1. The EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) held its eighth meeting on 20 June 2017. This meeting was chaired by Mr Aleksandar Andrija PEJOVIĆ, Minister of European Affairs of Montenegro. Ms Helena DALLI, Minister of European Affairs and Equality of Malta, led the European Union delegation (on behalf of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini). Mr Christian DANIELSSON, Director General for Enlargement Negotiations and European Neighbourhood Policy, represented the European Commission.
2. The SA Council meeting provided a timely opportunity to review Montenegro’s progress in its preparations for accession and to consider priorities for further work within the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
3. In the context of the accession negotiations, the SA Council welcomed the opening of a number of negotiating chapters since its last meeting. It also looked forward to the opening of another two chapters, namely chapter 1 (Free movement of goods) and chapter 22 (Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments), as well as to the provisional closure of chapter 30 (External relations) at the subsequent Accession Conference. The SA Council encouraged Montenegro to continue its work on meeting all benchmarks and to continue focusing on the fundamentals of the accession process: rule of law, economic governance and public administration reform. It welcomed the inclusion of civil society representatives in preparations for EU accession and of related reforms, and encouraged Montenegro to continue improving consultation mechanisms with civil society.
4. Concerning the Copenhagen political criteria, the SA Council took note of the parliamentary elections held in Montenegro on 16 October 2016 which were conducted under a substantially revised legal framework and, in general, in a more participatory and transparent manner. Given the ongoing boycott of parliamentary work by the opposition, the SA Council encouraged all relevant actors to return the political debate to the democratic institutions, notably to Parliament, where it belongs. The SA Council took note of the investigations and ongoing legal proceedings regarding the events on and around election day.
5. The SA Council welcomed the continued implementation by Montenegro of the action plans for chapters 23 and 24. It recalled that it remained essential for the overall pace of the negotiating process that the entire rule of law system delivers more concrete results and a strengthened and sustainable track record, in particular in the fight against corruption and organised crime, including effective investigations, prosecutions and final convictions. In this regard, the SA Council took positive note of the significant progress achieved in legislative reform and institution-building and acknowledged progress in establishing an initial track record in the repression of high-level corruption and some forms of organised crime. The SA Council noted that track records remained limited in some areas of prevention of corruption, seizure and confiscation of criminal assets, human trafficking and money laundering. This also applied to violence against journalists.
6. With further regard to the political criteria, the SA Council recalled the importance of media freedom and encouraged the authorities to step up their efforts in creating an environment conducive to investigative journalism and media freedom in general.
7. With regard to public administration, the SA Council welcomed the adoption of the 2016-2020 public administration reform strategy and encouraged the timely implementation of its action plan. The SA Council reiterated the importance of addressing remaining capacity issues in Montenegro’s public service, with a view to the future effective implementation and enforcement of the acquis.
8. The SA Council commended Montenegro for its continued commitment to regional cooperation and its constructive role in maintaining regional stability. It welcomed the active participation in numerous regional initiatives in South Eastern Europe and the good neighbourly and bilateral relations it entertains with other enlargement countries and EU member states. The SA Council welcomed the continuity of meetings in the format of joint committees established under the bilateral agreements in accordance with the SAA.
9. The SA Council strongly commended Montenegro for its consistent cooperation with the EU on foreign policy issues, in particular its full alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
10. The SA Council took note of Montenegro’s recent completion of a major step towards further Euro-Atlantic integration, as recognition of the country’s reform efforts, especially in the area of rule of law.
11. Concerning the economic criteria, the SA Council welcomed the submission by Montenegro of its third economic reform programme in January 2017. The SA Council invited Montenegro to ensure a close and timely follow-up to the policy guidance provided in the joint conclusions of the economic and financial dialogue between the EU and the Western Balkans and Turkey adopted on 23 May 2017. The SA Council encouraged Montenegro to make further efforts to ensure fiscal sustainability, to control public debt, to improve the business environment and to diversify the economy. The SA Council noted that the draft medium term fiscal consolidation package, presented in early June, would address the issue more comprehensively and now needed to be approved and implemented, in order to achieve fiscal sustainability.
12. The SA Council examined the state of bilateral relations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA). It welcomed Montenegro’s positive track record in implementing its obligations under the SAA, including its trade-related provisions, since its entry into force on 1 May 2010, while encouraging Montenegro to strengthen its efforts to fully comply with the provisions on state aid.
13. The SA Council also held an exchange of views on developments in the Western Balkans.