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Montenegro to Join the EU by 2028

Jakov Milatović, President of Montenegro

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What we want from the EU Growth Plan is for it to help us accelerate our socioeconomic convergence with the Union. We believe that we will succeed in this through the diversification of our economy and an ambitious plan for the development of our transport and energy infrastructure

In Montenegro, which has advanced the most in the region when it comes to EU integration processes, they are hopeful that the results achieved will provide the basis for the country to quickly advance towards full membership. Meanwhile, regional initiatives don’t represent an alternative to membership, but rather preparation for faster and more successful integration, says Montenegrin President Jakov Milatović in this interview for Connecting The Region Magazine.

Despite supporting regional interconnectivity, Montenegro doesn’t participate intensively in all regional initiatives, such as the Open Balkan initiative. What do you consider as being the most useful measure when it comes to connecting the Western Balkan countries?

― Montenegro is a leader in European integration and I often emphasise that I advocate for the regatta principle, i.e., for integration on the basis of the individual merits of each country and the meeting of membership criteria. This sends a clear message that it pays off to be committed to reforms.

I will repeat that the European Union story emerged out of regional economic interconnection, which is why it isn’t an alternative to the EU, but rather a kind of preparation for the countries of the region to join the free European single market.

Supporting this claim, I recently signed decrees on the adoption of laws that confirm the so-called Berlin Agreements and represent part of the obligations emerging from the Berlin Process, and passing them will contribute to accelerating our country’s European journey, but also to improving regional cooperation.

Furthermore, Montenegrin citizens will be able to realise numerous benefits resulting from the implementation of these agreements.

Where do you see Montenegro’s place in the EU’s Growth Plan for the Western Balkans and what are your key assets?

― We were able to hear projections at the EU-Western Balkans Summit, held late last year, that a common regional market for the Western Balkans could increase the GDP of our countries by ten per cent. As someone who spent many years working at international financial institutions and observed the EU integration of Balkan member states, I really believe in such an outcome.

The aim of regional cooperation is subsequent better integration with European markets, and the Growth Plan is important precisely in order to speed up those processes. That’s why this Plan is hugely significant for realising the economic potential of our region.

What we want from the Plan is for it to help us accelerate our socioeconomic convergence with the EU. We believe that we will succeed in this through the diversification of our economy and an ambitious plan for the development of our transport and energy infrastructure.

The eastward opening of the EU is good news for the entire Western Balkans, while it also represents a significant step towards ensuring the prosperity, peace and stability of Europe as a whole

Our plan is to complete the highway through the north of the country that will connect us with Serbia and the markets of the region and Central Europe. We also want to build the Adriatic-Ionian highway, which will represent our bridge to Western Europe and will additionally connect us with our neighbours in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Albania.

Moreover, we have already received significant funding to improve railway infrastructure in order for us to finally realise the massive potential of the Port of Bar and restore its strategic importance, and we expect additional funds to complete this project through the Growth Plan.

When it comes to energy, we expect the doubling of the submarine power cable connections between Montenegro and Italy, and for our country to become the energy hub of the Western Balkans. I’ve discussed this topic with our Italian partners, but also with European financial institutions, such as the EBRD and the EIB, which we expect to provide us with even greater support.

There is a lot of talk in the EU about the Green Agenda. When it comes to this region, it includes – among other things – transitioning from electricity production based on coal to other energy sources. How much and what is needed to complete that transition?

― As a result of us having a coal-fired thermal power plant in the north of the country, Montenegro has been heavily dependent on coal in previous decades, particularly in the field of electricity production. This certainly had environmental repercussions, which is why it was necessary to develop a strategic approach to gradually eliminating our major dependence on coal and shifting to renewables.

Our country has a wealth of natural hydro and wind potential, but we also enjoy a large number of sunny days throughout the year, which is why the country is favourable when it comes to new ways of producing energy and it comes as no surprise that domestic and foreign capital is interested in investing in renewables in our country.

When it comes to generating electricity, transitioning from coal to alternative sources is a complex process requiring careful planning, infrastructure changes, investments and political support. In this context, our priority is to improve infrastructure in order for us to realise the potential of our country to its full capacity and create a healthier environment for our citizens.

It is also crucial that Montenegro has a fully developed regulatory framework in this area, as well as the support of international partners in facilitating the transition to cleaner energy. It is necessary for the best international practices to be implemented in Montenegro, which can contribute to the country’s economic development through tangible solutions. That’s why I believe that it’s also crucial that we have the support of partners with enviable experience in green transition.

In this sense, I would single out the willingness of Slovenia, which is a traditionally friendly country, to provide Montenegro with all essential support in this matter. This has been confirmed once again by President Nataša Pirc Musar, who is our guest at the Sustainable Development Summit in Montenegro. It is worth noting that Slovenia is a leader of the wider region when it comes to sustainable development and that it represents a source of inspiration for the region’s other countries.

How do you view the concern of citizens across the entire region that the search for new sources of energy could turn large swathes of the Western Balkans into mines, with disastrous environmental consequences?

― Montenegro is the first country of the region to have introduced – three decades ago! – an ecological aspect to its constitution, thus placing care for the environment at the heart of the country’s economic and social development.

Furthermore, on its EU accession journey, Montenegro is committed to UN Agenda 2030 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as we consider these two processes as being inextricably linked.

The concern of the region’s citizens regarding the search for new energy sources is justified, given the potential negative environmental impact. On the other hand, potential economic benefits and development opportunities should also be taken into consideration.

When it comes to energy, we expect the doubling of the submarine power cable connections between Montenegro and Italy, and for our country to become the energy hub of the Western Balkans

With the proper management of policies and strategies, these activities could result in economic advancement through the creation of new jobs, the attracting of investment and the encouraging of local development. Likewise, these activities could prove significant when it comes to diversifying the economies of the region and reducing their dependence on traditional industries.

However, it is essential to respect the highest standards of environmental protection and social responsibility in order to truly contribute to sustainable economic development. This includes applying best practices to minimise negative environmental impacts, but also ensuring the just distribution of economic gains among local communities.

It is ultimately the obligation of decision-makers to maintain a balance between economic interests and environmental protection, which I consider as being crucial to the region’s longterm prosperity.

You won Montenegro’s presidential election on a pro-European agenda. How do you view the pace of Montenegro’s European integration?

― I am certain that it’s possible to conclude all negotiation chapters by year’s end 2026 and to use 2027 for EU member states to ratify our accession, thus fulfilling our primary foreign policy objective of gaining full EU membership by 2028.

This view is today shared by the majority of our strategic partners. Representing a prerequisite for such a European integration dynamic is the implementing of reforms in key areas, first and foremost in the area of the judiciary, electoral system, economy, public administration and ecology.

I would remind your readers of the significant political transformation that occurred in Montenegro less than four years ago with the first democratic transition of power in the history of our country, and the process of democratising our society continued with the outcome of the spring 2023 presidential elections.

After demonstrating our democratic maturity in elections, a significant advance was achieved in terms of strengthening the rule of law and the independence of institutions by appointing new people to leading positions in the judiciary and the Central Bank, with broad political consensus in the Parliament.

EU accession is supported by more than 80 per cent of Montenegro’s citizens and we finally have the strong political will required to conclude the ten-year accession negotiation process. On the other hand, during my own intensive diplomatic activity since taking on the presidency, it has become evident that an equally strong will also exists in Brussels.

Also testifying to this claim are the facts that we are among the most economically advanced EU candidate countries, that we have been using the euro for more than two decades, that our foreign and security policy has been fully aligned with the EU for more than a decade, that we are a country that has no significant unresolved issues with our neighbours and promotes good neighbourly relations, and that we are a country that has opened all negotiation chapters with the EU and is a NATO member.

I believe that Montenegro’s EU accession would send a clear message that reforms pay off and that the enlargement process is still alive.

Will Montenegro or Ukraine become an EU member first? Do you agree with the view that the opening of the EU eastwards also represents good news for the Western Balkans?

― As I’ve said, Montenegro has a clear foreign policy objective: full membership in the EU by 2028. On the other hand, a complete Europe is a guarantee of the security, stability and competitiveness of the continent, which is why every advance of the candidate countries pleases us.

We provide Ukraine with continuous support and assistance and, among other things, have received – compared to the size of our population – the most Ukrainian citizens among those who were forced to flee their country because of the war.

The eastward expansion of the EU is, of course, good news for Montenegro and the entire Western Balkans, while it also represents a significant step towards ensuring the prosperity, peace and stability of Europe as a whole.

EU MEMBERSHIP

I often emphasise that I advocate for the regatta principle, i.e., for integration on the basis of the individual merits of each country and the meeting of membership criteria.

SUSTAINABILITY

It is essential to respect the highest standards of environmental protection and social responsibility in order to truly contribute to sustainable economic development.

CONNECTION

Our plan is to complete the highway through the north of the country that will connect us with the markets of the region and Central Europe.

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