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The accession of Montenegro to NATO in 2015, a first step to enter the EU in 2020 and second to secure the Adriatic?

12.12.2015 17:57

Gregor Mathias, doctor of history, research associate of Centre Roland Mousnier, Paris IV Sorbonne

An event may go unnoticed in France, though Montenegrin membership in NATO is of strategic interest for neighboring countries. A small Slavic country integrated to Serbia after the breakup of the empire of Austria-Hungary in 1918 and took independence from Serbia in 2006.

Montenegro, enclave country that looks to the West

Montenegro multiplies agreements since 2006 to integrate into the European Union and NATO. Indeed, Montenegro is landlocked between Serbia with whom it broke off all the political ties but remains its first economic partner, Kosovo, corrupt and poor pseudo-state, less developed Albania and Bosnia and a narrow cord of Croatian coast, unique haven of regional prosperity. Montenegro sees its future in the West, in an economic alliance with the EU as its second and third economic partner, Croatia and Slovenia, both EU member countries. Besides, Montenegro wishes to benefit from NATO's military protection to prevent regional destabilization, as Montenegrins (45%) are a minority in their own country.

A long accession process

Montenegro wants to follow political and economic models that represent Slovenia and Croatia, former republics of the Yugoslav Federation that entered the EU. By joining NATO Montenegro sees a way to rush its EU membership, both memberships often going together.
France officially promised Montenegro in 2008 support in its accession to the economic union while presiding the EU. In its turn, Montenegro has supported France in Afghanistan and Libya by sending a small contingent to both countries. France's influence resulted in Montenegro's obtaining EU candidate status in December 2010. Its accession to the WTO in December 2011 and the French support helped Montenegro to open the first round of negotiations for accession to the EU in June 2012. France helped Montenegro by implementing judicial reforms ( the fight against organized crime), agricultural development, its administrative staff training and education reform.

The Adriatic, a future NATO lake

While the worsening Greek debt crisis has made hostile European partners to any new membership, Montenegro continues its anchorage in the West, trying to become the 29th member of NATO in December 2015. Moreover, the EU encouraged its member states at the Strasbourg parliament during the vote on the 38th article of the resolution on "the monitoring of Montenegro in 2014", 15 March 2015, to support Montenegro's accession to NATO. 22 of the 28 NATO members are EU members. The Montenegrin membership is considered to secure the Adriatic Sea that is likely to be a NATO lake, only the small port of Neum in Bosnia and Herzegovina avoides this influence. Montenegro's accession to NATO aims to end mafia's smuggling between the Balkans and Italia.

According to an interview with Le Monde in December 2014, Mr Djukanovic says its medium-term objective is the accession of his country to the EU after 2020. He thinks that his country will be the first Balkan country to join the EU.

Montenegro or narco-negro?

Montenegro means in Serbo-Croatian "black mountain", and indeed, the reports are far from this idyllic country. Despite the efforts of political, economic and military integration into the EU and NATO, Montenegro is not nearly as stable. Indeed, the country strives for renewing its political elites. The Socialist Prime Minister Djukanovic has been in power since 1991. After 24 years in power, civil society and the right turned out to fail in political changes. For several weeks demonstrations call for the resignation of Mr Djukanovic before the elections planned for 2016. The protesters fear that the elections are likely to be falsified by the Prime Minister. The architect of integration into NATO and the EU has become the main obstacle to the country's stability. Djukanovic tries to discredit his opponents brandishing the theory of a Russian manipulation.

The demonstrators denounced the persistence of economic stagnation (unemployment – 20%, public debt – 115% of GDP), corruption (the banks have a quarter of their bad debt holdings) and long Djukanivic's being in power that is unusual for a European state. If adhered to the EU Montenegro might become the EU's real Achilles heel because of its shadow economy. The specialists on international crime, JF Gayraud and F. Thual (Geostrategy crime, Editions Odile Jacob, 2012) estimate that the illegal economy represents 50% of GDP. The Albanian and Serbo-Montenegrin mafias are dealing with cigarette smuggling, drugs, weapons, currency counterfeit, human beings illegal trafficking (kid-napping, prostitution). Hence, the nickname given to Montenegro is "narco-negro". Djukanovic was also himself the subject of an international arrest in 2010, when Italy accused him of organizing cigarette smuggling with the help of transnational corporations to bypass the tax system in European countries.

One can wonder whether it is not a matter for the EU and NATO to quit "gray" criminal zone in the heart of Europe which occupied part of the Montenegrin state institutions that could become a long-term destabilizing factor to European countries of the Adriatic.