Montenegro applied for EU membership in December 2008 and has had the status of a candidate country since December 2010. On 26 June 2012, the EU’s General Affairs Council decided to enter into accession negotiations with Montenegro. The first accession conference took place in Brussels on 29 June 2012. The negotiations’ priority chapters on the rule of law (Chapters 23 and 24) were opened in December 2013.
Milestones in relations between the EU and Montenegro
Even before it became independent on 3 June 2006, Montenegro already enjoyed the benefits of the EU’s Stabilisation and Association Process thanks to EU relations with the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Since 2006, relations between the EU and the independent sovereign state of Montenegro have continued to grow closer. The two sides’ close economic and political cooperation is underpinned by regular dialogue at the ministerial and parliamentary levels.
A Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was signed in October 2007 as a framework for Montenegro’s path towards the EU. After its ratification, it entered into force in May 2010. EU-Montenegro trade relations have been institutionalised since 2008, when an interim agreement was concluded. Furthermore, a visa facilitation agreement entered into force in December 2009, under which citizens of Montenegro may enter the EU as tourists without needing a visa.
Application for EU membership
Montenegro applied for EU membership on 15 December 2008. In its Opinion of 9 November 2010 on the application, the European Commission recommended granting Montenegro candidate status. The European Council accepted the Commission’s recommendation on 17 December 2010.
As tasked by the European Council in December 2011, the European Commission produced an additional progress report in May 2012 confirming that Montenegro had been consolidating its reform measures and had advanced sufficiently towards meeting seven benchmarks. The EU’s General Affairs Council followed the recommendation by the European Commission, and the first accession conference between the delegations from the EU and Montenegro took place on 29 June 2016.
At the accession conference on 18 December 2012, the negotiating chapter on Science and Research was the first to be opened. It was closed at the same event. Chapter 26 on Education and Culture was provisionally closed in April 2013. The priority chapters in the accession negotiations with Montenegro in line with the new enlargement policy (Chapter 23 on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and Chapter 24 on Justice, Freedom and Security) were opened in December 2013.
Prior to the opening of the accession negotiations with Montenegro, the Commission proposed a new procedure to ensure that the country’s reform policies are implemented effectively: the negotiating chapters on justice, fundamental rights and domestic security (chapters 23 and 24) have been prioritised and will be addressed in detail first. In order for these chapters to be opened, the Montenegrin Government has to draw up action plans detailing how the necessary reforms will be implemented. These action plans were adopted in July 2013, and involve a wide‑ranging reform agenda on the rule of law, including justice and fundamental rights. Progress here will be monitored by the Commission, which regularly reports to the Member States. If insufficient progress is made, the opening and closing of later chapters may be delayed.
Well over half of the acquis chapters have now been opened in the negotiations. In its progress reports, the European Commission has confirmed positive developments in many aspects of Montenegro’s path towards EU accession. However, it also regularly lists shortcomings. In the priority area on the rule of law, the necessary legislation has largely been passed. Further endeavours are still needed as regards establishing and implementing administrative capacities.
EU support for Montenegro on the path towards accession
Since 2007, Montenegro has been receiving financial support from the EU via the Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance (IPA). Over the 2007‑2013 period, around 235.7 million euros were available to Montenegro. Indicative plans provide funding of over 270 million euros for the current 2014‑2020 financing period. The measures financed from IPA funds are described in detail in the Indicative Strategy Paper for Montenegro of 16 August 2016. Montenegro is also benefiting from IPA programmes that support several countries at once, among them a number of cross-border cooperation measures.
Montenegro also benefits from EU‑led administrative twinning projects. These projects support public administration capacity building in candidate countries by seconding experts from public institutions in EU Member States on a long-term basis. Montenegro is also participating in regional and horizontal programmes financed via the IPA. The aim of these programmes is to promote the development of good neighbourly relations between the countries of the Western Balkans; to strengthen social, economic and political cooperation in the region; and to build up regional administrative structures. The EU made available a total of 215 million euros for 2011 to 2013 via the IPA for cross‑border cooperation measures and Projects.
The German Government’s Position
Germany is an important EU partner for Montenegro and is supporting the country on its path towards EU membership. As elsewhere, the prospect of joining the EU has proven an effective driver of reform in Montenegro. The German Government regards strict adherence to accession conditions and criteria as essential for the coming stages of Montenegro’s pre‑accession process. Germany comprehensively supports the country’s internal reform agenda, particularly as regards improving the investment climate.