Remarks by Commissioner Várhelyi during the joint press conference with Dritan Abazović and Josep Borrell Fontelles following the 11th EU-Montenegro JCC
Today, for the very first time, we have an Association Council with one of our Western Balkan partners. This, I think, sends a strong and reinforced message to the whole region how much we not only cherish, but also consider important the partnership and association that we have with the Western Balkans.
Montenegro is of course not only a partner, but also a candidate country – not only a candidate country, but also a negotiating candidate country, which means that Montenegro has already come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. long. We believe that we have taken the opportunity today not only to take stock of the implementation of our existing arrangements and agreements, such as the Association Agreement, but also to discuss how to accelerate EU accession, or rather the integration into the European Union of Montenegro and the Western Balkans.
Of course, when talking these days with partners, friends and allies, the first topic to discuss is Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is also changing the geopolitical context not only in Europe, but also in the whole world. ‘Europe. And therefore, our security has never been more important than today and that is why it is so important to have reliable partners and allies like Montenegro, which fully aligns with our positions and we we are on the same side in this war.
Of course, the strategic priority was also – I think we both agreed – to accelerate integration on the ground, therefore the real integration of the economy, of society, of the country as such in the European Union, but also how to advance the so-called negotiation process, or the accession negotiations if you want to use technical details.
I think what emerges from the meeting is the crucial importance of all political actors in Montenegro to accelerate reforms. We, on our side, are ready to go much faster, but for that, we need the delivery of reforms. In this area, of course, a lot has already been done, we are at a crucial moment with Montenegro – a crucial moment, which means that we have opened all the chapters of the accession negotiations and now is the time to begin to close these chapters. But before that, we must make considerable progress in the area of the rule of law; it’s not really new, it’s something you’ve heard me explain many times when I was here, and I think it’s very important that we now see action by parliament and by the government. In parliament, of course, laws would have to be passed, appointments would have to be made, whether it was the judiciary, whether it was freedom of the media and the protection of journalists or whether it was the fight against corruption and crime organized. But it doesn’t stop there, because we need an enforcement history of those laws, to make sure that not only do we have laws, but we have proper enforcement and enforcement in place, producing results that can take us to the next step. phase of the accession negotiations. Only then can we pick up the pace, as enshrined in our negotiation methodology.
The other subject which concerns the real integration of the Western Balkans into the European Union concerned the economic and investment plan. The economic and investment plan, as I have already explained here several times, is Europe’s vehicle for accelerating real integration, catching up between the European Union and the Western Balkans, mobilizing a third of the GDP of the entire region. And Montenegro could be one of the biggest beneficiaries – and I don’t want to create regional competition here, don’t get me wrong, it’s not about that – but because the way we designed this plan, which is a regional plan that is supposed to benefit the whole region, and given the big bottlenecks the country is facing, Montenegro could be the big beneficiary by building highways that connect Montenegro to Europe and to the rest of the Balkans, by building railways which provide trade opportunities and new trade routes for the country with the rest of the Balkans and with Europe, and of course we discussed energy security issues which are very important these days.
Europe can be relevant, and Europe can help enormously in all these challenges for Montenegro. Just to illustrate the level of contribution that we can make, allow me to give you a figure: it is 1.3 billion euros that could be invested in this country to overcome these difficulties. But for that, again, we need delivery. We need to speed up the implementation of these projects and we need to deliver projects that are financially sound, that are sound in terms of the rule of law and that are sound in terms of public procurement and in terms of public finances. So I think we covered a number of topics, I think the prospects despite the war in Europe for Montenegro are good and Europe is there, and Europe is up to it.