The accession to the European Union is Montenegro’s key foreign policy priority, and together with further integration into NATO and strengthening regional cooperation, it is one of the three pillars of Montenegro’s foreign policy. The pace of European integration not only sets and fosters the pace of internal reforms, but also shapes Montenegro’s foreign policy, given its commitment to fully align its positions with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. This is further corroborated by the fully-fledged NATO membership, given the complementarity of the EU and North-Atlantic integration processes and the underpinning values.
With the restoration of its independence on 21 May 2006, Montenegro continued deepening the stabilisation and association process (SAP) launched in June 1999 as the EU foreign policy strategy towards the Western Balkan countries encouraging them to stronger EU integration, which was reconfirmed at the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003, when the European Council adopted the Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans: Moving towards European Integration. SAP rests on the principles of meeting equal criteria for all (established at the European Council in Copenhagen in June 1993 and the European Council in Madrid in 1995), with a clear EU membership perspective, strong regional cooperation and the so-called regatta principle in assessing progress.
Montenegro’s European integration process has been devised from the onset as a process involving all citizens and institutions; thus, with strong mobilization of the administrative capacities, the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU was signed in October 2007, and a year later, in December 2008, Montenegro applied for membership. Some of the milestone events in Montenegro’s European integration process include: December 2009 when Montenegro received visa liberalisation for the Schengen area; the SAA entered into force in May 2010, while Montenegro became a candidate country in December 2010. In December 2011 the European Council launched the accession process with Montenegro, which set in motion the process of preparing Montenegrin institutions to adopt the Acquis and setting up the negotiation structure in February 2012. The negotiations for Montenegrin accession to the EU were officially opened on 29 June 2012.
Compared to previous enlargement waves, the new approach concerning chapters 23 and 24 was introduced, which implies that the progress made in the areas of the rule of law, judicial reform, safeguarding fundamental rights and democracy set the pace for the overall negotiations with the EU, and all 33 Acquis chapters which include preparations for opening chapters, meeting opening and closing benchmarks in those chapters, and closing chapters as a precondition for concluding the membership agreement. By September 2020, Montenegro opened negotiations in all 33 chapters, and closed 3 chapters. The European Union, both politically and financially, through the instrument for pre-accession assistance, the Berlin process (leading diplomatic initiative of the Western Balkan countries for stronger collaboration in the area of infrastructure and the economic market) and other funding mechanisms, strongly supports Montenegro to primarily meet interim benchmarks in chapters 23 and 24 (89 in total), to put in place the assumptions for setting closing benchmarks in these key chapters and step up the pace of closing the remaining chapters.
The coordination of the EU accession process and the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda is an essential element for aligning Montenegro’s strategic priorities and a precondition for achieving its development vision. This is particularly recognised in the overarching strategic document for meeting the pre-accession obligations from the EU agenda – the Programme of Accession of Montenegro to the EU 2020-2022 which, among other things, gives an overview of links between EU sustainable development goals and meeting the obligations from chapter 33 of the EU Acquis.
The National Sustainable Development Strategy by 2030 particularly stresses the strategic lines of actions set in the Europe 2020 (smart, inclusive and sustainable growth) and sustainability financing mechanisms through the instrument of pre-accession assistance – IPA, Union programmes and structural funds.
A distinctive challenge in policy coordination and strategic planning in pursuit of the country’s development vision remains within the thematic area 5 Improve governance for sustainable development, strategic goal 5.4 Set up a system to monitor national development sustainability, including tracking SDGs, given that sector-based strategies and policies need to include and implement sustainable development goals in a more comprehensive manner.
Candidate countries need to fulfil the so-called Copenhagen criteria set by the European Council in 1993, covering three pillars:
The annual reports provided by the European Commission track progress made by candidate countries at all three levels. The key challenges refer primarily to fulfilling the remaining interim benchmarks for chapter 23 and 24 (the only chapters with interim benchmarks), and administrative and institutional capacities, knowledge and skills for proper implementation of the 33 Acquis chapters.
To properly leverage EU financial mechanisms for national development, improved infrastructure, building institutions and upskilling the administration to implement EU standards in all policy areas, it is important to have steady progress in chapter 22 – Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. To increase its absorption capacity, Montenegro received as many as 6 closing benchmarks aimed at implementing and strengthening institutional and administrative capacities, and further alignment of planning and delivery methodologies for EU funds and EU cohesion policy.
Policy coordination and better quality sector-specific strategies require that IPA programming and strategic planning are well-coordinate to have IPA programming underpinned by strong strategies, with clear goals and performance indicators, and comprehensive monitoring and evaluation tools. One of the benchmarks set by the EU is to furnish a detailed plan and schedule for putting the monitoring and evaluation system in place, including the electronic management information system (MIS), an area to that can be greatly improved through policy coordination and development, and sound strategy papers.
Relevant for foreign policy is chapter 31 – Common foreign and security policy, given that candidate countries are expected to align their foreign policy with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. The EC Montenegro 2019 Report recognises Montenegro as a country committed to constructive bilateral relations with its neighbours, both with other enlargement countries and neighbouring EU Member States. The Report notes Montenegro has signed bilateral conventions on regional cooperation under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with all partners with an SAA in force, the last was signed in March 2019 with Kosovo. Montenegro records good progress in alignment with the CFSP (100% alignment), and the EC notes that Montenegro supports the global strategy and continues to align with all relevant EU positions and declarations.
EU Global Strategy adopted in June 2016 focuses on a vision of strong European Union with a common action of all EU Member States, and sets 5 priorities in this respect: 1. Union security; 2. Investment in building state and societal resilience, particularly of the surrounding regions in the East and the South (this pillar includes the enlargement policy for the Western Balkans and Turkey); 3. Integrated approach to conflicts and crisis; 4. Support to cooperative regional orders; and 5. Global governance for the 21st century, with the focus on a rules-based multilateral international order. The European External Affairs Service (EEAS), among other things, monitors the strategy implementation, with the 2019 report being the most recent available.
One of the 6 political priorities of the new European Commission 2019-2024 is A Stronger Europe in the World, which contains the following areas: Foreign policy, European neighbourhood policy, International cooperation and development, Humanitarian aid and civil protection, Trade policy and Security and defence. Other political priorities for the period 2019-2024 are as follows:
A European Green Deal aspires to climate neutrality in the European continent, A Europe fit for the digital age with the new European Digital Strategy, An economy that works for people to generate better jobs, particularly for youth and small businesses, Protecting our European way of life focusing on the rule of law and fundamental values, and A new push for European democracy focusing on strengthening the voice of people.
Europe 2020 sets the architecture for strategic and policy planning in EU around three key pillars of smart, inclusive and sustainable growth. The most significant targets at the EU level, which are then nationalised through country-specific strategy papers of Member States include the following:
– Employment (75% employment rate among the 20-64 age cohort)
– Research and development (3% GDP for R&D)
– Climate change and energy (reduce GHG emissions by 20% in reference to 1990 as the base year, increase the share of renewables in total energy consumption to 20%, and increase energy efficiency by 20%);
– Education (reduce under 10% the share of school dropouts, and at least 40% of adults aged 30-34 to hold university degrees)
– Poverty and social exclusion (reduce by at least 20 million the number of EU citizens at risk of poverty and social exclusion)
The key strategy document for the accession process is the Programme of Accession of Montenegro to the EU 2020-2022. In the hierarchical order of Montenegro’s strategic planning system it belongs among the overarching documents of the same order as the National Sustainable Development Strategy, the Development Directions, the Fiscal Strategy, the Economic Reforms Programme, and the future Partner Agreement with the EU for accessing structural funding. The Programme of Accession of Montenegro to the EU includes the plan for adoption and implementation of strategy papers, primary and secondary legislation under 33 EU Acquis chapters, given in tabular form. For each Acquis chapter it features the following: 1. Description of the chapter with the most relevant features and an overview of the current situation and challenges in the Introduction; 2. Strategic framework covers the adoption of strategy papers required for advancement in specific chapters – strategies, action plans and programmes; 3. Legislative framework covers the adoption of new legislation needed to align with the EU Acquis; 4. Administrative framework refers to the need for engaging officers on tasks relevant for Montenegro’s EU integration process. The Programme of Accession of Montenegro to the EU 2020–2022 envisages the adoption of as many as 116 strategy papers (strategies, programmes and action plan) and 491 legislative acts, among which 97 laws and 278 pieces of secondary legislation.
The key body for monitoring the Programme of Accession of Montenegro to the EU implementation is the European Integration Commission, composed of the representatives of the European Integration Office, Government’s Secretariat General and all line ministries responsible for implementing the EU Acquis.
Policy coordination under the Programme of Accession includes both planning key strategy documents for alignment with the EU strategic framework and the obligations under EU Acquis chapter 33, and alignment of the Government Work Programme (medium-term and annual) with all obligations under the Programme of Accession.
As regards strategic planning IPA II 2014-2020, the key document setting national priorities to be supported through IPA II is the Indicative Strategy Paper for Montenegro 2014-2020. This document envisages specific forms of support for pursuing the goals in the following sectors: Democracy and governance; Rule of law and fundamental rights; Environment and climate action; Transport; Competition and innovation; Education, employment and social policy; Agriculture and Rural Development; Regional and territorial cooperation.
Pre-accession financial support must be based on the priorities set in national strategy papers and in the EU strategy papers, and focus on the areas in need of more significant improvements in preparation for EU membership, so further strengthening of policy coordination and strategic planning.
Future Partnership Agreement with the EU (IPA) will set the thematic areas for investments from EU funds, the key priorities for investments, mechanisms for effective and efficient use of EU funds in pursuit of EU policy goals and Montenegro’s development goals. That will be another overarching document for us as a prospective member state, prepared before accession in response to the requirements under chapter 22, but also the obligations Montenegro has under the instrument for pre-accession assistance – IPA.