Another Year of ”Tapping in Place”
The European Commission’s report confirmed that the much needed radical reforms are a victim of political cleavages; the messages should be understood as a strong call for all stakeholders, especially political parties, to dedicate themselves to the tasks of European integration.
If the assessments from the report are translated to a numerical scale from 1 to 5, Montenegro’ s results are once again limited: the average score of progress this year is the lowest in the last six years and is 3.03 (compared to 3.18 last year). On the other hand, the assessment of overall state of play or preparedness is the best so far and amounts to 3.11 (compared to 3.08 last year).
European Commission’s methodology from 2015 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, ie. 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”.
Tapping in place, when it comes to the negotiations between Montenegro and the EU, is the best reflected in the fact that in as many as 30 of the 33 chapters, only “limited progress” has been identified. No backsliding has been identified in any area this year either, although the Functioning of Judiciary, as a special aspect under Chapter 23, has been assessed worse than in the last year (with no progress compared to limited progress). On the other hand, freedom of expression received a slightly better rating (limited progress compared to last year’s rating of stagnation).
In the report, the European Commission highlighted the administrative capacity gap following the change of government, especially in terms of managing the negotiation process. The IA has also recently warned that slow process of reorganisation, poor workforce planning and the introduction of unregulated competitions for acting officials, managerial positions in public administration are further destabilised, in the context in which the Government itself in February this year pointed out that ’’significant outflow of expert staff from negotiating structures may negatively affect the dynamics of meeting the obligations of the negotiation process.”
Despite the announcements of a new enlargement methodology, and merging of chapters into the so-called clusters, the report is not significantly different in quality and content, comparing to the previous years. In certain sections, there is a greater emphasis on the political preconditions of the necessary reforms, and thus, the report also contains the level of political analysis along with the usual assessments of technical criteria and benchmarks.
However, the situation on the ground in Montenegro and other EU Enlargement countries has exceeded the framework of usual annual reports and enlargement methodology long time ago. Therefore, the IA has supported recommendations of other organisations from the region within the TEN network (Think for Europe) and of Brussels-based CEPS for the introduction of measures of the so-called early integration or phased membership. This new approach would also entail the changes of assessment of all areas, especially of the rule of law.