The EU and Montenegro
by Peter Palmer
Divisions between the political parties are much more evident today than was the case a year ago. It seemed then that the political actors were ready for compromise and dialogue, including on the issue of a referendum [on independence]. I wish to remind you that the government in Belgrade agreed with the Montenegrin leaders that a referendum should be held to decide the nature of the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. Unfortunately, Solana came and ended the negotiations on how to organize the referendum. The deep political division we see today in Montenegro is a result of Solana’s political mission.
Of course, responsibility for the division rests also with the Montenegrin political leaders, whose style of political debate inhibits normal and civilized political dialogue. This fact, however, does not absolve the EU, which has played a highly negative role during the past year. Its priorities in regard to Serbia and Montenegro should have been the implementation of reforms, the introduction of European standards, and progress towards European integration. It is true that the EU has invested considerable sums to aid this process; but economic and political reforms were, I am afraid, not its main concern where Montenegro was concerned. The EU concentrated instead on political priorities, of which the most important was to prevent Montenegrin independence. In addition, certain key EU states sought the removal from power of the DPS and President Djukanovic. In other words, instead of concerning themselves exclusively with Montenegro's reforms irrespective of who was in power, certain EU states unfortunately preferred to concentrate on removal of the government in order to prevent a progress towards independence of which they disapproved.
When speaking about the need for governmental change, European diplomats usually argue that this is necessary because of the existing criminality and corruption.
In my view the issue of independence is the key. Among EU officials, there exists a strong view that it is absolutely necessary to create a centralized state out of Serbia and Montenegro. President Djukanovic is seen as the main obstacle to this. There is no doubt, of course, that Montenegro has problems associated with criminality and corruption, but this is true of all states in the region. This problem, moreover, is not so evident today as it used to be. It is indicative that only after it had decided to stop Montenegro's drive to independence and bring down Djukanovic did the international community discover the great problem of criminality and corruption. They did not see this as a problem at the time when they were hailing Djukanovic as a great hero, although at that time the problem was more evident than it is today.
The Montenegrin government is also criticized for postponing reforms.
It is true that more could have been done in this regard. Whoever wins the coming elections should be reminded by the EU that implementation of reforms is the number one priority. However, it would be wrong to say that Djukanovic’s government has done nothing. On the contrary, there is distinct progress especially in the economic sphere: the banking and tax systems have been reformed, new laws have been prepared for the reform of education, the legal system, the police, local government, etc. [...] Instead of politicizing the issue of the reforms, one should initiate a serious debate about how much has been achieved and what more should be done to transform Montenegrin society. It is indeed quite wrong for individual representatives of the international community to create a problem by pretending that Montenegro has registered no progress. This issue, as well as many others where Montenegro is concerned, is simply used as a way of attacking a government that they do not support because it is committed to independence.
Are you optimistic regarding the situation in the region and the EU's policy towards it?
I am an optimist in the long run, but soas far as the immediate future is concerned there are many unsolved problems. The EU has played a positive role in Macedonia by stopping the conflict there. Also, after the complete collapse of society during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, some sort of normal life has been established there. Many important problems remain, however. I am concerned with the lack of a clear will on part of the EU to confront the issue of Kosovo’s status. Instead of tackling this problem, the international community is trying to maintain the status quo. No one is willing to say today what is to happen with Kosovo in the future. This, however, is important not only for Kosovo - it is very important also for Serbia, which should know where its borders lie. In addition to Kosovo's undefined status, it also remains unclear whether Serbia and Montenegro will stay together. In my view, it is highly unlikely that Kosovo will remain part of Serbia. As for Montenegro, it is not yet clear whether it will remain in union with Serbia or go its own way. The sooner these questions are answered the better it will be for the region. If the international community had not intervened, relations between Serbia and Montenegro could have been resolved. However, instead of seeking stable solutions in the long run, the EU has opted for a short-term policy in the Balkans which unfortunately does not lead to real stability in the region.
Translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 11 October 2002. Interviewed on the eve of the recent elections, Peter Palmer is an analyst with the International Crisis Group, one of the most respected organizations analysing the situation in the Balkans.