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Across the European Union (EU), 9 May is celebrated as Europe Day. After long turmoil, gloomy years of war and the eruption of chauvinism and religious radicalism, Montenegro is almost unanimously turned to Europe, and its liberal values based on a culture of human rights.

After the initial enthusiasm of the official EU integration process, arrived mutual fatigue. The EU, on one side, is moving between internal problems and frustrations, due to inadequate results of the integration process and the increasingly questionable ability to maintain itself as a foreign policy priority of the Western Balkan countries. On the other hand, Montenegro still levitates between enrooted divisions that do not allow for a substantial shift from the formal adoption of European standards. Namely, the civic consensus becomes a simple phrase that defends the state acquis against the growing national and religious divisions, and legitimizes the postponement of reforms of inefficient state mechanisms. In this context, the maintenance of power remains the dominant goal of the ruling circles, instead of focusing on raising the quality and openness of the national mechanisms and resources, which would significantly reduce the space for retrograde nationalist alternatives. Finally, a tired and divided civil society – under pressure from political circles, finds it increasingly difficult to refresh its ties with ordinary citizens, paying more attention to grants and domestic schemes of power and influence, and often spends the morning criticizing those political or national actors, with whom they plan joint project activities in the afternoon.

Can anyone blame ordinary citizens, who increasingly see the elements of a theatre performance in relations of those whom they pay to represent their interests and those who claim to act in the name of their interests, all out of altruistic motives? Can anyone understand ordinary citizens, who will suffer the most due to the coming economic problems, who face inefficient public bodies and bureaucratic procedures that stifle most free social and economic initiatives on a daily basis?

In the end, is it already clear that the previous formal statements, vague reports that only few people read, and even less implement, endless and unfocused round tables – are no longer enough? That they simply do not offer solutions to problems, nor mobilize ordinary citizens, nor open space for debates that are necessary for this society? The wiser among us will very soon see everything that the COVID-19 crisis has brought to the surface – that people need professional and efficient officials, politicians ready to agree among themselves for the common good, NGO activists who are on the terrain among citizens, not in the hotel halls…

Today, we need to strengthen the rule of law, protect human rights, freedom of media and expression, develop independent institutions and depoliticize public bodies, strengthen democratic pluralism, and improve the fight against corruption and organized crime. Also, like the EU, Montenegro faces a number of challenges such as migration, security, economic development and connectivity with the region countries and regional development.

We also need a different Europe – more efficient and harmonious, aware of its culture and the idea of a united continent, but also aware of its past and the terrible impact of authoritarian, nationalistic and corporative tendencies, which still seriously threaten to destroy the system of values on which the EU is built – peace and solidarity are the first.

This year’s Europe Day celebration takes place a few days after the Summit in Zagreb, where all the right words were said once again. This time, we could all start applying them together, so that we could hear some new ones at the next summit.

It is clear what the Western Balkan countries must do – because of their citizens primarily, so they could continue to strengthen public confidence on the wave of efficient national activities during the COVID19 crisis.

On the other hand, the EU must explain to its citizens the benefits of the membership of the united Balkan in the EU, from economic to cultural and political. In that regards, they could start by looking at the complexities of the Balkan countries and sending there the staff, who can understand that better and actively contribute to changes.

The road ahead is full of challenges, so we have to be wiser in the coming years, with the concrete deeds. If this does not happen, perception of the united Europe, which inherits the values of tolerance, respect of diversity, human rights, the rule of law, and developed economy, will not only be lost in the societies of the EU member states, but also in the candidate countries.

CA Team