EU accession negotiations with Montenegro have been unblocked during the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU after the EU working group on enlargement on Tuesday endorsed the proposal to open the last remaining negotiation chapter with the country.
The negotiation process had been dormant since December 2018 by which time 31 out of 32 chapters, or policy areas, had been opened.
The decision to open Chapter 8, which concerns competition, is expected to be formally confirmed by the permanent representatives of the EU member states in Brussels on Wednesday, while an inter-governmental conference might take place early next week.
Commenting on the news from Brussels, Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said that this was a great day for Montenegro and that his country had thus confirmed that it was closest to becoming the next member of the bloc.
"The opening of Chapter 8 actually marks the completion of the first phase of the EU integration process and puts wind in our sails to meet our obligations in the next, most challenging phase of closing the chapter with new enthusiasm," Markovic said.
He added that he was particularly glad that the green light was given during the Croatian presidency of the Council of the EU, "which is the result of unselfish efforts by our neighbour Croatia to keep the enlargement policy high on the Union's agenda."
Milanovic welcomes unblocking of negotiations during the Croatian presidency
Speaking in an interview with the Montenegrin state television, RTCG, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said that this was good news and that it was good that it happened during the Croatian presidency, recalling that during his country's EU presidency accession negotiations had also been opened with Albania and North Macedonia.
Milanovic said that there was no reason for Croatia not to be pleased with its presidency, considering the situation caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Milanovic said that the status of the Croatian minority in Montenegro was good and that he believed that they supported the concept of a civic state.
"Montenegro is a civic state and I think the Croats recognise this well. They are not many, but they wish this country well and I think they work and behave accordingly," the Croatian president said.
Noting the good relationship between the two countries, Milanovic said that the border issue would be put on the agenda soon "but without pressure and in a civilised way."