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PACE co-rapporteurs: ‘Montenegro is at a turning point. It must continue on the right path’

“Montenegro is at a turning point. It must continue on the right path,” said Ionut-Marian Stroe (Romania, EPP/CD) and Anne Mulder (Netherlands, ALDE), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for post-monitoring dialogue with Montenegro, following their visit to Podgorica from 11 to 13 September.

“The content of the electoral reform due before the next general elections, and the way it is negotiated by political stakeholders, will be of paramount importance in re-establishing the trust of the citizens of Montenegro in the electoral process. For the Council of Europe and the international community, this process will also indicate the level of maturity of the political dialogue in Montenegro. The ruling coalition and the entire opposition have the opportunity to demonstrate that they are able to negotiate within the parliamentary framework, which is the right platform for political dialogue irrespective of serious differences between the stakeholders. Political courage is needed to negotiate and to compromise, and we are hoping that the players will not lack it. In the eyes of the international community, there will be no winners if the reform fails, only losers,” they added.

“Apart from electoral reform, the independence of the judiciary and the situation of the media also raise some concerns. Concerning the rule of law, we note that some courts of first instance have demonstrated their independence by annulling decisions taken by the Parliament on the dismissals of members of the Council of the national public broadcaster (RTCG) or the decision taken by this Council to dismiss the director of national TV. The Constitutional Court showed the same independence when it annulled arrest warrants issued against two MPs, whose immunity had not been lifted beforehand. However, recent re-appointments of Presidents of first instance courts and of the President of the Supreme Court were done in a way that is questionable. Legal procedures that are established to guarantee transparency – and, through this transparency, the independence of the judiciary – must not only be respected, they must be enforced in a way that demonstrates they directly serve their purpose, namely judicial independence.”

“Furthermore, we welcome the willingness to strengthen the legal framework of the media, and the inclusive manner in which this is being done, and we commend efforts by police forces to arrest the perpetrators and suspects of attacks on journalists. But we regret that those behind the attacks are not always found, and that investigative journalists may still be subjected to intimidation attempts or, in some rare cases, to judicial procedures and detention. We commend the extension of the mandate of the committee monitoring how the authorities handle cases of attacks on journalists. But its reports should receive appropriate feed-back from the authorities. We also share the European Union’s concerns over political interference in the work of the national public broadcaster, RTCG, and the Agency on Electronic Media.”

“The Special Public Prosecutor and the Ministry of Justice showed us that an initial track record of final convictions in corruption cases has been established, but we think that this track record needs to be confirmed and strengthened.”

“Montenegro has made indisputable progress in several areas, including the rights of LGBTI persons and minority rights, setting a good example for the whole region. We are convinced that it could also achieve the same level of progress in the fields mentioned earlier, if there is a strong political will to do so,” they concluded.