Montenegro: Corruption, Organized Crime Still Barriers to EU

Montenegro’s accession to the European Union, presumed to begin this June, will not come without a significant “but,” Dirk Lange, the head of the Montenegro Department in the Directorate General for Enlargement, said yesterday in the capital Podgorica. Radio Free Europe reports that the Montenegrin public has taken Lange’s statement as “a cold shower.”

Lange told old Duško Marković, Deputy Prime Minister as well as Justice and Human Rights Minister, that a positive recommendation from the European Commission for accession does not mean that the European Council will automatically approve the small Balkan country’s membership.

Lange said that although chapters 23 and 24 (governing rule of law and the fight against crime and corruption) of the acquis communitaire, which governs the path to EU integration, were successfully opened, continued progress is necessary. The chapters will be opened earlier in the process and remain open to the end – a change in procedure from previous accession processes. It allow the EU to keep pressure on Montenegro on corruption issues until the end of the process.

The European Parliament Special Envoy to the Balkans, Jelka Kacina, said that Lange’s language meant Montenegrins could consider accession a done deal.

“Take note, in diplomatic language it means that all barriers are not removed,” Kacina told Podgorica radio station Antenna M following Lange’s remarks.

Lange did not respond to questions about whether or not the “but” he mentioned was due to insufficient efforts in the fight against corruption. However, he said that Montenegro had to demonstrate “a willingness and ability to establish a functioning system of rule of law and to effectively fight against corruption.” Lange also warned that all 27 member of the European Council must accept Montenegro’s membership. Montenegro’s candidacy may be viewed negatively given that other countries with corruption problems like Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece have or may require major European bailouts.  Montenegro, with a large external debt relative to its size, may be vetoed by countries not willing to accept countries they viewed as corrupt and irresponsible.

The comments come on the heels of an ongoing investigation series by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project detailing allegations of illegalities and poor business practices at Montenegro’s First Bank, owned primarily by the family of former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.  The stories, based on confidential Central Bank documents never before available to the public, show that the bank not only disregarded international banking standards, but it also broke the law, but still managed to obtain a taxpayer bailout worth €44 million.

A BBC Newsnight special produced in cooperation with OCCRP also brought a lot of attention to potential Montenegrin accession and prompted comments from several EU members.