European Commission officials and representatives of relevant Montenegrin institutions analysed the most important elements and the key steps forward in the complex area of the rule of law at the 10th meeting of the EU-Montenegro Sub-Committee on Justice, Freedom and Security on 17 and 18 March 2021.
The meeting, which took place online, considered in particular the fulfilment of Montenegro's commitments undertaken in the context of EU accession negotiations in the key policy areas under rule of law chapters 23 and 24, including judicial reform, fundamental rights, fight against corruption and organised crime, judicial cooperation, cooperation in field of drugs and fight against terrorism; and migration and border management.
Addressing the meeting on behalf of the European Commission, Head of Montenegro Unit at the European Commission's DG NEAR Thomas Hagleitner said:
"Rule of law is one of the EU's fundamental values and as such, a crucial element of the EU accession process, which determines the overall pace of Montenegro's EU accession negotiations. In order to further advance on its EU path, your country now needs to meet the interim benchmarks for rule of law chapters 23 and 24. To reach this important milestone, your country needs to intensify its effort and deliver results, in particular in the key problematic areas, such as media freedom and fight against corruption and organised crime. It is also important that Montenegro does not reverse on its achievements in the area of judiciary, that Montenegrin judiciary demonstrates its commitment to full and unambiguous implementation of the reform and that political consensus is reached in Parliament for the pending judicial appointments. Finally, depolitised and professional public institutions need to work in an impartial manner in the interest of all citizens, building upon the progress achieved over the past years.
We welcome the Government's commitment to EU reform agenda and the very strong support for EU integration by Montenegrin citizens. The European Union and its Member States, together with our partners, stand ready to help Montenegro move more decisively towards EU."
Chief Negotiator Zorka Kordić noted that Montenegro's strategic commitment is to become the next country to join the European Union and that all capacities will continue to be directed at meeting the requirements form the EU accession agenda, with the forcus on obtaining a report on interim banchmarks for chapters 23 and 24.
"The Government is determined to conduct essential reforms in the rule of law area, including the meeting of interim benchmarks in chapters 23 and 24. As was underlined in the Prime Minsiter's inaugural address, the new government will bring justice to its citizens and will fight against corruption, as a negative social and political phenomenon, following the principle of 'zero-tolerance to corruption'. The Sub-Committee is an opportunity to hear the perspective of both the Government and the most important institutions in Montenegro, including the judiciary and prosecution authorities, since the rule of law reform is a joint task of the whole society," said Kordić.
She stressed that 'a line needs to be drawn' considering the significant level of fulfilment of the 83 interim benchmarks, focusing on the planning of priorities in consultation with the European Commission, considering that the Action Plans for Chapters 23 and 24, as well as monitoring and reporting mechanisms need to be improved.
Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights Vladimir Leposavić said, in his introductory speech, that the Ministry headed by him continues to make efforts to achieve positive practices, especially when it comes to the process of judicial reform, in a way to make them more efficient and more harmonized with the Constitution. He emphasized that it is not always easy to meet these two mentioned criteria, but that he will be persistent in his intentions.
When it comes to legislative reforms in the field of justice, Minister Leposavić explained that no major changes are needed in comparison to the constitutional reforms from 2013, but that some legal provisions need to be specified in order to strengthen the system of mutual control, and thus open space for further reforms.
Regarding the initiative to amend the Law on the State Prosecutor's Office and to adopt a new Law on the Prosecutor's Office for Organized Crime and Corruption, he pointed out that the Government and the Ministry he represents strive for positive changes and implementation of reforms in line with the Constitution and European practice, including consultation with the Venice Commission. In addition, he stressed that the Government wants to ensure a broad dialogue on this topic, both internally and with European partners. This is confirmed by the fact that a public call for consultations on these laws was recently announced as well as that the laws were sent to the Venice Commission for opinion.
Minister of Interior Sergej Sekulović said that European integration is and will remain a priority of the Ministry of Interior and of the Government of Montenegro. He pointed out that the Ministry of Interior, after the first democratic change of government in Montenegro, will do everything it can to strengthen the good practices that already exist, but also to effectively change those things that are ready for a different approach.
In that sense, Minister Sekulović draw particular attention to the proposal of the Law on Internal Affairs, which has incorporated recommendations of the experts from the European Commission. He pointed out that transparency and commitment to implementation of reforms in the rule of law area are equally important. He emphasized that the EU will have a reliable partner in Montenegro, always ready to reveal the complete truth and present a realistic state of play, but also to announce the next steps in improving the existing issues that are not satisfactorily addressed, with stability in changes.
The Sub-Committee meeting is part of the regular policy dialogue between the EU and Montenegro, held under the framework of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.