When asking: “Whereabouts in Europe is Montenegro?” the answer is simple, but when asking: “Whereabouts is Montenegro in its EU membership process,” things get a lot more complicated.
The Balkan gem of Montenegro has been in the process of joining the European Union (EU) for over a decade. The country’s journey towards EU membership started after its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.
There is still work to be done before Montenegrin citizens become EU residents. Predicting the exact timeline for Montenegro’s accession to the EU is difficult due to the numerous variables and stages involved in the process.
In this article, I will share the latest developments on the Montenegrin transition to an EU member state, why it is important, what’s causing the delay, and what might happen next.
Is Montenegro Part of the EU?
As of the time of this article, Montenegro is not a full-fledged member of the EU. The Balkan nation initiated the accession process in 2010, gaining the candidate country status in the same year.
It has since been in negotiations and working on reforms to meet the EU’s stringent criteria for membership. Several factors have made the transition difficult, and Montenegro continues to work on meeting the requirements to enter the EU as a member state.
When Is Montenegro Part of the EU?
The EU accession is a complicated process that requires significant efforts from the candidate country to comply with the ‘acquis communautaire,’ the body of common rights and obligations that binds all EU countries together.
The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans, published in 2018, mentioned 2025 as a possible target year for the next wave of enlargement that might include Montenegro. However, due to the requirements needed for EU membership, it may be as late as 2030.
The process of joining the EU entails the successful negotiation of 35 chapters, each focusing on different areas such as justice, freedom, security, and various sectors of the economy.
At the time of writing, Montenegro has opened all chapters and provisionally closed a few, but substantial work remains.
What Is Causing the Delay of the EU Membership?
Montenegro’s path to EU membership has been slowed down primarily due to concerns over issues like:
- freedom of the press, and
- the rule of law.
These issues conflict with chapters 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights) and 24 (Justice, Freedom, and Security) of the accession negotiations, also known as some of the most challenging chapters for candidate countries.
The EU sets rigorous standards in these areas as it places a high emphasis on democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law.
Additionally, following a no-confidence vote in August 2022, Montenegro is currently dealing with a political and institutional crisis.
While the country has been implementing various legal and institutional reforms to address EU membership issues, but the latest political disruption has caused further delay.
However, due to the war in Ukraine, the European Commission has been signaling to integrate Balkan countries faster. While Montenegro still needs to resolve its political issues, the ongoing war could expedite its timeline for EU membership.
What Are the Current Trade Benefits Between the EU and Montenegro?
Yes, despite Montenegro not being a part of the EU, there are still substantial trade benefits. Montenegro’s association with the EU through the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) has driven economic growth.
The SAA, which came into effect in 2010, established a free trade area between the EU and Montenegro. This has significantly enhanced Montenegro’s access to the EU’s Single Market, one of the world’s largest and wealthiest markets.
As a result, Montenegro’s trade with EU countries has grown exponentially, with the EU now accounting for the majority of Montenegro’s total trade.
The trade benefits of the SAA are not only limited to the free exchange of goods but also extend to areas such as competition policy, intellectual property rights, and public procurement.
Moreover, the prospect of full EU membership has stimulated Montenegro to modernize its economy and improve its business environment, thereby attracting more foreign investment, particularly from EU countries.
While the EU-Montenegro trade relationship under the SAA is already growing, a full EU membership would further deepen these ties and allow for even more opportunity in the Montenegrin economy.
What Is the Economic Impact of an EU Membership?
One of the most tangible benefits of EU membership is access to the structural funds designed to level the economic playing field in Europe. Such funds would provide Montenegro with significant resources for infrastructure development, education, and other vital sectors.
Regarding fiscal and monetary policy, accession to the EU often leads to increased economic stability. The country would be required to adopt the EU’s policy frameworks, promoting sound public finances, price stability, and sustainable economic growth.
However, while these benefits are attractive, the EU membership also has substantial economic challenges. Industry and agriculture sectors might face increased competition from well-established EU markets, which could disrupt local economies and industries.
What Is the Public Sentiment in Montenegro Toward EU Membership?
The question of EU membership is not purely economic or political; it also has profound social and cultural dimensions, often reflected in public sentiment.
According to recent polls, public support for EU membership in Montenegro is generally high, with more than 80% of the population supporting the transition.
The prospect of increased economic stability, access to jobs and education in other EU countries, and enhanced rule of law are often cited as motivating factors.
However, some citizens worry about the potential loss of national sovereignty, the costs of meeting EU standards, and potential economic disruption. Some see the EU as a distant and foreign entity, lacking connection or shared identity.
Political parties in Montenegro generally favor EU membership, viewing it as a critical part of the country’s strategic goals.
However, the pace of reforms and negotiations has been a topic of debate, with some calling for more urgency and others cautioning against unforeseen consequences from the transition.
What Is the Impact on Temporary Residents When Montenegro Enters the EU?
From an economic perspective, the free trade and employment opportunities will allow even foreign-owned Montenegrin companies greater access to a much broader market.
If you are a temporary resident in Montenegro, you would also get access to move around within the EU without the constraints of your native passport. There are few downsides for most citizens and foreigners alike regarding Montenegro entering the EU.
Is Montenegro Part of the EEA?
No, Montenegro is not part of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA is an international agreement that extends the European Union (EU) single market to non-EU member parties.
The EEA comprises all 27 EU member states, as well as three of the four member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) — Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.
The EU enlargement policy stipulates that any country that becomes a member of the EU automatically becomes a part of the EEA.
Therefore it is likely that Montenegro’s inclusion in the EEA would follow its accession to the EU, assuming it joins the EU and no other significant changes in policy or circumstances occur.
Is Montenegro Part of Schengen?
While the Montenegro Schengen relationship is strong, the country is not yet a part of the Schengen Area. However, Montenegro is on a path that could lead to a Schengen membership in the future.
The Schengen Area is a zone in Europe where most EU countries have abolished their internal borders, allowing unrestricted movement of people.
This allows citizens to enter the Schengen area without a visa for stays of up to 90 days within 180 days for purposes such as tourism, business trips, or visiting relatives and friends.
Still, an EU membership doesn’t automatically guarantee Schengen membership. Ireland, for example, is an EU member state but has opted out of the Schengen Agreement to maintain its open border with the UK, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania, all EU members, are also yet to join the Schengen Area.
While Montenegro’s EU and Schengen future looks promising, it’s important to remember that these processes involve rigorous assessments and negotiations.
For Schengen membership, a country’s preparedness in areas like air borders, visas, police cooperation, and personal data protection is evaluated.
Is Montenegro Part of NATO?
Yes, Montenegro became a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member in June 2017.
This membership signifies Montenegro’s commitment to upholding democratic values and participating in collective defense. It also reflects NATO’s continued commitment to the Western Balkans region.
Montenegro’s NATO membership also provides an additional drive for the nation to continue with necessary reforms, especially in the context of the rule of law, which is vital for its EU integration process.
What Is Next for Montenegro’s EU Membership?
The Montenegro EU membership hinges mainly on the country’s ability to implement the necessary reforms to align with EU standards. Currently, its political instability is causing a delay in its transition.
For its part, the EU remains committed to Montenegro’s accession process. However, the accession process is also influenced by broader EU dynamics, including enlargement fatigue among some member states and ongoing debates about the future of the EU.
Despite these challenges, Montenegro’s government has expressed a strong commitment to achieving EU membership, with the majority of its population supporting the decision. Therefore, the country will likely continue to pursue its goal of joining the EU, regardless of the timeline.
In conclusion, while Montenegro is yet to be part of the EU, EEA, or Schengen, it has demonstrated a consistent ambition to be integrated into these European structures.
Its journey towards EU membership is a testament to its determination to be part of the larger European community.
If you want to know more about getting a residence permit in Montenegro and accessing a country that will grow even more in the coming years, please contact me.