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Uljarević: Abazović’s Government is gambling with the highest state interest; Ćalović Marković: We did not fight for this for 30 years

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Dritan Abazović’s government is openly legitimizing itself as an obstacle to accession negotiations with the European Union and is gambling with the highest state interest – membership in the EU, Daliborka Uljarević, director of the Center for Civic Education, assessed for Radio Free Europe.

He sees the fact that on December 15, the Government ignored the negative opinion of the European Commission when approving the Proposal for the Law on Confiscation of Assets Acquired by Crime, as a continuation of the policy “that turns its back on the European Union”.

Previously, the ruling majority, contrary to the opinion of the Venice Commission, adopted the amended Law on the President on December 12.

The government has not yet decided according to Brussels’ explicit request to abolish economic citizenship and harmonize visa liberalization with EU standards.

“The price we can pay for all this is high, because the EU could pull the brakes, which would be bad for us. Some potential isolationist policy measures are already visible,” says Uljarević.

In April of this year, Dritan Abazović’s government received support in the parliament precisely on the promises of unblocking and speeding up the European integration process of Montenegro.

The government adopted the controversial law for Brussels

One of the first promises of the ruling majority, formed after the elections in August 2020, was that the key priority of work would be the fight against the illegal enrichment of public officials.

One of the key steps on that path is the adoption of the so-called “anti-mafia law” on confiscation of property acquired through crime. Although it was established without a public discussion, the Government referred it to the Assembly for adoption, judging that it was a “historic solution”.

During the Government session on December 15, the Minister of Justice Marko Kovač said that “the opinion of the EC showed that the law is fully complementary with the legal acquis of the EU”.

Three days later, the non-governmental organization MANS published the opinion of the EC, which is signed by the head of the unit for Montenegro and Serbia, Michael Miller, and from which it is obvious that this law received a negative opinion in Brussels.

“The Brussels administration is concerned about the solution proposed by the Government, because an expert assessment has shown that there are risks and challenges in its implementation if it were to be adopted in its current form”.

The reaction of the Ministry was that the letter does not represent the opinion of the European Commission, but a cover letter related to the application of the law.

Uljarević says that she is not surprised by the reaction of the relevant Ministry.

“It is not surprising that ministers such as Marko Kovač, state gross falsehoods when it comes to the opinion on the Bill on confiscation of property, so the EU itself denies them in this”.

She believes that politicians are going into direct confrontation with the EU, “because it is clear to everyone that the European opportunity for Montenegro has been irretrievably lost”.

Ćalović Marković: We did not fight for this for 30 years

Since the Government has not announced the withdrawal of the disputed text of the Law, it will be presented to the deputies at the end of December.

The director of the non-governmental organization MANS Vanja Ćalović Marković hopes that the Law in this form will not be adopted in the Assembly because, as she claims, it would create chaos and enable those who acquired property through crime to “get away with it”.

“This is not what we fought for for almost 30 years,” said Ćalović Marković.

As he told Radio Free Europe, the law would enable the legalization of assets acquired over the years through criminal activities, especially those hidden abroad and which would remain beyond the reach of state authorities.

Ćalović Markovićphoto: Luka Zeković

“The government should not have proposed such a solution,” says Ćalović Marković, indicating that they do not have the support of the public.

“This government is in a technical mandate, and it has the support of maybe five percent of the population. The key is the parliamentary majority, which promised a law that would confiscate everything illegally acquired. So that they do not agree to rotten compromises that essentially legalize everything that happened.”

The law, among other things, provides for confiscation of property only in cases where the indictment for criminal offenses under the jurisdiction of the Special State Prosecutor’s Office has been confirmed.

Previously, the Government ignored the recommendations of the Venice Commission

The parliamentary majority and the Government did not ignore the opinion of the EU not only regarding the law on confiscation of property.

The same happened with the adoption of amendments to the Law on the President, which they adopted despite the explicit recommendation of the Venice Commission that it should not be adopted because it represents a change to the Constitution. After that, the European Commission called on the parliamentary majority to withdraw the adopted Law.

This law enables the parliament to take over part of the constitutional powers of the president.

Uljarević indicates that the ruling majority ignored the opinion of the Venice Commission, which is crucial in the formation of the EU position when it comes to issues of compliance with the constitutional and legal order.

“Only someone ignorant of the issue of integration or someone who consciously hits the counter for personal interests can trivialize that opinion. In our case, it’s the latter,” Uljarević believes.

The basic contract was a detour from the European path

Uljarević recalled that the first direct turn away from the European path was when, as she said, the legally and constitutionally disputed Basic Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church was signed, despite criticism from the domestic public and warnings from international partners.

The signing of the Agreement regulating the relations between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church caused tension in society, as assessed in the latest Report on Montenegro’s progress in the process of European integration.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazović and SPC Patriarch Porfirije signed the Basic Agreement on August 3, 2022 in Podgorica.

photo: Government of Montenegro

“When he was supposed to homogenize society around issues that would speed up European integration, when that window for Montenegro was open for a short time, Abazović chose the opposite path, which he and his followers are still running on.”

Uljarević believes that the final word is the implementation of the political goals of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.

No one will explicitly say that they are against the EU

Although practice shows that they have turned their backs on the European Union, Uljarević is of the opinion that none of the politicians will explicitly say so.

“That would be the opposite of the majority opinion of our citizens. And no one would go against it openly. Because the citizens want that road. The realization of the dream of the European idea has become questionable, because the number of those working on it has decreased.”

Uljarević says that it is not known how much money Montenegro lost by not participating in numerous programs due to incompetent administration.

Uljarevićphoto: Luka Zeković

Over the last ten years, Montenegro has received more than half a billion euros from the EU on various grounds.

Uljarević warns that Montenegro is losing political credibility in the EU because of politicians.

“The actors of the EU see that our politicians are deceitful, that they treat the EU like citizens. They promise one thing, do another, talk about another.”

He concludes that for Abazović’s Government, everything came down to mere maintenance of power, “even at the cost of gambling with the highest state interests, such as EU membership.”

Montenegro has been a candidate for EU membership for ten years. During that period, she opened all chapters and temporarily closed three.

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