The European Council’s decision to grant Montenegro EU candidate country status was welcomed by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. MEPs hoped that accession talks with Montenegro could begin, at the latest, after the Commission’s next progress report on it, in 2011. However, they also voiced concerns, particularly about corruption, organized crime, discrimination and curbs on media freedom in Montenegro.
In a draft resolution approved by a large majority (62 votes in favour, 3 against, 3 abstentions) today, the Committee welcomed the “general consensus and high priority given to European integration by the government”, particularly the work done on finalising Montenegro’s legal and constitutional framework and its “good track record in implementing economic reforms.”
Concerns remain about corruption and organised crime
While welcoming Montenegro’s progress in passing important legislation to fight corruption, the draft resolution underlines that “corruption is still prevalent in many areas, especially in the construction, privatisation and public procurements sector.” It therefore urges the government to improve the track record of investigations and prosecutions, and to change the legislative framework for financing political parties and electoral campaigns. MEPs also expressed concern that organised crime, above all money laundering and smuggling, remains a problem, and they urged more international cooperation to combat it.
Lingering discrimination and obstacles to media freedom
The Committee worried that “women continue to be under-represented in decision-making processes and in leading positions both in public administration […] and in the management of public companies.” It also called on the authorities to improve the living conditions of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian minorities in the country, for instance by providing them with identification cards, without which they do not have access to public services.
MEPs also urged “further steps to ensure independence and professionalism of media outlets”, and drew attention to the disproportionate fines that can be imposed for defamation, which still hamper the freedom and independence of journalists. They were especially troubled by reported cases of intimidation and violence against journalists and civil society activists, and called for these to be investigated and prosecuted.
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