Frontrunner in a slow race

This year’s European Commission report on Montenegro puts under question the country’s leading position compared to the rest of the region. Some explicit critical remarks are in line with the Institute Alternative’s findings and postpone closing of Chapters 23 and 24.

Montenegro, along with Serbia, another country in the official process of EU membership negotiations, was left in the shadow of Albania and North Macedonia which have ‘’taken away’’ more praise from EU officials in the official presentation of this year’s enlargement package.

Similar to the previous years, Institute Alternative’s team analyzed the Report on Montenegro; the conclusion is similar, and the average assessment of limited progress is repeated, pointing to the failure of state to achieve reforms that would demonstrate more advanced and tangible results.

In other words, the average assessment based on the analysis of 33 chapters is the minimal progress (‘’some progress’’ or 3.09 in numbers), and only worse assessment than that is ‘’backsliding’’ or ‘’no progress’’. The average assessment of the overall state of play across all 33 chapters is similar (3.03). For two consecutive years, we have not scored the highest assessment in any of chapters covered.

These evaluations follow the European Commission’s methodology from 2015, which includes two levels of assessment – ‘’state of play’’ and ‘’assessment of progress’’. The first level refers to assessing the overall situation in the areas covered by chapters, while the second level is focused on a separate assessment of the progress made over the past 12 months, i. since the publication of the previous report. Possible estimates for the state of play are ‘’early stage, some level of preparation, moderately prepared, good level of preparation and well advanced’’. Backsliding is the lowest grade that can be obtained for assessment of progress. It is followed by ‘’no progress, some/limited progress, good progress and significant progress’’.

Summarized results show that Montenegro has made some breakthroughs in four chapters compared to last year, while in five chapters the scores are lower compared to the last year. Beside the five chapters in which Montenegro had lower scores that the last year, European Commission also assessed the public administration more harshly (from last year’s 4 to 3 in this year). Even though this is not a chapter it belongs to the so-called fundamentals which are assessed separately.

(Lack of) freedom of expression and media is the most worrying area in which no progress has been made. Election abuses, the fight against corruption and free access to information are also areas in which worrying trends are noted.

Following the calls for a more proactive and credible approach of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption, which were included in the unofficial documents (so-called ‘’non-paper’’) on the Chapters 23 and 24 the European Commission has clearly reiterated opinion on the insufficient efficiency of this institution. It pointed out the controversial Agency’s decision to hide the decision by which the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) was sanctioned for misdemeanor for financing irregularities, which were alleged by the so-called ‘’envelope affair’’.

The IA, who asked for access to the decision through the request for free access to information, has previously pointed out that the Agency’s decision was unfounded and focused on the protection of the DPS instead of the public interest. Therefore IA filed a lawsuit before the Administrative Court in order to fight for the public’s right to know which logic was applied by the Agency to implement the Law on Misdemeanors in response to one of the most serious political affairs in the history of Montenegro.

The reason for the concern of the European Commission is the application of the Law on Free Access to Information. It recognized the increasing trend, described by the IA’s analysis in the area of Public Finance Management, of declaring as secret the key information on the public expenditure. The call for harmonization of this law with international standards is aligned with our opinion that legal changes enacted in 2017 downgraded the transparency of Montenegrin public administration.

The report warns that despite the improvement of the electronic platform for conducting public discussions on regulations and strategies, public discussions on certain laws, severely affecting citizens, have been avoided. Consequently, there is no essential involvement of stakeholders in public policies, which IA regularly documents in its monitoring reports on Public Administration Reform.

A novelty of this year’s report is a clear indication that the fight against organized crime is lagging behind in the areas that affect vested interests of local groups.

Therefore, the day of publication of this report should also be the day of ‘’waking up’’ for many Montenegrin institutions which have been publishing statistical illusions that nobody believes. After seven years of negotiations, there is no green light for the opening of the last chapter – Chapter 8. There is also no green light for obtaining the closing benchmarks for Chapters 23 and 24, because the interim benchmarks for these chapters have not yet been fulfilled, even though the IA pointed this out continually and called on the Government to undertake additional activities towards their fulfillment. Elections in the European Union did not discourage the European Commission to strongly support Albania and Northern Macedonia, while there is unhidden dissatisfaction with Montenegro and Serbia.

Although diplomatic language was used, Montenegro received explicit criticism for worrying situations in certain areas, while on the other hand, for example, Northern Macedonia received a ‘’wind in sails’’ for ‘’steady pace’’ of the implementation of reforms, ‘’fundamental change’’ through which is going, and ‘’tangible results in the areas of judiciary, fight against corruption, reforms of the intelligence service and public administration’’.

We are pleased that, at the very end of its mandate, the Commission has demonstrated its integrity and consistency in insisting on the fulfillment of criteria, in order for the authorities of the region to dispel the illusions that we can go forward without the essential reforms. We hope that this approach will be maintained in the new mandate; that it will reward merits of individual countries in the implementation of reforms but also will demystify simulation of reforms and the rhetoric of the ruling elites, which try to misrepresent genuine commitment to democratic values by technical changes and prolongation of legislative changes, while essential progress is constantly missing.

See our infographics on the assessments from the latest European Commission Report on Montenegro.

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