Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: EU Realising State Union Can't Survive

Brussels appears to be coming round to accepting that Serbia and Montenegro would be better off as independent states.

After more than two and a half years of witnessing the functioning, or rather the malfunctioning of our expensive and inefficient state union - and after hearing our persistent assertions that we will only damage ourselves if we harmonise our customs duties and foreign-trade regime - Europe has accepted reality.

To be precise, Brussels has finally accepted that the differences between the economies of Serbia and Montenegro are the objective result of our diverse economic structures and resources and the different pace of our reforms.

Given these differences, it is clear it would damage both parties if the two economies were artificially and forcibly harmonised.

The new twin-track approach is an opportunity to step up the process by which each republic may individually negotiate an Agreement on Stabilisation and Association with Brussels.

Each republic will assume individual responsibility for the quality and the results of its negotiations, though the process remains formally conducted through the state union.

We all want to move further down the road towards our common future, which is integration into the EU.

But in the process, it would benefit both Serbia and Montenegro most to preserve good relations through a union of truly independent states.

The apparent acceptance of this reality by the EU foreign ministers confirms my view that a transformation of the state union into a union of independent states is the best model for relations between us.

The previous models of bilateral relations between Montenegro and Serbia - first as independent states, then as parts of the Yugoslav monarchy, then as parts of a federal state, and now as a union of two states - suggests relations were most honest and closest when they were both independent.

The Czech and Slovak model is an excellent example of a friendly, but at the same time rational agreement, resulting in the establishment of two independent and prosperous countries from what was a single state. Both are now members of the EU. The dissolution of the former Soviet Union is another useful model.

After the dissolution of the Serbian-Montenegrin joint state, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, which in the Milosevic era had many built-in risks of abuse, the Belgrade Agreement represented an attempt to establish new relations through the model of a two-member state union.

It was a model that had never existed before, in theory or in practice.

The Belgrade Agreement allowed its members full sovereignty in the economic and judicial spheres as well as in internal security.

The agreement gave the state union powers only over external security and diplomacy, introducing a unique model of parity and rotating representation in the international community.

But although the Belgrade Agreement and the new relations between the two states eliminated many of the weaknesses of the former joint state, such as hegemony by the bigger entity and blackmail by the smaller one, other problems remain, such as institutional dysfunctionality, inefficiency and high costs.

Montenegro sees itself as a hostage of the state union, even though the insistence on harmonisation at any cost, whatever its economic rationale, has been dispensed with.

Many other contentious issues remain, including Serbia's attitude towards the Hague war crimes tribunal and its criminal charges against some NATO states.

This is why the preservation of the state union at any cost threatens only to waste more time, energy and money, as well as resulting in lower living standards, creating new problems for the international community.

We in Montenegro want only to be the masters of our own destiny, and, with full responsibility for ourselves, to contribute in the best possible manner to the stability of the region and to a united Europe.

To preserve good relations with Serbia is a matter of common sense and mutual interest. But these relations must be based on clear accounts. A closeness between the two could easily be preserved, while securing mutual interests through open borders, the free movement of people, goods, services and capital, and through equal, reciprocal and guaranteed rights for all citizens.

Montenegro's leadership and its citizens favour preserving stability and good neighbourly relations in the Balkans with the ultimate objective of economic development.

This is why we have welcomed the decision from Maastricht as an opportunity to unblock and step up the Stabilisation and Association process, and to emerge from the trap in which both Montenegro and Serbia found themselves, given their shared responsibilities, which, in effect, prevented them from assuming full responsibility for reform and development.

In short, the EU has recognised reality. It is up to us now - the Montenegrin and Serbian leaderships - to engage in talks, calculate the cost of the state union and determine the negative effects of its dysfunction.

It would be irresponsible to insist on the preservation of a union which does not render any of the expected benefits to the member states, but only incurs inappropriate expenses.

The model of two independent but allied states is the best model for the future.

It is obvious, however, that the dissolution of the union may come to pass only through the agreement of the member states, verified in a referendum. The citizens must make the final decision.

If Serbia insists on the preservation of the union, a citizens' referendum will have to take the final decision.

But in that case, time may be wasted while everyone has to put up with all the negative consequences stemming from the existing state union.

Nonetheless, I believe pragmatic views and objectives now prevail in the Serbian state and in its political school of thought.

As for the international community, in keeping with democratic tradition, it is bound to accept any agreement reached between Montenegro and Serbia, as no better and more democratic way exists to resolve problems than through mutual consent and agreement.

Filip Vujanovic is the president of Montenegro.