29 June 2012
Montenegro starts EU accession talks a signal to the region
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Milan Rocen, Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen, and European Commissioner Stefan Füle. Photo: The Council of the EU
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Milan Rocen, Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen, and European Commissioner Stefan Füle. Photo: The Council of the EU

On 29 June 2012 the European Council endorsed the earlier decision of the General Affairs Council to open accession negotiations with Montenegro. The first meeting of the Accession Conference was held on the same day.

As ESI has continuously argued, most recently at the Sofia Forum for the Balkans in early June, the launch of accession negotiations with Montenegro is not only the most important step on the tiny Balkan country’s path towards the EU but a signal for the region as a whole.

Sofia Forum for the Balkans
Croatian and Swedish Foreign Ministers Vesna Pusic and Carl Bildt listening to Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev; Gerald Knaus on panel with Dusan Reljic (SWP Berlin), Tim Judah (Balkan correspondent of The Economist), Teuta Arifi (Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia) and Ivan Vejvoda (Vice President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States). Photos: ESI

The EU’s decision, taken in the midst of a major European crisis, sends a clear signal to all EU candidates that progress towards membership remains possible. Against the backdrop of Greece's continued obstruction of accession talks with Macedonia, the stalemate in negotiations with Turkey, and previous indications by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy that enlargement would be put on hold after Croatia joins, the green light for talks with Montenegro is a badly needed signal that progress is rewarded and that the EU perspective is real.

The 29 June decision, coming three and a half years after Montenegro formally applied for membership, strengthens the position of Western Balkan reformers and weakens those who argue that painful reforms for Europe will not pay off. It also reflects an increasing understanding in European capitals that the start of accession talks does not mean a process that leads to membership regardless of the candidate state’s preparedness.

Croatia has already shown that the process has become more demanding. More emphasis is placed on the implementation of laws than on their adoption. Every member state can insist on specific benchmarks for the opening and the closing of each of the 35 negotiation chapters. This provides ample opportunities to block the process if progress is inadequate.

Turkey also shows that there is no automaticity once the process has started. Since negotiations were opened in 2005, Turkey has closed only one chapter.

For Montenegro, the process has become even more demanding. Following a proposal of the Commission, the EU has decided to start accession negotiations with the chapters on "judiciary and fundamental rights" and "justice, freedom and security." These two chapters will contain an additional set of interim benchmarks, reflecting the importance attached to these issues by the EU.

Counter-intuitively, this is good news for Montenegro and future accession candidates. Increased scrutiny will make them better prepared for membership.

About us
Photo credits
Alan Grant is an Irish photographer who travelled extensively in the Balkans and other countries and regions of the world. Thanks to him, ESI is able to show fascinating pictures of the Balkans: the facades of Tirana, the painted mosques of Travnik, the fabulous old houses of Plovdiv and the spectacular blue of water - dark in the Bay of Kotor, emerald in the river valleys of Bosnia, deep blue in Ohrid, twinkling in the Aegean Sea and on the Bosporus.

You can find out more about Alan Grant on his websites:
Jonathan Lewis lives between London and Istanbul. He moved to London and spent many years studying photography and now specialises in photojournalism, documentary photography and commercial work for a wide variety of private and commercial clients in the UK, Europe and Turkey. His work has appeared in a number of magazines and publications and is used on the ESI website as well.

You can find out more about Jonathan Lewis on his website www.jonathanlewisphoto.com