Montenegro: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after the Association and Stabilisation Council
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Thank you, Prime Minister [of Montenegro, Dritan Abazović].
This 11th meeting of our Stabilisation and Association Agreement [Council] is the first of these meetings that is being held in the Western Balkans. Usually, the meeting takes place in dark meeting room in Brussels where all of us are in a hurry and there is no social interaction.
It is important to have this meeting in the region to demonstrate to the people of Montenegro, but also to the whole region, our commitment to a common future in the European Union.
I think that the current dramatic geopolitical situation makes the Western Balkan’s integration an ever greater strategic priority and a geopolitical imperative.
Today, we have reviewed our relations with Montenegro and the process of accession negotiations, on which my colleague, Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér] Várhelyi, will go deeper.
Also, we discussed the regional and domestic developments. Our visit coincides with another political crisis, putting in jeopardy the stability of the government and threatening the implementation of Montenegro’s reform agenda.
This is concerning for all of us because I think that the attention and political energy of all parties should be focused on delivering on European Union reforms. I think that there should not be nothing more important for Montenegro than its European path.
Especially, in a moment in which I believe there is an opportunity for Montenegro to be a front runner in the accession negotiations. You have the potential to be a success story, because many chapters have already been open and it is time to advance to the next stage of the process. But this will require a full commitment to the implementation of all European Union-related reforms - judiciary, media [freedom], anti-corruption fight and organised crime. We expect Montenegro to phase out the golden passports and align its visa policy to the one of the European Union.
We need , you need – when I say “we” I mean all of us, the European Union and Montenegro - a strong political commitment, a genuine engagement, consensus-building by all relevant institutions and by all political actors. Other current political issues in Montenegro should not divert the attention and energy from the reform agenda.
If we look at the broader world, apart from Montenegro, we see how the world has changed dramatically since the Russian aggression against Ukraine. This is the major challenge for us, and we strongly appreciate Montenegro’s unprecedented, more than a decade-long, full alignment with the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy. It is the longest worldwide track record.
This is one of the strongest signals of Montenegro’s commitment to European Union integration – proving that it is not just words but putting that into action. And this is also the case of the recent position and sanctions that we introduced against the Russian leadership for their illegitimate war against Ukraine. But it comes, certainly, with difficulties. And we are committed to enhance the resilience of Montenegro, and other Western Balkans partners to face the possible repercussions for these principled stance.
This is why, I am happy to announce that we are launching a Rapid Reaction Mechanism, underpinned with almost €5 million for urgent support, for our Western Balkans partners, to strengthen the resilience in dealing with cyber-attacks, cyber threats, foreign information manipulation, especially for those who stand [with us] together on these difficult times.
We are also working on additional support for our partners, and we will also continue supporting you and the region on other consequences of the war of Russia against Ukraine, including food and energy security.
The Commissioner has come to Montenegro a lot of times – he is luckier than I am - because it is just my first visit to Montenegro as High Representative. I will, between today and tomorrow, have a number of meetings with President [Milo] Đukanović with the Foreign Minister [Ranko Krivokapić] and other members of the government and civil society representatives of Montenegro. And I will also visit the Ukrainian refugees that you are hosting.
I am looking forward to continuing working together in facing the pressing issues, to work together for the European future of this inspiring country and its people.
Q. You spoke about the internal political situation in Montenegro, and you invited the politicians to make sure the EU is their priority. Can this political instability slow down Montenegro’s EU path ? Where are we in this context?
It is clear. It is not for me to comment on statements by political parties or to take the internal political dimension of our partners into public consideration.
Certainly, we know that it has been what you know better than I. I only have a message, I only have a request: all political actors and institutions of Montenegro should focus on the European Union related reforms and to continue working together in a constructive spirit in the interest of the Montenegrin citizens, on what is the most important thing for them - the European perspective.
I think it is my message. I cannot go into details of who did what or what is going to happen. I think that I have to make a request to everybody here in Montenegro, from political responsibles to every ordinary citizen. The most important thing for you are the European Union-related reforms in order to advance on the European path.
Q. In your introductory address, you mentioned that given the geopolitical developments in the world, the EU needs to work more intensively on the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU. If Montenegro, by the end of this year, gets closing benchmarks for chapter 23-24, can we – if that takes place – get the rough date for the accession of Montenegro to the EU?
I have not come here to give a precise date for the Montenegro accession. It would be, certainly, something imprudent. But it is clear: if Montenegro could fulfill the conditions, the way to the integration will be open quickly. I cannot say ‘June X’ or ‘’May X” but it is in our spirit, in our will, to push for it. Montenegro may be a frontrunner in the Western Balkans. It is a matter of fulfilling the conditions and then you will see how the prospects for enlargement will be clearly open. I think Olivér [Várhelyi] that this is what we can say. And, if you can add something more, do it.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-228354