By Milena Milosevic
The EU General Affairs Council has approved giving Montenegro a start date for membership talks with the European club – a decision that now goes to the European Council for endorsement.
The EU’s General Affairs Council decided to open accession negotiations with Montenegro on June 29, in an historic decision that marks a signal victory for the government of the small Adriatic republic.
“The Council endorsed the [European] Commission’s assessment that Montenegro has achieved the neccessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria, and in particular the political criteria set by the Copenhagen European Council in 1993, to start accession negotiations,” read the Council Conclusions.
In approving Montenegro’s bid, the Council underlined the particular importance it attaches to the area of the rule of law and fundamental rights, and it urged Montenegro to continue tackling these issues, which have been identified as areas of concern by the European Commission.
The key areas demanding attention are the independence of the judiciary and the fight against organized crime and corruption.
Tuesday’s decision on opening talks with Montenegro must now be formally approved by the European Council, at a meeting scheduled for June 28 and 29.
Stefan Fule, the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner, welcomed the decision.
On his Twitter account, he wrote that he appreciated the EU’s ministers’ recommendation to open accession negotiations with Montenegro on Friday, and expressed an expectation that this will now be endorsed by the European Council.
The outcome of the General Affairs Council meeting was anxiously awaited in Podgorica, because the support of some countries, such as Sweden, remained uncertain until the last moment.
Carl Bildt, Swedish Foreign Minister, prior to the start of the meeting told the media that his country still had major concerns about levels of organized crime and corruption in Montenegro.
He said that most drug networks of Europe came from the Balkans and that Montenegro will not be able to progress significantly towards actual EU membership without taking tougher measures against these networks.
Previously, the EU announced that it would take a new approach regarding applicants from the Balkans.
While negotiations previously began with the so-called “chapters” on science and culture, new would-be members, such as Montenegro, will have to open talks with the most challenging chapters in the accession process.
These are chapters 23 and 24, dealing with the rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption.
If the talks proceed smoothly, Montenegro is in a position to become the third former Yugoslav republic to join the European club, after Slovenia, which is already a member, and Croatia, which is due to join in July 2013.