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

Montenegrin Rivals Both Claim EU Victory

Brussels’ policy shift surprisingly keeps both pro- and anti-independence advocates happy.
By Marijana Buljan

Supporters of Montenegrin independence and advocates of union with Serbia are both claiming that the new European Union policy towards the republics’ state union boosts their respective causes.

In a policy shift agreed on September 4, Brussels will no longer insist on the economic harmonisation of Serbia and Montenegro, but will instead seek to integrate their economies separately in a twin-track approach, as part of the state union’s EU accession process.

Advocates of union with Serbia see the move - agreed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Maastricht - as an attempt by Brussels to overcome economic and technical problems that have bedeviled the state union and at the same time strengthen it through the formation of a directly elected federal government.

Supporters of Montenegrin independence, on the other hand, say Brussels is taking their side by recognising that it’s impossible to unite the two republics.

Independent observers, however, suspect that the EU is simply trying to buy time until the sensitive issue of the final status of Kosovo, currently part of the state union, is resolved.

The union of Serbia and Montenegro, a loose community of almost independent states created two years ago under strong pressure of the EU, and in particular its representative for foreign and security policy Javier Solana, is seen as an unsatisfactory compromise in Belgrade and Podgorica, with critics mischievously dubbing the entity “Solania”.

Montenegro is deeply divided over the state union.

The ruling coalition of the Democratic Party of Socialists, led by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and the Social Democratic Party, in power since January 2003, is pressing for Montenegrin independence and wants a referendum on the issue very soon.

The opposition, meanwhile, is dominated by parties that insist on the preservation of the state union: the Socialist People’s Party, the Serbian People’s Party and the People’s Party, which together hold forty per cent of the seats in the republic’s parliament.

According to research by the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, a small majority of Montenegrin citizens favour separation from Serbia.

In Serbia, most political parties back some sort of union with Montenegro. The nationalists distrust the EU formula while democrats have argued that it needs reforming, and have expressed support for the latest policy shift.

“For the past two years, [Serbia and Montenegro] has [had] two currencies and no free flow of goods, people and capital. And it has now become clear that there is little prospect of creating a state union in such a way,” said Miroljub Labus, the leader of G 17 Plus and deputy president of the Serbian government (see Labus comment in this issue).

That neither Belgrade nor Podgorica were happy with the state union agreement was evident from the outset. It took a year to pass the constitutional charter and there has been little progress in harmonising the economies of the two republics, despite stern warnings from Brussels.

The EU’s new twin-track approach has been surprisingly welcomed by both Montenegrin unionists and separatists, who’ve chosen to interpret it in widely differing ways.

The former argue their rivals are now no longer able to claim that the state union is unable to function and will be pressured by Brussels to support its strengthening through the creation of a directly elected federal parliament, as envisaged by the Belgrade Agreement.

Unionists believe they will win a majority in such elections - and thus consolidate the union - because independence supporters are likely to boycott the vote.

For independence supporters, the EU’s separation of the economies of Serbia and Montenegro is the beginning of a process that will eventually lead to political division.

“The apparent acceptance of this reality by the EU confirms my view that a transformation of the state union into a union of independent states is the best model for relations between us,” said Filip Vujanovic, president of Montengro (see Vujanovic comment in this issue).

Independent observers say it suits Brussels to have pro- and anti-union factions in Montenegro interpreting its new policy to suit their own aims, as the EU wants to keep both quiet until the final status of Kosovo is resolved. " The EU wishes to buy time until it finds a solution for Kosovo…by avoiding political instability,” said Svetozar Jovicevic, from the NGO Group for Change.

Such a view is supported by the publication in the Montenegrin press of a letter apparently from Chris Patten, the EU external affairs spokesman, to his colleagues, in which he justifies the change in strategy with the need to preserve the union of Serbia and Montenegro until March 2006 so as not to "disturb the time schedule of the international community set for resolution of the final status for Kosovo"(letter republished in this issue).

Marijana Buljan is IWPR project manager in Podgorica.