Montenegro’s European Union Membership Process
Montenegro’s journey towards becoming a member of the European Union (EU) is a prominent topic within the EU’s enlargement plans. The process began back in November 2005 when the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro initiated negotiations for the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Following Montenegro’s declaration of independence through a referendum in May 2006, the State Union was dissolved, and separate negotiations were undertaken by Serbia and Montenegro, commencing in September 2006.
Formal steps were taken as the agreement was initialed on March 15, 2007, and subsequently signed on October 15, 2007. In 2010, the European Commission issued a favorable opinion on Montenegro’s application, pinpointing seven critical priorities that required addressing before negotiations could commence. In response, Montenegro was granted the status of a candidate for EU membership.
The actual accession process gained momentum in December 2011 when the Council aimed to initiate negotiations by June 2012. True to the plan, accession negotiations with Montenegro formally commenced on June 29, 2012, with all negotiation chapters opened. The country garnered significant support among EU member states, and there was optimism that Montenegro’s EU accession could become a reality by 2025.
By 2016, the European Commission evaluated Montenegro as the most prepared among the negotiating states for EU membership. During the period leading up to 2020, Montenegro received a considerable sum of 507 million Euros in development aid through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, a financing mechanism tailored for EU candidate nations.
Formal Application and Agreements
Montenegro made its official application to join the EU on December 15, 2008. Subsequently, on April 23, 2009, the Council requested the European Commission’s opinion on the application. The Commission posed a questionnaire to Montenegro on July 22, 2009, as part of the evaluation process. Montenegro furnished its responses to the questionnaire on December 9, 2009.
Stabilization and Association Agreement
The Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations between Montenegro and the EU were initiated in September 2006. After being signed on October 15, 2007, the SAA took effect on May 1, 2010, following ratification by all 27 EU member states.
Candidate Status and Challenges
In November 2010, the European Commission recommended Montenegro as a candidate country, a status officially granted on December 17, 2010. Montenegro’s path to EU membership, however, has encountered hurdles related to ecological, judicial, and criminal issues. To address these challenges, the Montenegrin Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration established a dedicated department, the Office of Assistance to the Chief Negotiator, to support Montenegro’s Chief Negotiator for EU Membership, Zorka Kordić.
Public Opinion and Visa Liberalization
The majority of Montenegro’s population, as evidenced by an October 2009 survey, expressed strong pro-EU sentiment, with 76.2% showing support for EU membership. On January 1, 2008, visa facilitation and readmission agreements between Montenegro and the EU came into effect. This led to Montenegro’s inclusion on the list of visa-exempt citizens on December 19, 2009, allowing citizens with biometric passports to travel visa-free to the Schengen Area, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania. However, this visa liberalization did not extend to travel to Ireland or the United Kingdom due to their separate visa regimes.
Unilateral Adoption of the Euro
Montenegro’s currency history is noteworthy. Following the Second World War, Montenegro adopted the Yugoslav dinar as its official currency, and later, after designating the Deutsche Mark as co-official in 1999, it transitioned to using the Euro in 2002. The European Central Bank expressed concerns about this unilateral adoption, deeming it incompatible with the EU Treaty. Although the issue is anticipated to be addressed during the negotiation process, there seems to be a consensus that Montenegro’s adoption of the Euro will likely persist, with discussions centered on fulfilling necessary conditions for its continued use.
In summary, Montenegro’s endeavor to join the EU involves a history of negotiations, agreements, challenges, and public sentiment, culminating in its progress toward full membership in the European Union. The country, which tries to take the necessary steps in the face of all these difficulties, is expected to become a member of the European Union in the near future. ■