This spring Montenegro was alive with diplomatic activity. First Deputy Prime Minister Responsible for European Integration, Igor Lukšić, visited the United States, Canada, Germany etc. and he sees nothing extraordinary in that, as diplomatic activity is always of a high intensity as a result of the integration agenda that is dynamic and the circumstance of Montenegro being a small country, which implies the need to more frequently present its views.
The road towards the EU and NATO is conditioned by the need to work increasingly towards individual member states and in that way secure from all relevant addresses a full understanding of Montenegro’s results and efforts of Montenegro on the internal reform front.
“In this regard our recent conversations in Romania, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada and elsewhere, although only part of a continuous dialogue at all levels with these and other countries, during these months have a certain specific gravity for Montenegro and realizing the priority objectives of our foreign policy, i.e. membership in NATO and the European Union.
Undoubtedly, the result is undivided understanding and support for Montenegro from these and other countries and, more importantly, their clearly stated intention, precisely due to their recognition of the importance of the results achieved at the national level, to continue strengthening European and transatlantic partnership with our country, through all meaningful programmes of bilateral and multilateral cooperation,” says Igor Lukšić, First Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Responsible for European integration.
Investors increasingly perceive the advantages of Montenegro, because it is a new, open market.
During the past few years, we have worked diligently on four priorities that our NATO partners insisted on.
Montenegro is committed to a peaceful resolution between the parties in dispute and the conflict.
Could you assess the integration journey to date and tell us what EU and NATO integration means for Montenegrin society?
– When it comes to the EU, we have opened and provisionally closed negotiations on two negotiating chapters and opened nine, including two of the most challenging. By improving the negotiation process, the EU has changed the bargaining strategy and insists on starting negotiations on the chapters relating to the rule of law. We are dealing with that, responsibly and in accordance with the deadlines, always insisting that we are very aware that the rule of law is one of the biggest challenges for our internal development and, as such, we should not see it as an imperative someone is imposing on us, but rather as an obligation to secure a higher quality of life for our citizens.
When it comes to NATO, we strive to meet the prerequisites in order to encourage debate on the enlargement at the summit in Wales.
We set our goal very ambitiously. In 2006 we embarked on the road of cooperation through the Partnership for Peace and now we are currently implementing the fourth annual action plan. During the past few years, we have worked diligently on four priorities that our NATO partners insisted on, as the priorities of our integration agenda.
Both integration processes mean a better quality of life for our citizens, increased safety and security and, thus, political stability and more opportunities for sustainable economic prosperity in the long term.
Can you more tangibly explain the fields of Euro-Atlantic integration where Montenegro has made progress?
– Montenegro is currently successfully implementing the IV Annual National Programme (ANP) in the framework of the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which was presented to NATO in Brussels on 28th October 2013.
We are fully committed to the implementation of reforms in key areas for integration into NATO, in order for us to show clear progress and readiness for membership: the rule of law, public support, as well as further reform of the security sector. We expect NATO’s report on Montenegro’s progress in the IV ANP to be positive and clearly confirm our progress in all fields.
The EU’s negotiating strategy has changed and it insists on starting negotiations on the chapters relating to the rule of law. We are handling that responsibly and in accordance with the deadlines
The anniversary of the formation of the negotiating structure for talks on the accession of Montenegro to the EU was recently marked. What results have been achieved?
– During the first two years of negotiations, we established a quality negotiating structure that comprises 1,300 people from various professional profiles and who come from all social groups, as well as completing the so-called screening process. All this negotiating work was followed by extensive social, political and economic reforms, which also enabled a significant improvement in all areas.
The results of our work have been recognised by EU member states and have enabled us to temporarily close two negotiating chapters and open negotiations on seven chapters. It is particularly significant that in the framework of the new approach we opened Chapter 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights and Chapter 24 – Justice, freedom and security, which represent the foundation of the rule of law. In the near future, I expect the opening of another number of chapters.
What are the further activities in 2014 when it comes to the realisation of measures from the action plans for negotiating chapters 23 and 24, and what do you expect as a reaction from Brussels on the submitted negotiating positions?
– As a key activity by the end of the year, I can single out adoption of the Law on Prevention of Corruption, which will be the basis for further establishment of an anti-corruption agency, adoption of a law that will govern the issue of caring for seized assets, which will create conditions for the establishment of a body to deal with these issues, while we are also planning the establishment of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the fight against organised crime and corruption, for which legislation that will regulate this issue has been drafted.
By the end of the year, we also expect to complete the legislative framework for a number of areas, such as the judiciary, where the final amendments of the four laws governing the organisation of the judiciary will create conditions for the full independence and accountability of the judiciary.
In the area of anti-corruption, we expect the adoption of the Law on Public Procurement, the General Administrative Procedure Act, the Law on Combating Conflict of Interest and the Law on Lobbying. We also expect the strengthening of the capacity of certain institutions – such as the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Freedoms, the Police Administration and the Prosecutor’s Office – to follow.
You recently mentioned that there are challenges ahead for Montenegro. What are those challenges?
I would say that our foreign policy challenges simultaneously also represent our chance for a better, safer and more prosperous future for our citizens. This year will be packed with such challenges for us. First, we will strive to open as many negotiating chapters as possible, in order to maintain the pace of our accession negotiations, but also to implement the necessary internal reforms.
We understand fully the responsibility we have as the first country to start negotiations under a new approach, as Montenegro can influence other aspiring countries to start the reform of their society and accelerate progress towards the EU. What awaits us at the NATO summit in September in Wales is no less important, for which still do not know if there will be a summit on enlargement.
Our Euro-Atlantic ambitions are motivated primarily by the need to ensure the future of our citizens, not only in the area of security but also in the economic and political fields. That is important for our region.
How do you evaluate the results of the National Convention on European Integration project?
– The NCEI Project has a long-term, positive impact on reform processes in Montenegro. Primarily, it has contributed to the networking of experts from the public, private and civil sectors and constructive exchange of views, which was its purpose. This contributed to the strengthening and better use of human resources in the activities of the working group, as well as identifying challenges in certain areas in the direction of achieving the highest possible quality of implementation of the strategic national policy on the road to full EU membership. What is most important is that this project has contributed to unifying the most important resources we have, people, and directing our knowledge, experience and energy towards achieving common goals.
The messages we receive, and the strong support on our road towards the EU and NATO, tells us that the international community is counting on Montenegro as a credible partner
How do Montenegro’s European and international partners assess the country’s progress toward building a society that adheres to EU standards?
– Montenegro has very seriously and responsibly approached reform activities in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration processes. Although we are still confronted by an important part of the road and a huge job, we can praise ourselves for carrying out all previous phases efficiently and effectively. It is precisely the results achieved, both in terms of the implementation of essential reforms in the fields of politics and economics, and all others, as well as in terms of strengthening good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation, that have formed the basis for the advancement of Montenegro on its European path.
Our efforts in this direction have also been recognised by European and international partners. The messages we receive, and the strong support on our road towards the EU and NATO, tells us that the international community is counting on Montenegro as a credible partner and that it wants to see us in the company of the most developed countries.
How would Montenegro’s membership in NATO impact on the country’s political stability and security?
– For a country like Montenegro, participation in a collective security system is the only logical way to improve security. NATO membership is a long-term guarantee of sovereignty and territorial integrity, security of citizens and a prerequisite for sustainable economic development that also opens the door to EU membership and contributes additionally to the security of the region. Certainly today there is nothing else that could have such a favourable effect on our political stability and security, while simultaneously providing a strong contribution to regional stability.
On the basis of the entire introduction you have, what are your expectations for the September Summit and the chances that Montenegro will receive an invitation to join NATO at the summit in Wales?
– Montenegro plays a very important role in promoting regional peace and stability, which is recognised by our NATO partners, along with our commitment to carrying out reforms in four key areas. At this moment, the nature of the summit has not yet been determined, i.e. whether it will be a summit on expansion or consolidation. If NATO allies decide to include the topic of expansion on the agenda, we believe that Montenegro, as the most prepared candidate, can expect adequate affirmation of our efforts.
How much truth is there in the claim that adjusting to Euro-Atlantic standards is more important than receiving a formal invitation?
– It is certain that receiving an invitation for membership is important in itself. But the essential process of adaptation to NATO standards both promotes and enhances our internal reform, which is important from the aspect of European integration, especially in the context of chapters 23 and 24. Of course, it is important that our progress is also recognised at the most important events that will follow and that we believe we are ready to receive an invitation, but we are not implementing reforms because of form, but rather because of their essential nature, which means a safer and more prosperous future for our society.
In Washington, you participated in a debate on the consolidation of southern Europe and you stressed that “the job in the Balkans is not yet finished.” What is your opinion still remains to be done in the Balkans?
– I think the experience in the Western Balkans shows that historically speaking, the key issue in this region is the issue of securing stability. From this problem arise problems of insufficient economic and democratic development and then from that, of course, all that we can see on the surface – crime, corruption, violence and everything else. With this in mind, we must return to solving the underlying problems.
For us there is an equals sign between the stability of the Balkans and its integration, but also economic development. There can be no European and economic stability without stability in the Balkans.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, you are also in a position to speak with business communities worldwide. What are their impressions of Montenegro as a destination for doing business?
– I think investors increasingly perceive the advantages of Montenegro, because it is a new, open market, with predispositions: the euro as the official currency, an extremely competitive tax system, qualified and relatively cheap labour, a liberal legal framework, the free flow of goods and capital, goods transport links. On the other hand, European and Euro-Atlantic integration favours us in this, because both processes bring the security and stability that investors seek.
We have undertaken a number of activities and made progress in improving the business environment. Today Montenegro is positioned 44th of 189 ranked economies according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report. Also confirming that Montenegro today is an attractive location for foreign investors is the inflow of foreign direct investment since the gaining of independence in 2006. Despite the global economic crisis, for years Montenegro has occupied a leading position in the region when it comes to the number of foreign investments per capita.
What is needed to be done in Montenegro in order to improve the business environment, which will contribute to strengthening the competitiveness of the country’s economy?
– In the years of economic and fiscal challenges, reforming the administrative system and regulatory framework are key steps to improving the investment climate as a prerequisite for economic growth. Reform processes are especially important for smaller countries and open economies such as Montenegro’s, in the sense of strengthening entrepreneurial initiatives and attractiveness for foreign investment.
Creating a simple procedure, modernising public administration, as well as creating an efficient administration, are all goals of the reform measures coordinated by the Council for Improving the Business Environment, regulatory and structural reforms. For example, in the improvement of business environment, the critical areas that will be the focus of attention for the next period are areas in which Montenegro is ranked most poorly in the DB Report, and those are: “enforcing contracts” (136th) “building permits” (106th), “registering property” (98th) and “paying taxes” (86th). We carefully listen to the impressions and suggestions of foreign investors and are aware that additional systemic measures are needed in the aim of improving conditions for doing business, which we will work on.
For us there is an equals sign between the stability of the Balkans and its integration, but also economic development
How would you assess regional cooperation?
– Good neighbourly relations are an essential element of the stabilisation and association of the Western Balkans. They are maintained and developed not only at the bilateral level but also in the regional format. There are a large number of regional initiatives in which the countries of the region work together, but we evaluate that targeting their improvement should be encouraged. There needs to be a focus on issues of common interest: the fight against corruption and crime, improving infrastructure links in the region and promoting trade cooperation between states, through project-orientated cooperation agreed at the highest political level, without creating new bureaucratic structures. Such an approach would give a higher degree of legitimacy to the demands of our country when it comes to the EU and its support for integration processes.
With a view to already proven models, such as the Visegrad group, this kind of format would have its full meaning not only in the integration process but also after all the Western Balkan countries become full members of the Union. I am glad that such ideas of ours are recognised as constructive in the region and the EU and that the framework for cooperation in the stabilisation and association process can be further utilised. This is also supported by recent talks at the Thessaloniki Conference and the interest of EU countries to support the implementation of infrastructure projects in the region.
Montenegro recently found itself the focus of interest regarding the crisis in Ukraine. Would you like to use this occasion to clarify the stance and position of your country?
– Without wanting to go into a deeper evaluation of the complexity of the current situation in Ukraine, Montenegro is committed to a peaceful resolution between the parties in dispute and the conflict, in which numerous lives have been lost and considerable damage inflicted. Montenegro, as a country that has opened EU accession negotiations, fully and as has been the case to date and in line with expectations, joined the resolutions of the EU with regard to the Ukrainian crisis. Montenegro certainly does not pretend that the resolution of the crisis depends on its role, but it fully supports the efforts undertaken by the international community to de-escalate the situation, intensify dialogue and reduce economic repercussions.
We fully support the peaceful settlement of disputes by legal means, while preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. It should be noted that the restrictive measures joined by Montenegro are in no way directed against the Russian people and the Russian state or reduce our ambition to build friendly relations with Russia, as has been the case throughout the history of relations between the two countries. They themselves clearly express a diversity of views on this issue within the EU.