BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (BNO NEWS) -- The European Union (EU) this week opened accession talks with Montenegro, bringing the former Yugoslav republic another step closer to a EU membership, although any real agreements are expected to take at least several years to finalize.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy tefan Füle called the beginning of negotiations a 'success' for Montenegro. "Its authorities, politicians, the whole society. The broad national consensus and reform efforts have paid off," Füle said on Friday. "They also confirm that we judge candidates on their own merits."
Nonetheless, Füle underlined that many more steps need to be taken, and the next phase in the accession process will bring more work in more areas, with continued focus on fundamental freedoms, judiciary, fight against corruption and organized crime. He noted that Montenegro will be the first country where newly established approaches by the EU Commission will be applied, focusing on developing a track record and introducing interim benchmarks, but also with the possibility of applying corrective measures.
"These two chapters are the most important and the most effective instruments for the Commission to support transformation in the candidate countries," Füle added.
The EU official also noted that Croatia will become the union's 28th member next year while Serbia was granted candidate status in March. "The whole Western Balkans region is moving ahead," he said. High Level Accession Dialogues have also been initiated with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and with Bosnia and Herzegovina, while a list of deliverables on the key priorities has been agreed on with Albania. A feasibility study with Kosovo was also launched this spring.
"Opening negotiations with Montenegro is also a vote of confidence and it should be understood as an incentive for the country to keep up the reform efforts," the commissioner added. "Because, after today, the ultimate goal of these efforts - EU membership - is a big step closer for you."
Montenegro, with a population of just over 625,000, is one of several countries which unilaterally adopted the Euro as it does not have a currency of its own. Montenegro replaced the Yugoslav dinar with the Deutsche Mark in November 1999 and then introduced the Euro when the German currency disappeared in January 2002. The EU has repeatedly slammed Montenegro for its unilateral use of the Euro.
In February 2011, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) backed accession talks with Montenegro and praised in particular the work done on finalizing the country's legal and constitutional framework. But they also voiced serious concerns, particularly about corruption, organized crime, discrimination and curbs on media freedom.
"Corruption is still prevalent in many areas, especially in the construction, privatization and public procurements sector," the MEPs said in a resolution approved by nearly all members. The EU Parliament urged Montenegro's government to improve its track record of investigations and prosecutions, and to change the legislative framework for financing political parties and electoral campaigns.
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