Our Dina’s great interview for daily newspaper Vijesti on enlargement policy and other aspects of Montenegro’s integration in European Union (EU).
1) New methodology
The new methodology is a new important moment for refreshing the idea of enlargement. It is still in the draft form and there is a room for it’s improvement. That is why I spoke at the European Parliament on Wednesday about what can be further improved from the perspective of the civil society that monitors the negotiations, in order to have as less as possible problems in its implementation later. Throughout 2019, our regional TEN network has advocated proposals in six leading European capitals on how to revive enlargement, how to make it more efficient, more functional, and finally more successful. We are pleased to say that we have succeeded and that some of our ideas came first in the French non-paper and then in the draft of the Commission.
- I represented two main points: more sticks and more carrots. So, from our perspective, negotiation process needs to be even more thorough, more demanding and more precise that it has been so far, in order for our countries to truly transform themselves during this period, because this is a unique opportunity for us. This means better monitoring but also a greater political level of attention on these issues, from both sides, EU and Western Balkan countries. We have elaborated this segment to the level of technical details, especially regarding the formulation of benchmarks, the assessment of the situation on the ground, transparency and greater involvement of all who can contribute.
- On the other side, we have tried to explain to the decision-makers in the member states, especially to those sceptical regarding the enlargement, that the ambiguous and contradictory messages that they persistently send about their unwillingness for enlargement to happen, seriously demotivate political elites to do what is required. If the moment of membership is far away, governments have no reason to refrain from undemocratic practices. I used the example of the unconstitutional election of the President of the Supreme Court in Montenegro. Why do something now when the ‘’reward’’ will come ten years from now? Based on this experience, we represented the statement that it is important for our countries to receive higher level of support from the EU during the negotiation process, and not at the end of the road (financial, expert, in the form of our gradual EU integration). This recommendation came from the realisation that the negotiations took a very long time, that they were exhausting, uncertain, and, for example in Montenegro, currently very static.
2) Should Montenegro switch to a new accession model?
I assume that the Government is restrained and has a fear of the new and unknown accession model, but there is also an increasing awareness that it is difficult to go forward acting like we used to. New methodology empowers members state to slow down negotiations and it takes us back, which is an objective risk, but it also provides more assistance along the way. My impression is that both Montenegro and Serbia are advised to switch to the new model. This process is ongoing and it would be good to open a social and institutional dialogue on the benefits and disadvantages of both options in a timely manner.
3) What is required in negotiation process?
To make this as simple as possible, the reforms which we need to implement require reduction of discretion and power in the hands of the authorities in all areas of governance. These reforms are realistically demanding, represent a voluntary giving up on power by political elites. That is why political structures in Western Balkans need to be sure that they narrow its power that some concrete benefits will indeed be gained on that path. Persistent public pressure to keep all social actors on that path is crucial for this to happen.
4) Why is Montenegro stuck in the negotiations?
There are numerous factors influencing our underperformance, from lack of will to lack of capacity and ideas, and lately I have noticed one that I have not perceive later that way. From the perspective of progress in EU integrations, elections are problem and brake that often gets us out of the way. Not the election conditions, that is particular issue, but the elections themselves because of which we are losing focus from integrations and which are always conducted dramatically. Elections represent a longer period of time when the government only thinks about how to retain power and the opposition only thinks about how to come to power. This has taken unimagined proportions and too much public understanding for such a situation.
I’m not saying that we should give up on elections, of course, but that political parties and social actors should show greater seriousness and responsibility in relation to basic public interests, and that issue of integration must be on supra-party level, of vital national importance, saved from daily politics and mutual disputes of the ruling and opposition parties.
European Union is not just an apple on the table waiting for us to take it. The situation is much more complicated. Now is the unique chance for us to reach something in which we lag behind for 30 years. EU is not too much in the mood for enlargement, but under great pressure, which quite unexpectedly emerged after the non-opening of negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania, they made a mutual agreement to nevertheless again make promise that all eligible will be accepted for membership. Guarantees have been raised a little, but not enough. It is still uncertain whether our neighbours will start negotiations, and if it doesn not happen, it will be the final stroke to enlargement policy. In practice this means that the EU will not follow the merit system but the political decision. EU countries are as well guided by the views of their constituents who do not support enlargement. I’m not sure that everyone in Montenegro takes this moment seriously. They act like we have plenty of time, while the whole country is living in the waiting room for decades. I am also aware that the reality is that very soon, we too will turn off the EU road with some of our topics, and that EU will be focused on its crises.
6) So, the accession scenario for Montenegro is not optimistic?
To be realistic, situation is not good. We will have to really impress the member states and as well to convince our citizens to accept enlargement. But realistically, it does not seem to me that we will be entering this dynamic phase of change, renewal and active work on integration any time soon. Integrations are also a challenge for a much larger countries with better administrations. Montenegrin administration does not have enough capacity and it is quite worn out considering 15 years of dealing with reforms. The lack of meritocracy in government led to not only a lack of energy, but also a vision. You would be surprised how only few people are ‘’pushing’’ the whole process of national importance.
The other big delusion I see in many institutions that should carry reforms is the self-deception that they are already excellent. How to fix them when they already see themselves as good enough? With this narcissism comes lack of ideas.
It is a natural resistance to changes: but it is easier when there is a maturity and awareness of their necessity – as when it hates you to lose weight, but then because of seriously threatened health you realize that you have to.
It is not a cliché but rather a truth that only society as a while can bring us into the EU. Everyone should write projects and pull out EU and bilateral funds: government bodies, public owned enterprises, local authorities, schools, cultural centres, hospitals, media, universities. They should improve networking with associations in their sectors, exchange ideas and improve work processes and methodologies. However, there is not enough of such activism in society. There are as well agriculture, infrastructure, environmental protection, air pollution. The EU has policies and resources to help and support these things, which are essential to us.
7) Describe attitude of political elites toward EU agenda commitments
Most stakeholders do not show understanding of the common interest in pushing this process forward. Attitude of those in ruling parties ‘’we will do anything as long as that does not cost us losing the power’’, and those in opposition parties is ‘’it is problem of the Democratic party of socialists, which is the ruling party’’. Of course, I’m not saying that they should choose their priorities, electoral strategy and tactics, I’m saying what is the current situation we have. As a citizen, I have the right to notice that such behaviour brought troubles for over 30 years. All of the politicians are doing and living fine, both those in power and those in opposition, while, unfortunately, citizens do not consider this issue as enough important. They are used that ‘’it is what it is’’ and accepted it. In the eight year of accession negotiations, we are not in an era of progress ad enlightenment, but in a total delirium.
In our state, power is seen as a prey, and not the tool to be used in order to achieve common good. Almost everywhere in the world it’s like this but to a certain extent, while in our country it has reached such extent that even the majority of those and power and opposition do not even pretend anymore that it is not like that. This is best seen by how many public stakeholders speaks about national share of power like it is justly distribution. As this is a completely normal thing. This approach will have long lasting consequences on society in all areas. Because of this immaturity, we are a pre-political society that does not know to recognize nor to commit itself to its benefit.
8) What are the consequences exclusive behaviour of both those in ruling and opposition parties?
If we take reform of the judiciary and anti-corruption as example, which are Chapter 23, we can say that this is the area where joint solutions between authorities and opposition need to be found. No progress has been made here. Prevalence of action position in judiciary is problem of the society which I do not think that should be solved in easiest way, by the amendments of the Constitution, but in a more difficult way – agreement between the authorities and opposition for the common good. If that somehow worked, it might generally pave the road to the last phase of EU integrations. Experience of this agreement might improve the overall situation and change the social paradigm of irrational stubbornness.
Montenegrin judiciary solutions are atypical and demanding, but especially because of our context as that. This contributes to the leaving of unilateral appointments that society does not have trust in. The point was the professionalisation and the appointment of undoubtedly competent ones, and not the share of prey. It may happen to all of us that we may be stuck in a process with the combination of circumstances and we may suffer from a common unconsciousness on this issue. Unproductive antagonisms of political parties must be put aside when it comes to the crucial issues of society. The situation in the judiciary is such issue.
A similar situation is with the tenders of anti-corruption institutions and especially regarding director of Agency for Prevention of Corruption. Not even one independent candidate, with critical opinion, with such good references that are not easy to reject, in who citizens will trust, has not applied for this position. Agency is extremely important for the opposition in the context of upcoming elections, control of political party funding, misuses of public funds during elections, etc. In this particular case, there is also the support of the EU, which spoke negatively about the previous director and is closely following the new appointments. However, even in such favourable circumstances, there are no candidates.
Author: Mila Radulović
The interview was originally published in the daily news ‘’Vijesti’’, as well on the ‘’Vijesti’’ portal.