Although recognized as one of the strategic foreign and political goals of the Government of Montenegro, the fact that we are a member of the NATO Alliance, does not allow us to slow down the implementation of crucial reforms in Montenegro. After closing of the chapter named “NATO integrations”, Montenegro has a duty to devote more intensively and stronger to essential reforms reflected in positive implementation of the EU integration process. This implies elaborated implementation of the negotiation process and finally, closing of all negotiation chapters. Although member of the NATO, we have to admit that Montenegro has not developed its democratic capacities; that Montenegro is still in the process of consolidation of democratic institutions – meaning that even nowadays we have insufficiently strong and unstable institutions dependent on political influence and the influence of powerful individuals. Although the NATO integration process implies specific level of reforms, decision on access is political decision. However, experience of countries that have passed both NATO and the EU integration process, demonstrate us that the very act of gaining membership should not be the goal itself. This act should not mean termination of the reform processes, or the satisfaction that will provide the Government the reputation to reduce the reform mechanism. Although membership in the EU and NATO are two primaries foreign and political goals, which are the constituent part of all strategic documents, achieving the one can result in euphoria that brings comfort of one part of decision makers, and instead of using energy, the danger of slow reforms may occur.
As the European integration process is the key process that implies in practice the process of reforms of Montenegrin society and achieving of European standards, it is important to pay attention on quantity, but above all, on quality of the process or the manner of its implementation. Bearing in mind the above mentioned, we want to indicate on key problems that are still the challenge of the reform process ahead us, which Civic Alliance has recognized through its work.
The European integration process in Montenegro and experience of the member countries
According to the experience of countries that have become members of the EU in the last ten years, the access negotiations lasted from three to six years. So, Slovakia, Malta, Latvia, and Lithuania ended the negotiation process for three years. For Bulgaria and Romania this process lasted almost five years. Croatia ended the whole process for five years and nine months, but the process was followed with problems in cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, border problems with Slovenia and internal crisis. Comparing to Croatia, Montenegro is not even on the half of the road after the five years period of negotiations. Until nowadays, Montenegro has not finished any chapter. Obviously, our country lags in dynamics to fulfill indicators for closing of chapters, because we have not fulfilled the EU standards in concrete areas.
Until nowadays, Montenegro opened 26 negotiation chapters. Out of this number, two chapters have been temporarily closed, while chapters 23 and 24 (related to the rule of law) with even 83 transitional measures (opening measures) are monitored by its depth. Large challenge for our country, which can rarely be heard from official Montenegrin addresses, becomes the closing of negotiating chapter. For 22 opened chapters, with the exception of chapters 23 and 24, it is important to fulfill 56 closing measures, which is surely the greatest difficulty for the country in the following period of accession process.
One of the characteristic challenges of our country is the so called balance clause. Its activation would mean suspension of negotiations in any time – blocking of opening of new negotiating chapters if there are no efficient results in the rule of law chapters, or fight against corruption and strengthening of efficiency and independence of judiciary.
It is important to indicate on the fact that Montenegro has not prepared so called accession financial bill, which is important for finalization of the accession process. Several chapters will be of great importance and a huge challenge in the following period. These are environmental protection due to the long term investments that are needed, but Montenegro lacks funds, competition policy due to the national assistance and for the fulfillment of indicators and opening and closing of chapters, than the chapters related to agriculture, rural development and food safety. Special matter, on which the EU often indicates as the weak in the negotiation and accession process, is the matter of administrative capacities (reorganization of public administration and a number of employees and public finances management).
Surely, Montenegro is not yet ready for the membership because, according to the European Commission Progress Report from November 2016, fulfillment of membership standards on the scale from 1 to 5 is only 2,82.
Clearly, this phase needs strong political devotion to the integration process, in order to produce concrete and permanent results. Looks like their devotion has become weak in the last period, and the tiredness of the whole negotiation process is felt. The overall negotiation tempo, as emphasized several times and envisaged by the negotiation framework, will depend on the progress in chapters 23 and 24.
The Rule of Law
Although Special Prosecutor’s Office initiated a number of investigations and concluded agreements on admission of guilt for corruption, an important element lacks, which is initiation of financial investigations that will result in withdrawing of financial power to anyone who gained property illegally. This is the key factor that will influence on adequate implementation of agreement and satisfaction of public. Thus, capacities for conduction of financial investigations should improve in the following period. Processing of problems related to time barred criminal charges indicated that the largest number of charges for unknown perpetrators has become time barred, or prosecutors have not processed them adequately. Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office should urgently analyze the reasons of such a situation, and determine eventual responsibility of prosecutors.
Agency for the Prevention of Corruption should improve the work in terms of whistleblowers. In the previous period, we had a few cases when the Agency did not give the status of whistleblower to a person, who directly filled the evidence on abuse of public resources for private purposes, while the court confirmed these statements in the proceeding and sanctioned a perpetrator. In this manner, the Agency caused a doubt that it had stood in the protection of interests of political groups and sent a negative message to citizens, discouraging to report such and similar cases.
As the one of the first organizations that actively recorded and indicated on violations of vehicles in official use for private purposes, by filing concrete charges with the adequate evidence, we want to indicate on concerning level of violation of vehicles in official use, and extremely negative trends in terms of violation of public resources in this area. After the trend of reduction that occurred few years ago, Civic Alliance (CA) receives almost every day reports on vehicles in official use in front of kindergartens, shopping malls, various tourist locations out of the municipality out of the working hours. Web site for reporting of violations of vehicles in official use has become pointless long time ago.
Since the beginning of implementation of Law on Bailiffs, an President of the Chamber of Bailiffs permanently lost the right to be a bailiff and another former President has been taken to custody with the great prospect to lose competences. Since 2014, Ministry initiated 15 proposals for initiation of disciplinary proceeding, which indicates that the work of bailiffs should be often and better controlled. Accordingly, public bailiffs should receive the status of public functionaries in the following period so they can be obliged to report their property. In this manner, their work would be additionally controlled. Also, citizens should be better informed about their rights and possibilities for complaints on work of public notaries. In the following period, Ministry of Justice should monitor the work of public bailiffs more attentively and should fully define the scope of its control.
With its last decisions, the Constitutional court proved that it was not the protector of constitutional and legal order and human rights and freedoms guaranteed with the Constitution and confirmed and published international treaties. The credibility and power of the Constitutional court come in issue after the public statement of a judge of this court – Mr Miodrag Ilickovic who said that the judges voted for a decision on Law on Amendments of Law on social and children’s welfare at the session, while the explanation came afterwards and was sent to the Official Gazette, and the court did not decide on that again. We would like to remind that that due to the inefficiency of the Constitutional court, the Government of Montenegro used this, and with the fees of SIM cards, fuel and the use of radio receivers took a huge amount of funds, which no one ever returned to citizens because decision of the Constitutional court are not retroactive. In such situations, Constitutional court did not use the opportunity to process on its own initiative the legality of such decisions. The acting of the Constitutional court is not suitable to the EU candidate country and judges have to understand they are the last line of the protection of citizens before addressing the court in Strasbourg which will cause additional damage to Montenegro by such acting.
The new amendments of the Law on Free Access to Information provide that the constitutionally guaranteed right to access to information may arbitrarily be restricted by any public body in any area, not only in the ones prescribed by the Constitution as the possible restrictions. Article 51 of the Constitution guarantees that each person shall have the right to access to information owned by state authorities and organizations exercising public authority and that the right to accessibility of information may be limited if this is in the interest of the protection of life, public health, morality and privacy, carrying of criminal proceedings, security and defense of Montenegro, foreign and monetary and economic policy. With this amendments any state authority may proclaim specific information as secret and thus prevent and restrict the access to information. For that reason, Constitutional court should urgently examine harmonization of these amendments with the Constitution.
Amendments of Law on Public Gathering the Government of Montenegro intends to adopt, strive to restrict the right of citizens to adopt to exercise their constitutional rights at places such as roads. This is very important issue of fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and we appeal not to make amendments of the existing legal solution that is harmonized with the EU directives. This is particularly emphasized because no analysis of the existing situation has been made and or which negative effects this legal solution produces, which would justify the initiation of such amendments.
Human and minority rights
Although progress has been made, in a view of adoption of the new legislative framework, amendments of the overall legislative framework have not been adopted, which would provide coherent policy of sanctioning of human rights violations. Announced amendments of regulations go to the detriment of human rights, while implementation of the existing legislation framework still remains unsatisfactory.
Human rights institutions, including the Institution of the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms and Ministry of Human and Minority Rights should continue to strengthen both administrative and financial capacities. On the other side, it is important to pay attention on spending of actual finances, thus, it is important to improve the control of spending the funds intended for minority and religious communities.
When it comes to implementation of the existing legislation framework, impunity is still the largest problem.
Announcements of the Prosecutor’s Office on processing of war crimes cases are encouraging, but these activities should be more concrete and public should be introduced with them properly. In four cases (Bukovica, Deportations, Kaludjerski laz and Morinj) one final verdict of conviction was rendered, but in three cases, all accused persons were acquitted. These cases characterize the fact that only proceedings against person at the lowest range of responsibility were initiated, investigations were late, a lot of mistakes were made, while all proposed witnesses were not heard. There are still no indictments for command responsibility, complicity, assisting and incitement.
What causes concern is the high level of impunity in terms of torture in prisons committed by police officers. We especially emphasize torture in ZIKS in January 2015, when the conflict between prisoners and officers occurred at the end of 2015. Strong need for improvement of work of courts and Prosecutors’ Offices in this area has been recognized, and the need to implement laws in accordance with the European standards and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights directed towards exercising of possible efficient, independent and effective research, criminal pursuit and adequate punishing of all violators of human rights.
Fight against discrimination is not adequate fight against discrimination is not adequate and should be strengthened. Small number of cases are before the court and adequate registry still has not been established. Vulnerable groups such as Roma population are especially endangered, as well as persons with disabilities, LGBT community, unemployed persons, women and it is important to improve measures that provide better status of these groups in the society and more severe punishments for discrimination and human rights violations, which will guarantee their legal safety.
Information society and media
In terms of information society area and media, even the EU finds that Montenegro is modestly ready. The EU warns that independence of the Agency for Electronic Communication and Postal Services (EKIP) and Agency for Electronic Media is still disturbed and that independence of public radio-diffuse service should be provided with the adequate financial means. In addition to this assessment, Montenegrin journalism does not respect standards and Journalists Code, and there is no adequate protection of journalists from attacks.
Bearing in mind the overall media scene, the need for access to amendments of Law on Media has been recognized for the last few years, which has come into force in 2002, and strong activities in termination of tabloidization of media. What causes concern is the lack of unique self-regulatory body that collects all media in Montenegro, whose decisions and recommendations would be respected and obligatory. A number of unresolved attacks on journalists, media property and difficult economic status are only few reasons for hard work on achieving of regional and European standards.
This is only elaborated review of problems from the domain of work of CA, which require intensive and devoted work, along with the key economic strengthening and professionalization of administration, so that the integration process can have sense and Montenegro, as the mature society, become the part of the union of European people.