Montenegro is not on the right track. Our politicians did nothing during this time to take advantage of the given opportunity. Actually, they did do something – they promised the EU to solve key issues and, of course, they did not keep that promise.
When it became clear in 2014 that there would be no enlargement of the European Union (EU) in the next five-year mandate of the European Commission (EC), the Berlin Process (BP) was launched; a platform that brought together on a high level countries of the Western Balkans (WB) and several states of the EU, led by Germany.
The declared key goals of this initiative were resolving open bilateral and internal issues, achieving reconciliation within and between societies, strengthening regional economic cooperation and laying the foundations for sustainable growth. These would, of course, be realized with respect for European standards as well as progress in their adoption across all countries of the region.
For those of us who followed relations within the EU and the level of reforms in individual countries more closely, we saw expected results – we got a sort of secondary EU league which, as is common in sports, is preparatory for those who want to play at the highest rank and don’t yet possess the required qualities.
Although much more space is needed to assess objectively and in detail the scope of this initiative from 2014-2020, also bearing in mind both the concrete and important results that were achieved, it seems that its most significant effect was a symbolic one. It was important for the pro-European forces in the countries of the WB that there should be a message, even like this one, that the EU is not renouncing the WB.
The eighth summit of the Berlin Process, to be held on November 3 2022 in Berlin, is welcoming the WB with completely different messages from the EU. The former “there will be no enlargement” now reads: “complete your tasks and you will be welcome to the EU”.
Majority reasons for this change can be found in (geo)politics, relations between member states and the level of quality of work of the EU, which in the meantime has overcome at least some of its crises, and much less so in WB countries fulfilling membership criteria. Any serious connoisseur of the situation in the countries of the region would agree that the rule of law, economy, democracy and human rights remain on the same level as before, at best.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been a key factor in changing the EU’s attitude. It finally understood that if the WB does not have a European perspective, it will soon have a Russian, Chinese, Turkish or another, fourth, perspective.
In the meantime the Open Balkans (OB) initiative appeared, which is similar to BP in many ways. It is not entirely clear what its essential function is, or what differentiates it from previous initiatives except strengthening the Vučić-Rama political axis. OB would actually be a zonal league where the standards of play are not even at the level of the other league. In zonal leagues, the rights of the strongest usually prevail, referees sometimes get beaten, and it is not uncommon to see fists or some other props flying as a form of communication with opponents.
A new opportunity for WB countries is also a new opportunity for BP. If understood in this way, it can be very important and make a significant contribution to the development of the region.
It remains to be seen how WB will use this opportunity. Montenegro is not on the right track. We are masters of missed opportunities, so it is not surprising that optimistic statements of EU officials from March and April already sound significantly different in September. As they should, because our politicians did nothing during this time to take advantage of the given opportunity. Actually, they did do something – they promised the EU to solve key issues and, of course, they did not keep that promise.
And so, nothing has changed in the eleventh year of our negotiations.
Milica Kovačević, program director of the Center for Democratic Transition