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Montenegro’s road to Europe: local leaders hail progress and declare intent to support reform momentum

viber image 27th October 2014 – Local and regional leaders from the EU and Montenegro have declared their commitment to continuing to drive forward reform as part of the ongoing accession negotiations. Despite the European Commission suggesting that there would be no further countries joining the EU over the next five years, the leaders – who make up the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) – hailed the progress of reform and called for further funds to be invested locally to further stimulate change.
The JCC gathered local and regional authority leaders from the EU’s Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Montenegro as part of the preparations for the country’s EU accession. The JCC, which held its fourth meeting in Kotor on Monday, debated local-government reform, agriculture and rural development and services of general economic interest (i.e. services requiring public authority delivery) reform in Montenegro.
Participants were welcomed by Aleksandar Bogdanović, mayor of the Old Royal Capital Cetinje and the new co-chair of the JCC, who said “I am convinced that Montenegro has proved to be fully committed to meet all the Copenhagen criteria as a prerequisite for joining the EU. Union of Municipalities of Montenegro, as well as all Montenegrin municipalities are committed to give their maximum contribution to the implementation of European standards at the local level, which unfortunately was not recognized by the European Commission in its recent “Enlargement 2014 Progress Report”, which stated that there was no progress in enhancing transparency, efficiency and accountability at the local level. We are aware that there is a lot more to do, but also, we know that we have already done a significant work, which definitely should be recognized during the preparation of the Progress Report”.
Stanisław Szwabski (PL/EA), chairman of Gdynia City Council and the CoR co-chair of the JCC, emphasised that, “The political guidelines for the new European Commission indicate that no enlargement will take place in the next five years. This does not mean, however, that our preparation efforts should be reduced – on the contrary, we must continue to support reform and keep up motivation in order to be ready on time. We also need to make sure that the Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) funds can be used in the best possible way in Montenegro to make progress in the priority areas and to benefit the local level”. He also announced that the CoR would begin cooperation with the European Parliament to support Montenegro on its path towards European integration. The aim of this cooperation should be to coordinate all action focused on supporting Montenegro in its adaptation efforts to meet EU requirements.
This was followed by statements by Tamara Srzentić, director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, André Lys, head of the Cooperation Section at the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, and Franz Schausberger (AT/EPP), who has been appointed rapporteur for the CoR opinion “Enlargement strategy and main challenges 2014-2015”.
During the first part of the meeting the JCC members also discussed the Action Plan for the Self-Government Reform in Montenegro presented by Jadranka Vojinović, State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior of Montenegro. The plan aims to develop and streamline the local self-government system in Montenegro. The CoR welcomed the efforts by Montenegro in delivering state and local self-government building and the progress made in the accession negotiations.
Agriculture and rural development, as well as services of general economic interest, were also discussed. Despite progress on agriculture and rural development policy, alignment with EU legislation in this area is still at a relatively early stage. Similarly the latest European Commission report notes that Montenegro needed further legislative reform and to redefine its scope in the area of services of general economic interest – such as energy, communication and transport infrastructure – if it was to meet EU rules. Nevertheless, the Commission report indicates that Montenegro has made considerable progress in fulfilling its EU membership obligations.
The next JCC meeting is scheduled to take place in Brussels in the first semester of 2015.