Montenegro’s President Jakov Milatović said his country was “furthest along” on the path to joining the European Union during a visit by European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen.
“Montenegro fully harmonizes its foreign and security policy with European Union policy and currently has a truly reform-oriented political majority. No other country seeking membership of the European Union has all this” , Milatović said on Tuesday from Podgorica. .
“Montenegro’s accession to the EU would be an important message for all other candidate countries that the enlargement process is underway.”
“This would provide an additional incentive for other candidate countries to pursue their reform agenda even more vigorously, which should bring them even closer to the European Union,” he added.
A new coalition government made up of pro-European, pro-Serbian and Albanian minority parties led by Prime Minister Milojko Spajić was appointed by Montenegro’s parliament just in time for von der Leyen’s visit to the country. Spajić’s centrist Europe Now movement won the early elections in June but without a clear majority to govern, triggering months of political wrangling.
The impasse was broken after staunchly anti-Western groups allowed Spajić to govern on the condition that one of their leaders, Andrija Mandić, be elected to the influential post of Parliament Speaker.
Not all 81 deputies of the Montenegrin Parliament were present for the vote on Tuesday morning after late-night discussions, with the new government approved by 46 votes in favor and 19 against.
The new prime minister told reporters on Tuesday that he hoped to “unblock European integration, move forward quickly and become the next member of the European Union.” He also asserted that his government would continue to be pro-European, despite Madić’s election.
Negotiations on EU membership for Montenegro, a NATO member and the smallest Balkan country, began in June 2012. But there have been criticisms that progress in implementing institutional reforms has been blocked and policies needed to pave the way to accession.
An assessment of the country’s progress released last October noted that “political volatility, government instability and tensions have blocked decision-making processes and the implementation of reforms.” An updated review of Montenegro’s progress will be included in the European Commission’s annual enlargement report, due on 8 November.
Von der Leyen’s visit is part of a four day tour Western Balkan countries.
She told journalists in Podgorica that “Montenegro has long been the Western Balkan country most advanced in terms of EU membership”, adding that she is happy to see the country determined to maintain its “pole position “.
“I am pleased that you can now fully concentrate on the task of the accession goal, and that together we should cover the last mile, cross the finish line,” she added.
During his trip, von der Leyen provided more details on the EU’s €6 billion growth plan for the Western Balkans, aiming to double the region’s economy over the next decade. Montenegro has the highest GDP per capita among Western Balkan countries applying to join the bloc, but at 50% of the EU average there is still “untapped potential”, von der Leyen said .
In his attempt to gain parliamentary support to govern, Spajić presented a vision of “Montenegro as the Switzerland of the Balkans and the Singapore of Europe”.
_This article and title have been corrected because we mistakenly attributed Milatović’s quotes at the beginning of the article to _Spajic.