Good neighbourly relations are an essential element of the Western Balkans stabilisation and association process.
By Adnan Prekic – Podgorica
Montenegro is a country that strives to have the best relations with countries of the region. How do you currently see the relations among Western Balkan countries and where do you see the greatest challenges in the future?
It is our clear foreign policy determination to cherish and improve relations with our neighbours. I believe that good neighbourly relations are an essential element of the Western Balkans stabilisation and association process. At the same time, working on regional cooperation is a job that never finishes. The challenges our region is facing are still rather complex. Therefore, even though there are many regional initiatives within which the countries of the region are cooperating, we believe their further development should constantly be encouraged in order to overcome the challenges ahead more easily and in order to accelerate our EU accession.
It is necessary to focus on the issues of our shared interest, such as the fight against corruption and organised crime, improving the infrastructural inter-connectedness of the region and the trade cooperation between the countries through project-oriented cooperation, which will lead to the removal of business barriers and bring our citizens closer to each other. This approach could lend a greater legitimacy to our countries’ demands when it comes to the EU and its support to the integration processes, as surely all of these countries have EU accession very high on the list of their strategic priorities. This goal further binds us and pushes us towards cooperation, which can only be strengthened and made more productive by reaching this goal, in a way similar to the already tested models such as the Visegrad Group. It makes me very happy that our ideas and hitherto cooperation in various fields have been recognised as constructive both in the region and in the EU, and I am glad that the integration processes are opening up new possibilities for us to strengthen our relations even further. Member-states’ knowledge and best practices in the areas of European and Euro-Atlantic integration have been very valuable and stimulating for our progress in these processes, and hence we are investing efforts, as regional leaders in these processes, to transfer our experience to the countries in the region. That is another important dimension of neighbourhood cooperation.
You personally launched the initiative to establish the “Western Balkans Six”, for which Brussels provided support. How far has the initiative gone and what are your expectations from it?
First of all, it should be kept in mind that the initiative to establish the “Western Balkans Six” is a very practical idea, which is an attempt to come up with a better coordination mechanism for the countries of the region when it comes to mutual cooperation. I believe this intention has been recognised by the international community, and that is why the initiative received Brussels’ support. The countries of this region have many shared objectives which are more easily attainable if we cooperate closely and work together to overcome challenges in our processes of building stable democratic societies founded on European values, which is an aspiration for all of us. The European Commission has commended the “Western Balkans Six” initiative in its Progress Report, and since the idea’s inception they have been regularly informed about its development, both the Commission and the Enlargement Commissioner.
For us, however, the essence has always been more important than the form. It is necessary to recognise what is needed and find the best possible formula acceptable to everyone. For example, how to make the best use of our intention to utilise the strengthened IPA possibilities to improve regional infrastructure, which was one of the messages from the recent Thessaloniki conference, with the view to securing as much as a billion euro for infrastructure in six IPA beneficiary countries in the Western Balkans in 2014-2020 programme period, with the final objective of attracting investment worth 10 billion. This fully corresponds with our concept that the countries of the region should bring about a long-term economic development by focusing on project-oriented cooperation models in implementing the SEE 2020 Strategy. For this reason, I believe that the best possible framework to use is the Stabilisation and Association one, which is the driving force of our region’s EU integration.
Montenegro has opened the negotiation process with Brussels in several chapters. To what degree are you satisfied with its development so far and what are the government’s expectations in that regard in 2014?
On 29 June we marked the second anniversary of launching the accession negotiations. The results we achieved are truly a reason for celebration, but also an incentive to continue with the same vigour. We have successfully completed the first two-year period by opening 12 chapters in total, including the most demanding ones – 23 and 24. Of those 12 chapters, we temporarily closed two: 25 – Science and Research, and 26 – Culture and Education. These results confirm that we put a lot of effort, but they also bid us to continue with the same pace.
Since the official launch of negotiations on 29 June 2012 we worked diligently, and owing to this hard work we are making giant steps in crossing the stages of our European path. We started the process of all-encompassing societal, political, and economic reforms and in the months and years ahead we are planning to see these processes through, with the view to enabling a better quality of life for our citizens and providing opportunities for them to contribute personally to this goal. European integration is a process that belongs to all of us and it is a framework within which the Government of Montenegro will continue developing its European vision further.
We have a lot of work to do by the end of 2014 and it is very important for us to stay focused on the quality of our activities, to meet our commitments in the chapters that we have opened in a far-reaching way, to make thorough preparations for opening new chapters, and to be aware that the dynamics of the integration process will rest on the results we are making.
We continue implementing the action plans and strategies that we adopted, and we also plan to maintain the pace of opening new negotiating chapters. In that regard, we are facing more work towards meeting the preconditions for opening new chapters, especially those for which we did not receive the opening benchmarks, i.e. in the areas where Montenegro has already reached a high level of alignment with the EU acquis communautaire. In the time ahead we will aim to intensify our communication with all target audiences through various activities, so we could bring European values and standards even closer to our citizens.
The public rather expected that Montenegro would get an invitation at the Wales Summit; how do you view the recent developments?
Regardless of various degrees of expectation and interpretation in the public, the decision of NATO member-states’ ministers, objectively speaking, is very important as an acknowledgment for the enormous efforts Montenegro has made in implementing the commitments in the four priority policies related to NATO integration, and in these geopolitical circumstances this is a great success of our foreign policy. What we have here is continued progress, which is accelerating and nearing the finale. The decision of foreign ministers creates preconditions for Montenegro to be a member at the next summit, after Wales, which indeed was our fundamental objective. These last messages are a new impulse to go on, as we are running the “final mile,” as Secretary-General Rasmussen said recently. We will cross this final mile together and I am certain that the invitation for membership will come in 2015 after the implementation of the remaining phase of intensified and focused talks. It is necessary to confirm the sustainability of implemented reforms and to realise that, just as in the case of EU accession, each new enlargement process becomes more complex and demanding.