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A Marriage of Inconvenience: Montenegro 2003


It is time for new policies and new approaches on Montenegro. International engagement with that republic in recent years has brought significant positive results. It bolstered the pro-Western government of Djukanovic when it faced the threat from Milosevic. It has helped promote reforms that have set Montenegro on the way to becoming a modern democracy, with a market economy and an independent, effective criminal justice system. However, efforts to promote regional stability have been hampered by an unnecessary obsession with keeping Montenegro and Serbia in a single state. The international community's overriding interest in the region should be to find stable, long-term solutions. Cobbling together interim solutions that lack legitimacy for those who must implement them and that are unlikely, therefore, to be functional in practice, is not the way to build stability.

The formation of a new state union of Serbia and Montenegro, following the March 2002 Belgrade Agreement, has failed to resolve the future relationship of the two republics. The tortuous negotiations that eventually produced the new union's Constitutional Charter demonstrated the lack of common purpose or consensus. Throughout the negotiations, from November 2001 until December 2002, only heavy engagement and pressure from the European Union (EU) kept the process on track.

The agreement on a new union takes no account of the status of Kosovo, notionally still an autonomous province of Serbia, but in practice a UN protectorate. As long as Kosovo's future remains unresolved, the territory and the constitutional make-up of Serbia, and of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, remain undefined. The agreement between Serbia and Montenegro only partially addresses the future of the defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and does not represent a stable solution for the territories of the former state.

The EU's determination to press Montenegro into retaining the joint state was largely driven by its fear that early Montenegrin independence would force an unready international community to address Kosovo's status prematurely. Consequently the EU and the wider international community have opted for interim, inherently unstable solutions for Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo alike, rather than tackling the causes of instability.

The international community should no longer oppose Montenegrin independence but should instead be ready to support whatever solution Montenegro and Serbia can agree upon for their future relationship. It, and the EU in particular, should be ready to assist those two republics to work out a satisfactory arrangement, while adopting a neutral stance on what the form of that relationship is to be.

A major focus of international policy should be to promote needed reforms. Already, considerable resources have been devoted to this end, and they have brought good results. However, the negative attitude of much of the international community towards Montenegro, as an alleged haven of organised crime, has led to a distorted approach in which the prevalence of organised crime is sometimes linked to the status issue.

Organised crime and corruption are indeed problems in Montenegro, as elsewhere in the region. Some steps have been taken, although concerns remain about the degree of commitment Montenegrin authorities demonstrate when the allegations that need to be investigated relate to senior officials. The focus should be on helping, and when necessary pressing Montenegro, as well as other entities in the region, to show greater zeal in carrying out reforms and in tackling organised crime and corruption.

Particular stress should be placed on reform of the criminal justice system, especially to end political interference. Assessments of progress should be based above all on concrete results. In particular, any suspicion that some figures are above the law, due to their high connections, and that sensitive cases are covered up should be dispelled.

Strict conditionality should be applied on assistance to Montenegro, based on performance. Assessments of reform programs need to go beyond ticking off legislation adopted and focus on implementation. In particular, the international community should insist upon effective measures to tackle corruption. Where there is not adequate evidence of action, assistance programs should be shut down. Credit should be given where it is due, and pressure should be applied where progress is lacking, but no assessment should be influenced by a desire to influence Montenegro on the status issue.

Given its budgetary problems, the Montenegrin government depends on international assistance. Until now the leverage that fact of political life implies has largely been used in the ill-conceived effort to keep the republic in a union with Serbia. Instead, it should be used to force real change in the way that Montenegro is governed.


To the international community, in particular the European Union:

1. The EU should discontinue its policy of pressuring Montenegro to remain in a single-state union with Serbia and accept whatever solutions Serbia and Montenegro can agree upon for their future relationship, including the possibility of eventual separation.

2. The EU should be ready to provide impartial technical assistance to Serbia and Montenegro on the practical issues that need to be resolved whatever the form of their ultimate relationship.

3. The EU should not sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia and Montenegro before the status of the third entity of the now defunct FRY, Kosovo, has been resolved.

4. The international community should continue to provide assistance to Montenegro's reform efforts, strictly conditioned on the government's performance in carrying out reforms, and should be prepared to suspend or withdraw assistance if progress is not satisfactory.

5. The international community's assessment of reform progress should be based on concrete evidence of changes in practice, including clear indications that investigations of corruption and organised crime activities are thoroughly pursued, no matter where the investigations lead or whom they involve.

To Serbia and Montenegro:

6. Concentrate on resolving the concrete issues involved in the future relationship, and in particular work constructively to integrate and harmonise economies, in line with the 14 March 2002 Belgrade Agreement and the Constitutional Charter.

To Montenegro:

7. Accelerate reforms in order to regain momentum lost in 2002, in particular by:

(a) increasing the pace of reform of the finance ministry, and especially of public finances;

(b) reinvigorating efforts to combat the grey economy;

(c) continuing reforms of the judiciary and police, including ending politicisation of the criminal justice system;

(d) pursuing all cases involving serious criminal allegations thoroughly, without political interference, wherever they lead and whomever they implicate; and

(e) raising the salaries of senior officials to more realistic levels while at the same time ending the system of offering perks, such as free housing, to certain officials.

Podgorica/Brussels, 16 April 2003


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