Joint press statement following the ninth meeting of the Stabilisation and Association Council between the EU and Montenegro
26/06/2018 - 14:15
The EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Council (SA Council) held its ninth meeting on 25 June 2018. The meeting was chaired by Ms Ekaterina ZAHARIEVA, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, on behalf of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. Mr Johannes HAHN, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, represented the European Commission. Prof. Dr. Srdjan Darmanović, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, led the Montenegrin delegation.
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.
In the context of the accession negotiations, the SA Council looked forward to the opening of chapter 17 (Economic and monetary policy) 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 in related reforms, and encouraged Montenegro to continue improving consultation mechanisms with civil society.
Concerning the Copenhagen political criteria, the SA Council took note of the Presidential elections held in Montenegro in April 2018. Given the continuing boycott of parliamentary work by the opposition, the SA Council encouraged all relevant actors to fully return the political debate to the democratic institutions, notably to Parliament, where it belongs. A comprehensive electoral reform should be considered, to address repeated findings and recommendations of electoral observation missions.
The SA Council welcomed the results already achieved and the continued implementation by Montenegro of the Action Plans for chapters 23 and 24, and the fact that the legal framework has improved and the institutional set up is largely in place. It recalled that it remained essential for the overall pace of the negotiating process that the entire rule of law system deliver more concrete results, and encouraged Montenegro to pursue more proactive and vigorous progress in reform implementation and concrete results in the area of rule of law, in particular to strengthen the track record on fighting corruption and organised crime.
Regarding the political criteria, the SA Council expressed concern over the recent attacks against journalists and called on Montenegro to ensure a safe climate, conducive to freedom of expression and of the media. The public broadcaster RTCG and all other media should be shielded from undue influence and political pressure. With regard to public administration, the SA Council welcomed the adoption of new framework laws on civil servants and state employees and on local self-government, and reiterated the importance of inclusive public consultations in the preparations for EU accession and in the implementation of the related reforms.
The SA Council commended Montenegro for its continued commitment to regional cooperation and its constructive role in maintaining regional stability and advancing good neighbourly relations. It welcomed the active participation in numerous regional initiatives, the good bilateral relations with other enlargement countries and EU Member States and Montenegro's ongoing efforts towards finding acceptable solutions to open issues with its neighbours. The SA Council welcomed the continuity of meetings in the format of Joint Committees established under the bilateral agreements in accordance with the SAA.
The SA Council strongly commended Montenegro for its consistent cooperation with the EU on foreign policy issues, in particular its continuous full alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Concerning the economic criteria, the SA Council welcomed the submission by Montenegro of its fourth Economic Reform Programme (ERP) in January 2018. 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 25 May 2018. The SA Council encouraged Montenegro to make further efforts to ensure fiscal sustainability, to control public debt, to improve the business and investment environment, to diversify the economy and to boost the productivity and competitiveness of its economy. The SA Council positively noted the adoption of a medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy in summer 2017 and reiterated the importance of rebalancing the budget structure towards growth enhancing spending.
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. An independent State Aid Authority needs to become operational as a matter of urgency.
The SA Council also held an exchange of views on developments in Montenegro and in the Western Balkans.