Friday, December 17, 2010
EU grants Montenegro candidate-member status
The statement 'went automatically,' without discussion, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told the German Press Agency dpa.
The decision 'underlines the conviction within the council (of current EU states) that the countries of the Western Balkans have a European vocation,' said Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
The tiny Balkan state of 650,000 inhabitants only broke away from Serbia in 2006, but EU officials say that it has already made enough reforms to count as a possible future member, although they want more progress before membership talks actually start.
Montenegro thus joins Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia and Turkey on the road towards EU membership. Other states of the Western Balkans are also working towards joining the club, but are not considered to be sufficiently well-run to qualify for full candidate status.
The decision to award candidate status to yet one more state of the former Yugoslavia 'is a strong signal of our commitment to the future of the Balkans,' said the head of the EU's executive, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
Officials in Montenegro were quick to welcome the decision, with Deputy Prime Minister Igor Luksic saying the country was ready for the challenge.
'The decision of EU leaders is a major encouragement for Montenegro and an affirmation of our efforts,' Luksic told dpa.
'It is also a challenge and we have to do a lot of work in the seven areas the commission named as crucial for the start of accession negotiations and continue on our path to join the EU,' he said.
In an annual report published in November, the commission stressed that Montenegro would have to improve its performance in seven areas, such as fighting corruption and organized crime, before talks begin.
In November the European Commission recommended that Montenegro be granted official candidate status, but outlined several areas where Podgorica must make improvements.
European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, speaking at the press conference announcing the annual progress report that contained the recommendation, said further work was needed in the field of the rule of law, noting that officials now have seven specific priorities that must be met in order for accession negotiations to begin.
Although the country is considered a parliamentary democracy, parliament's control of the government remains weak, the report says. And although there is broad consensus on the fundamentals of economic policy, the Commission does not believe that the country is a functioning market economy.
The report notes: "The main concerns are related to the politicization of the judiciary and shortcomings in the functioning of law enforcement institutions, in particular in fighting organized crime and corruption. There are also concerns over efficiency and accountability of the judiciary."
Once they do, Montenegro will have to bring its laws into line with EU standards in 35 policy areas, known as 'chapters,' ranging from fisheries to financial regulation.
The process can take many years: current applicant Turkey has been negotiating for membership for five years already, but has only managed to open 13 chapters and close one. Its progress is largely blocked by opposition from Cyprus and France.
Diplomats said that, in Montenegro's case, talks could perhaps start in 2012, meaning that the country could feasibly aim to join the bloc by 2020.
Croatia is expected to end its membership talks next year, while Macedonia's progress has been stalled by the row it has with Greece over its name.
Iceland began membership talks this year, but public opinion in the island nation remains largely against joining the EU.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 7:06 PM