of the screening process, the Commission assessed that, in twenty chapters, Montenegro was sufficiently advanced for negotiations on these chapters to be opened without setting opening benchmarks. Of these chapters, ten have already been opened, with interim or closing benchmarks set and two have been provisionally closed. In addition to the rule of law chapters, opening benchmarks were set in eleven chapters6. The fulfilment of the opening benchmarks, as well as the interim benchmarks set for the rule of law chapters and the closing benchmarks, set for eight other chapters7, should guide Montenegro on its integration path. Overall, Montenegro is advanced it its alignment in some chapters of the acquis, including intellectual property law, science and research, education and culture, consumer and health protection, and foreign, security and defence policy.
Foreign, security and defence policy
Montenegro generally aligned itself with and implemented restrictive measures introduced by Council decisions, including EU restrictive measures in the context of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and events in eastern Ukraine.
Aligning with the acquis and strengthening the necessary administrative capacity remains a substantial challenge for Montenegro. The Montenegrin administration will need to focus on addressing the outstanding opening benchmarks set. Particular priority should be given to ensuring compliance with SAA state aid rules in the case of KAP. The administrative capacity in all areas of environment and climate change has to be strengthened at both central and local level to ensure alignment with and implementation of environment and climate acquis.
Source: Government of Montenegro