Montenegro has on the face of it made good progress in adopting anti-corruption laws, but frequent political scandals suggest they are not being implemented. Jovana Marović, Executive Director of the Politikon Network, a think tank based in Podgorica, and a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), argues that – in the absence of effective law enforcement – public officials and politicians feel they can act with impunity.
Any evaluation of Montenegro’s anti-corruption efforts to date should start with the changes in the law. A whole set of new legal solutions saw the light of day under the auspices of the European Union’s conditionality policy and the country’s aspiration to get closer to this supranational community. However, more than seven years after the start of accession negotiations and with the membership perspective still uncertain, Montenegrin institutions have stopped even simulating reforms. The new legal solutions have produced no significant results, and some laws have even been changed for the worse.
The most recent example is announced amendments to the law on free access to information which introduce the so-called abuse of the right of access to information. The proposed provision allows an institution to deny an interested party’s request and refuse to make a document or information available on the grounds that the request is “unfounded or unreasonable”. The proposed changes also introduce the possibility for institutions to determine whether or not information is of public importance, and accordingly whether or not it is necessary to publish it. If these amendments pass, it will not only (again) call into question the country’s commitment to reform, but will also spoil civil society’s efforts to control the government and help combat corruption.
One of the main conditions set by the EU for aspiring members in the Western Balkans is to strengthen the rule of law, but the success of these efforts has so far been relatively limited. Drawing on a new study, Tena Prelec (Doctoral Researcher, University of Sussex) explains some of the major challenges that exist in the region and outlines why promoting the rule of law should continue to be viewed as a key priority for the EU.
Many of the most pressing rule-of-law related issues are deeply embedded in the political, economic and social structure of the countries of the Western Balkans. Tackling them is no easy matter and requires multi-faceted solutions: the coveted trophy of fostering better governance cannot be achieved within a few months’ time, nor even in a five-year period (such as the length of an EC mandate). Instead, it needs a strategy that will skirt short-term victories in favour of long-term gains, while providing clear benchmarks, fair reward and punishment, and the use of uncompromising language in calling out abuses. The Balkans in Europe Policy Group study “Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Call for a Revolution Against Particularism” sets out a wholesome strategy addressing the matter from an institutional, political and sociological perspective.
But, why should EU member states be interested in this topic? From a practical standpoint, it is understandable that European Union leaders and officials are sometimes reluctant to prioritise painstaking work that would only bear fruit in the long run, preferring to focus on maintaining stability (or the appearance thereof) and on more achievable successes. On top of the clear benefits for the Western Balkan countries, however, there are a number of pragmatic reasons – next to a host of loftier ones – why the European Commission, and indeed all the member states of the European Union (including the ‘outgoing’ UK), should be interested in ensuring that a comprehensive revolution against state capture and corruption takes place in EU accession countries.