The reporting period continued to be marked by the low level of trust in the electoral framework, which needs to be revised in a comprehensive and inclusive manner. A temporary parliamentary committee on reform of electoral and other legislation was established in autumn 2018 inter alia for this purpose. It however still needs to deliver on its ambitious mandate. Presidential and local elections in 11 municipalities and one urban municipality took place during the reporting period. Local elections continued to take place on a rolling basis, making their international observation difficult, and leaving ample opportunities for claims of irregularities that cannot be independently evaluated.
The political scene remains fragmented, polarised and marked by lack of genuine political dialogue. Limited progress was made in re-establishing the political dialogue in the Parliament in the course of 2018 with the temporary and partial return of majority of the opposition parties to the Parliament and the establishment of the temporary parliamentary committee. However, following the detention of one opposition Member of Parliament in late 2018, and the allegations of corruption and illegal political party financing (the ‘envelope affair') in early 2019, the opposition largely returned to boycotting the Parliament. These allegations also triggered mobilisation of citizens though regular street protests, attempts at extra-parliamentary political dialogue and the opposition's demands for the formation of a technical government.
Returning the political debate to the Parliament is the responsibility of all political actors. Active and constructive participation by all parties is required to enhance parliamentary accountability, oversight of the executive, democratic scrutiny and better quality of the legislation. There were no new developments in the political and judicial follow-up of the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes in 2012. As regards the recent allegations, the prosecution opened investigations with regard to some of the allegations, and the Anti-Corruption Agency fined the political party exposed for receiving illegal cash donation. These allegations require a credible, independent and effective institutional response.
As regards governance, there is a need to strengthen transparency, stakeholders' participation, and the government's capacity to implement reforms. A new legal framework and methodology on strategic planning should lead to better quality strategic planning, better monitoring and execution. The legal, institutional and financial environment, under which civil society organisations operate, improved overall. However, the genuine inclusion of civil society organisations in the policy-making process remains to be ensured in practice.
Montenegro is moderately prepared with the reform of its public administration. Some progress was made overall. There was good progress in particular on the medium-term policy-planning framework, merit-based recruitment, and rationalisation of the organisation of the state administration. However, strong political will is still needed to effectively address the de‑politicisation of the public service and the optimisation of the state administration, inclusive and evidence-based policy development, the delegation of decision-making and managerial accountability.
Montenegro's judicial system is moderately prepared and some progress has been made. The legislative framework aimed at increasing the independence and professionalism of the judiciary has yet to be fully implemented. Institutional capacity has been strengthened.
Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation in the fight against corruption. There was some limited progress during the reporting period. However, corruption is prevalent in many areas and remains an issue of concern. The operational capacity of institutions has improved; however, all institutions should demonstrate a more proactive attitude. Challenges to the credibility, independence and priority-setting of the Anti-Corruption Agency still need to be addressed. Financial investigations, seizure and confiscation of assets remain to be improved. An initial track record of investigation, prosecution and final convictions in high‑level corruption cases has been established, but the criminal justice response against high-level corruption remains too limited. Further improvements in this regard will only be possible in an environment where independent institutions are shielded from any undue influence and encouraged to fully use their powers.
In the fight against organised crime, Montenegro remains moderately prepared. Some progress was made in judicial cooperation and in some areas of the fight against organised crime. An initial track record of investigations into money laundering, of financial investigations and of temporary seizures of criminal assets was developed. The enhanced international police cooperation is bringing results, as illustrated by a number of high-profile international operations, arrests and drug seizures. However, further results are needed to produce a convincing track record on the more complex types of organised crimes, where local vested interests are at stake, including in money laundering, trafficking in human beings and tobacco smuggling, as well as in the confiscation of proceeds of crime.
On fundamental rights, Montenegro further aligned its legislation with EU standards. The capacity of the Ombudsman office and the National Preventive Mechanism has improved, but more efforts are still needed in strengthening the institutional framework and effective protection of human rights. Montenegro needs to ensure that adequate institutional mechanisms are in place to protect vulnerable groups from discrimination. Implementation of the legislation remains weak and institutional capacity on human rights needs to be increased. The Roma and Egyptians minority remains the most vulnerable and most discriminated community. Gender-based violence and violence against children remain issues of serious concern.
Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation on freedom of expression, but no progress was made in the reporting period. There have been very limited developments regarding investigations into cases of violence against journalists. Recent political interference in the national public broadcaster Council and the Agency for Electronic Media are a matter of serious concern. The media scene remains highly polarised and challenges in understanding the role of free media persists. Self-regulatory mechanisms remain weak.
With regard to good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation, Montenegro remained constructively committed to bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and neighbouring EU Member States and an active participant in regional cooperation.
In the area of migration, Montenegro was hit by a sharp surge in irregular migration, due to the partial shift of regional migration flux towards the so-called "coastal route" along Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Montenegrin authorities apprehended 4 753 irregular migrants (a 460% increase compared with 2017), which put the country's reception and administrative capacities under strong pressure. The legal framework was further strengthened with the entry into force of an important legal package on migration and asylum, while some measures were taken to increase the reception and operational capacities. Important border cooperation agreements with neighbouring countries were signed and the European Border and Coast Guard Status Agreement with the EU was initialled. In the next reporting period, Montenegro should further strengthen the capacity to deal with mixed migration flows and the integration of refugees; continue to increase human and material resources devoted to border management and migrants' registration system.
Montenegro has made some progress and is moderately prepared in developing a functioning market economy. The economy continued expanding at a robust pace, improving labour market outcomes even though the unemployment rate remained high. Despite positive export dynamics, the current account deficit, fuelled by strong domestic demand, remained very large and was only partially financed by net inflows of foreign direct investment. Financial sector solvency and liquidity ratios improved, but access to finance for small companies remains hampered by tight lending conditions. Fiscal consolidation efforts continued through 2018, but the budget deficit target was missed while public debt reached a new record, partly due to financing needs for a large highway project, financed by a Chinese loan. Private sector development remained constrained by weaknesses in the business environment, the judiciary, and a high prevalence of informality, reflecting poor implementation capacity in key state institutions responsible to enforce the rule of law and market competition.
Montenegro has made some progress and is moderately prepared in its capacity to cope with competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. The development of infrastructure in a number of areas is gradually setting the preconditions for improved economic competitiveness. However, further efforts are needed to enhance human capital development and to reduce the mismatch between education outcomes and labour market needs. Local companies need to grow and step up efforts to increase international competitiveness.
Important work on alignment and preparation for the implementation of the acquis has taken place in most areas. The country has reached a good level of preparation in areas such as company law, intellectual property law, energy, and foreign, security and defence policy. It is moderately prepared in many chapters, such as free movement of goods, competition policy, agriculture and rural development, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy, as well as enterprise and industrial policy. Montenegro is at some level of preparation in the areas such as environment and climate change, and social policy and employment. Good progress has been made in the areas of right of establishment and freedom to provide services, intellectual property law, agriculture and rural development, and food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy. Looking ahead, Montenegro should focus in particular on competition policy, environment and climate change, as well as public procurement. Strengthening the administrative capacity for ensuring the application of the acquis remains an important challenge for Montenegro. Montenegro has continued to align with all EU common foreign and security policy positions and declarations.
June 2003: The EU-Western Balkans Thessaloniki Summit confirms the EU perspective for the Western Balkans.
June 2006: The EU decides to establish relations with Montenegro as a sovereign and independent state.
October 2007: The EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Agreement 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 Stabilisation and Association Agreement 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.
December 2013: 'Rule of Law' chapters 23 and 24 are opened, along with three other chapters.
February 2018: The European Commission adopts its strategy for ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans'.
May 2018: The EU-Western Balkans Sofia Summit confirms the European perspective of the region and sets out a number of concrete actions to strengthen cooperation in the areas of connectivity, security and the rule of law.
By May 2019, 32 out of 35 chapters have been opened, three of which are provisionally closed.
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