The European Commission’s top official on Tuesday urged Montenegro to push ahead with its European Union integration process after the NATO member country elected a new government, ending a political stalemate that stalled its EU bid.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with top Montenegrin officials hours after parliament confirmed the new government following a heated session that lasted through the night. Parliament approved the new Cabinet with 46 votes in favor and 19 against. Montenegro’s assembly has 81 members but not all were present.
“Montenegro has been for a long time the most advanced Western Balkan country on the EU accession path, and I am happy to see that you are determined to keep the ... position,” von der Leyen said after talks with President Jakov Milatovic.
“My first message is that I welcome that you now should be fully focused on the task of the accession objective,” she added. “Together we should go now the last mile, bring it over the finish line.”
The government was formed after months of political bickering that followed an election in June. The centrist Europe Now party of Prime Minister Milojko Spajic won the election but without enough support to form a government on its own.
To form the government, the winning coalition received backing from staunchly anti-Western groups under the condition that one of their leaders, Andrija Mandic, was elected as parliament speaker.
Spajic said his government will be pro-European despite Mandic’s election. He dismissed reports that his Cabinet will be influenced by neighboring Serbia, from which Montenegro split in 2006 after an independence referendum.
“We hope to unclog the European integration, move forward quickly and become the next member of the European Union,” Spajic told reporters. Spajic later met with von der Leyen, who is on a tour of Western Balkan countries aspiring to join the 27-nation union. Von der Leyen visited North Macedonia and Kosovo before Montenegro and traveled to Serbia on Tuesday. In Belgrade, she said enlargement tops the EU agenda at a time of “global turbulence.”
The EU wishes to strengthen Europe’s unity and security, von der Leyen said after talks with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic. “We want Serbia to join the union ... It is a promise of peace and prosperity and it is a unique opportunity, right now, that no one else can match.”
Serbia is formally seeking EU entry but has maintained friendly relations with Russia and refused to join Western sanctions introduced against Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine. Six Western Balkan countries are at different stages on their path to join the EU, a process expected to take years.
As the war rages in Ukraine, EU officials have sought to push the process forward and encourage Balkan nations to boost reforms in order to join. Von der Leyen was discussing details of the 6 billion-euro ($6.37 billion) package for Western Balkan countries.
She also discussed tensions that still exist in the region long after ethnic wars of the 1990s. Recent violence between Serbia and Kosovo have been high on von der Leyen’s agenda as the EU seeks to negotiate a solution. Kosovo split from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognize the former province’s independence.
Vucic said after meeting von der Leyen that “the two biggest obstacles for us are Kosovo ... and sanctions against the Russian Federation.” He said Serbia will continue its European path without “directly jeopardizing our state and national interests.”
Von der Leyen said in Montenegro that there are no fixed dates for the accession of any country to the EU and the process depends entirely on the reforms and progress the countries achieve.
U.S. and EU officials have suggested that Montenegro’s government should avoid introducing an anti-NATO and anti-Western political party into its coalition if it wants to join the bloc.
Mandic had called for close ties with Russia rather than the EU and criticized Montenegro’s NATO membership. But when elected as parliament speaker on Monday, he said he is ready to “send some new messages.”
Hundreds of opposition supporters waving Montenegrin flags protested in front of the parliament building, and opposition lawmakers criticized the new government as anti-European because of the participation of pro-Serb parties.
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