The strong man of Montenegro, the small state of 620,000 inhabitants which separated from Serbia in 2006 to become independent, reconquered, on April 15, the presidency of the Republic, which he had occupied for the first time in 1998 to 2002, before repeatedly holding the position of prime minister. Milo Djukanovic, 56, has dominated Montenegro’s political life for more than a quarter of a century, with or without an official mandate, he won nearly 54% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election.
Looked upon at home as the father of Montenegro’s independence, Milo Djukanovic now wants to bring Montenegro into the European Union. The Adriatic nation joined NATO in 2017, at the risk of displeasing Russia. Negotiations have been initiated by the European Union with Montenegro, as they have been with Serbia. The country received official candidate status in 2010 and the talks started in 2012. Of the 33 chapters of the “acquis communautaire”, 30 have been opened but only three have been closed.
The two major conditions, which since 1993 have defined the Copenhagen criteria, ie respect for the rule of law and the functioning of the market economy, will be much more difficult to meet. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has estimated that Montenegro could join the Union in 2025 at the same time as Serbia. But these dates are “indicative”, he cautioned, and few really believe that they can be met. For other Western Balkan countries, the deadline is later. The accession of Albania and Macedonia could be as late as 2035. That of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo is even farther away.
The European Commission is trying to speed up the process. On 6 February, it adopted a strategy entitled “A credible enlargement perspective, a stronger commitment by the European Union to the Western Balkans.” It states in this text that “the European future of the region” constitutes “a strategic investment in a stable, solid and united Europe”. Above all, it defines an action plan to enhance cooperation in several areas that need to be reformed, such as the rule of law, security, migration, energy or digital technology. It stresses that, in order to facilitate the “smooth transition” to accession, “sufficient funding is essential” and proposes increasing it as pre-accession aid. Montenegro is one of the recipients of this program, with Serbia and the other states in the region, less advanced in the accession process, such as Albania and Macedonia with which the Commission has recently recommended opening negotiations.
The road ahead is still long. The annual reports published by the Commission on the state of progress of the reforms remain peppered with strong criticism. For Montenegro in particular, the Commission denounces the inadequacies of the fight against corruption and organised crime. “Corruption is widespread in many areas and remains a concern,” the Commission wrote, urging the authorities to be more active and to strengthen the “credibility and independence” of the anti-corruption agency. With regard to organised crime, the Commission is particularly concerned about the importance of money laundering and trafficking in human beings. It also calls on the country’s leaders to take action to ensure respect for fundamental rights and freedom of expression. The demands of democracy are far from being met. Similar reproaches are addressed to Serbia.
It will be up to the new president of Montenegro, as well as his Serbian counterpart, to meet the challenges laid down by Brussels in these areas. This will not be made any easier by the fact that Djukanovic is suspected of being personally linked to mafia groups both in his country and in neighboring Italy. In terms of corruption and organised crime, he must multiply initiatives to reassure Brussels and present an image of his country that meets the demands of Europe. “A credible prospect of enlargement requires sustained efforts and irreversible reforms,” the Commission said. This is the EU’s challenge to those who want to join it.