In the run-up to Montenegro’s presidential elections on 19 March, the mantra of EU membership is once again a major campaign promise in the country. All candidates are pledging to speed up reforms, so that the country can become an EU member before 2028. Despite these bold promises, EU membership may remain unattainable for this small country on the Adriatic Sea with 620,000 citizens – as it is for others in the Balkan region where EU promises have fallen short.
Montenegro launched its EU negotiation process in June 2012, but so far only three of the 33 negotiating chapters have been closed. The process has already taken longer than for the other former Yugoslav republic Croatia, which completed negotiations in six years, and was the last country to join the EU in 2013.
While the country struggles with political interference in state institutions, the European Commission repeatedly warns in its annual progress reports that parties are failing to reach consensus on important issues of national interest.
The most recent example was that the parliament finally appointed new constitutional court judges after six months of strong pressure from the EU. These appointments require a two-thirds majority of parliament, and MPs could not agree on the judges for months, so that the court had no decision-making quorum. But there is still no agreement on who should be the new Attorney General or the head of the Supreme Court.
Under the Constitution, the president has no power to propose laws or appoint officials. However, this weak position could be turned into a strength: Whoever comes first in the elections should promote dialogue between the ruling parties and the opposition in order to speed up the reforms needed for accession.
With more than 80 percent of the population in favour of becoming an EU member, it is now high time to accelerate the reform process necessary for accession – so that the 2028 deadline doesn’t become an empty electoral slogan again.