The report on Montenegro is part of the 2015 Enlargement Package adopted today by the European Commission. The European Commission concluded that the country continued to make progress as regards the political and economic criteria, and has improved its ability to take on the obligations of EU membership. During the reporting period, eight negotiating chapters were opened, and closing benchmarks were set for them. Concerning the rule of law chapters, 23 and 24, good progress was made in improving the legislative framework for the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption. However, Montenegro needs to make further progress in strengthening the institutional framework and in establishing a solid track record in the fight against corruption and organised crime.
EU accession - along with receiving an invitation to join NATO -- remained a key foreign policy priority. The two processes are linked through the focus on the rule of law: progress in this area is a key condition for both. The new electoral legislation, adopted in 2014, needs to be fully implemented and any future elections should take place according to the new laws. The judicial follow-up to the alleged abuse of public funds for party political purposes remains to be completed and political responsibility ensured. Parliament adopted a new code of ethics, strengthening the overall anti-corruption framework. Civil society continued to be actively involved in the accession process, although it remains a point of concern that some activists were targeted on a personal basis by the local media.
Opposition parties embarked on a boycott of parliament in September. They also organised a series of protests outside parliament. These eventually led to confrontation between the police and protesters, resulting in injuries and damage to property. It is expected that all incidents of violence and allegations of excessive use of force during these events will be duly investigated. At the same time, all political parties should re-engage in a constructive political dialogue in the parliament. The EU has set 84 interim benchmarks in the rule of law chapters, reflecting the action plans adopted by Montenegro in 2013. The action plans were revised in 2015, in order to reflect the lessons learnt from their implementation to-date and set more realistic deadlines. The implementation of the action plans and progress in meeting the interim benchmarks will determine the overall pace of the negotiations.
Montenegro’s judicial system is moderately prepared. The adoption in February of a set of laws on reforming the judiciary paved the way to increasing its professionalism and independence. Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. The track record on effective investigation, prosecution and final convictions in corruption cases, in particular regarding high-level corruption, remains limited. The country is moderately prepared in the fight against organised crime and its track record to be consolidated.
Some progress was made during the reporting period on public administration reform, mainly on legislation, service delivery and public financial management. The country is, overall, moderately prepared in this area. The new PAR strategy needs to be adopted by the end of 2016.
Concerns remain about freedom of expression, although attacks against the media decreased in the reporting period. Montenegro should continue efforts to solve all old and recent cases of attacks and implement the recommendations issued by the ad hoc media commission.
Legislative provisions and budget allocations concerning the integration of persons with disabilities need to bear tangible results, including through ensuring accessibility to the parliament building.
Overall, Montenegro continued to broadly implement its international obligations and its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) and to play a constructive role in the region. Montenegro participated actively in the implementation of the Berlin agenda. It signed border agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina and with Kosovo in the margins of the Vienna Summit in August.
Macroeconomic stability has been broadly maintained. Montenegro is moderately prepared when it comes to developing a functioning market economy. Some progress was made in addressing economic challenges, including on fiscal consolidation and the business environment. The economy grew, albeit at a slower pace than in the previous year, boosted by investments. However, challenges to macroeconomic stability remain: The cost of the construction of the Bar-Boljare highway risks undermining fiscal stability. The stock of bad loans in commercial banks has prompted insufficient and expensive bank lending to the economy. Further efforts are necessary to reduce the high unemployment rate.
Montenegro continued the alignment process over the reporting period. The country is now at varying degrees of alignment with the EU legislation.
Chapter 25 - Science and Research and 26 - Education and Culture were opened and provisionally closed.
During the reporting period, negotiations were opened and closing benchmarks set for eight chapters: 9 - Financial services, 16 - Taxation, 18 - Statistics, 28 - Consumer and health protection, 29 - Customs Union, 21 - TENs, 30 - External relations, 33 - Financial and budgetary provisions.
Montenegro is continuing its work in meeting the opening benchmarks set in 11 chapters, including Chapters 1 - Free movement of goods, 8 - Competition policy (opening benchmarks related to the restructuring of KAP), 11 - Agriculture and rural development, 12 - Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, 13 - Fisheries, 15 - Energy, 22 - Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments, 27 - Environment.
Montenegro's limited administrative capacity represents a substantial challenge in a number of areas and needs to be strengthened to ensure effective implementation of EU legislation.
1999: The EU proposes the new Stabilisation and Association Process for countries of Southeast Europe
June 2000: The European Council states that all the Stabilisation and Association countries are potential candidates for EU membership
June 2003: Thessaloniki Summit: EU perspective for the Western Balkans is confirmed
June 2006: the EU decides to establish relations with Montenegro as a sovereign and independent state
October 2007: The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU is signed
December 2008: Montenegro presents its application for membership to the EU
December 2009: Visa-free travel to Schengen area for citizens of Montenegro
May 2010: The SAA enters into force
November 2010: The European Commission issues its Opinion on Montenegro's application for EU membership
December 2010: The European Council grants candidate status to Montenegro
June 2012: The accession negotiations are formally opened at the first Intergovernmental Conference.
June 2013: The screening meetings are completed.
August 2013: The Commission recommends the opening of Chapters 23 - Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and 24 - Justice, Freedom and Security.
December 2013: Chapters 23 and 24 are opened, along with three more chapters.
May 2014: The screening process is completed.
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