Exclusive interview for Blogactiv.EU – Montenegro: Mrs Ulrike Lunacek, Member of European Parliament
December 4, 2009
Mrs Lunacek, you recently visited Montenegro. What are your first impressions and did you like the country?
My first impression was the beautiful and impressive nature of Montenegro, with mountains, as well as a coast line and historical treasures!
Majority of citizens, especially youth, are looking forward for the start of the visa-free travelling regime. Do you think this could have a big impact on Montenegro and entire region?
(As the recent Balkan Monitor Study has shown) Visa-free travel is the main incentive for the people in the region to join the EU. It is a very important reward for all the difficulties the EU integration process has and still is implying. Especially for the young generation it is important to have the possibility to travel, work or study abroad and to have an exchange with people from other parts of Europe. It will be a big and important change for citizens in the region and for the EU a main opportunity to promote its ideals and values. So yes, visa-free travelling will have strong impact on the individual as well as societal level in the region as well as in the EU. But we have to make sure, that with the start of the visa-free travelling for Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia no new borders and walls created and that in a medium-term perspective all citizens from the region will be able to travel freely to the EU.
You are European Parliament’s new rapporteur on Kosovo, so you are probably familiar with the difficulties that region faces in establishing stable democratic institutions and other European values such as freedom of speech, free elections, protection of minority groups… How much time will be needed until the region achieves certain European standards in that matter?
The establishment of democratic standards is a difficult and long-term process. There are issues in every country in the region which need to be tackled more thoroughly and accurately by the political elites. Gender equality, the protection of ethnic and sexual minority groups and the fight against corruption are main areas where a lot remains to be done, also in Montenegro. Although main rights are protected legally, their implementation needs to be secured. With the help of civil society and the EU pressuring and working proactively in this direction I am sure the region is on a good track. But insurance of these standards is a never-ending process which also has to be continued after accession to the EU – how the experience in member states shows.
Montenegro has democracy in last twenty years, but it is still the only country in the region, that never experienced shift of power between ruling party and the opposition. Current regime changed their rhetoric, but many analysts find it difficult to believe that the same ruling elite that was once supporter of Milosevic’s war politics will now bring Montenegro into the E.U. What is your opinion about this issue?
In my opinion, EU integration is a process which should not only include ruling elites, but needs to be a process in which various actors of society participate. A well functioning democracy includes change in ruling party through elections, an active civil society and free media. It is therefore the task to strengthen the voice of civic actors and free media, and promote their role in strengthening democracy in Montenegro on its way to EU integration.
Opposition recently decided to start boycotting elections, claiming that „ruling party cannot be beaten on the elections because they use all institutions of the state, complete public finances and all Government programs, in order to make their victory smooth”. Similar case already happened in 2005, when Liberal Alliance of Montenegro (first opposition party in the country), has „frozen“ its political activities, explaining that Montenegro lacks basic democratic principles which would ensure normal and independent functioning of an opposition party. What do you think about this situation? Should E.U. do more to put pressure in order to ensure truly fair and free elections?
In order to ensure the conditions and the environment for real free and fair elections, additional efforts are needed in the field of corruption as well as organised crime in Montenegro. The election process itself has met almost all international and European commitments. Yet, in order to make it “truly fair and free” remaining shortcomings need to be addressed as the EC Progress Report highlighted. The electoral framework has to be harmonised with the Constitution and more remains to be done regarding the separation between State and party structures in the electoral administration and ensuring transparent allocation of parliament seats. The EU should and will further push for the implementation of these pre-requisites in ensuring legitimacy of democratic processes.
You are prominent supporter of civil liberties. You also participated at the conference „Justice in the Balkans: Equality for sexual minorities“, that was held recently in Montenegro. This is a very controversial issue in traditional and conservative Montenegrin society. Government officials often don’t want to talk about it, and Montenegrin Minister of Human and Minority Rights Ferhat Dinosa said a few days ago that „he wouldn’t be very happy if gay population exists in Montenegro, and that it would not be good news for Montenegro“. Could you please tell us, will those issues have to be more seriously addressed in the integration process towards EU and what changes do you expect?
As highlighted in the European Commission Progress Report 2009 on Montenegro, there is an important need for Montenegro to adopt the anti-discrimination law. This would be the first and most important step in the right direction. Apart from that however, the question of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their discrimination in Montenegro needs to be addressed more accurately. It is “un-European” that a Minister of Human and Minority rights is threatening a minority group whereas it would be his duty to protect and promote anti-discrimination of this minority. The absence of Montenegrin politicians at the conference I have attended is a poor testimony for the willingness to tackle the issue. I appreciate, however, that civil servants of relevant ministries took part. In cooperation with the civil society groups in the country the EU therefore also needs to push stronger in the direction of equal treatment of all societal groups.
How do you see the role of EU and its representatives towards the leadership of new potential member states? Citizens are often confused by the role of EU institutions and the messages that their officials send to local politicians. For instance, every positive statement from the EU officials, about Montenegro’s progress towards EU, is used by the ruling party as a „confirmation“ that EU supports their party. Opposition does the same thing, claiming that „they must be supported by EU, to finally end the last undemocratic regime in Europe“. What is your opinion about importance of EU in those situations?
EU integration is a multileveled process. Apart from pushing the government to implement reforms regarding the acquis communitaire, the EU is working together also with various other actors from the opposition, civil society, etc. The positive assessment of a legislative reform does not imply direct political support for one specific political party. It is therefore crucial not to confine EU engagement in the region to the executive dialogue, but to promote the inclusion of the wider society. In order to make this possible the EU needs to take a clear stand with regard to democratic standards as well as human and minority rights.
Mrs Lunacek, you are MEP of the Green Party (4th strongest fraction in EP) and party’s spokeswoman on International Affairs. Green parties are known to be progressive and influental in societies with developed political culture. For the end of this interview, what would be your message to Montenegrin citizens, regarding progress and their European future?
EU integration should itself be a process strengthening democracy, rule of law as well as human and civil rights standards. So my message would be to civil society to use the opportunity, be critical as well as voice concerns and interests and contribute to the changes you want to achieve in your country.
Mrs Lunacek, thank you for this interview. We are sure it will be interesting for our readers to read your opinion, and it will contribute to better understanding of the role of European Union in Montenegrin politics and integration process.montenegro