The citizens of Montenegro within the process of EU accession

17 Mar 2014

imagePhoto: Dusko Miljanic/Government of Montengro

High level of citizen support to the European integration of Montenegro does not necessarily mean a high level of understanding of the process itself. It is very important that citizens have timely and quality information about the EU, to understand the EU's system of values and standards and to know that the change has not been imposed by Brussels but is an internal need for reforms that lead to an improved quality of life, it was said at a roundtable discussion organized on the draft 2014-2018 Strategy for informing the public about the EU and Montenegro's preparations for membership.

Citizens should be adequately informed of what awaits them in the EU and concrete benefits from the accession process and membership, as well as about their related rights and obligations. Communication in connection with the accession process should be targeted, and messages will depend on whether it is about, for example, young people or pensioners, farmers or women in rural areas, because each of the target public requires a specific approach due to different types of benefits they will gain from the accession process.

The roundtable on the draft 2014-2018 Strategy for informing the public about the EU was organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration in cooperation with the Center for Civic Education, the European Movement in Montenegro and the Center for Democratic Transition, supported by the United Nations Development Programme  (UNDP) Montenegro and Capacity Development Programme (CDP). The event was preceded by a ten-day public hearing that enabled citizens to provide their comments and suggestions.

Before making the strategy, in order to evaluate opinions, levels of information and knowledge of citizens about the European integration, as well as the usual channels of communication that citizens can use to get information, the UNDP through its Capacity Development Programme, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, conducted a public opinion research. It included 1,000 respondents, eight focus groups and 10 in-depth interviews.

One of the interesting data in the survey is that the current support for accession to the European Union (57 %), although tending to decline, is still the highest in the region. For example, support to the EU accession in 2007 in Croatia- when this country was in the phase of accession process similar to the one Montenegro is in now- was only just over 50 %. According to some of recent measurements of support to the EU in Serbia - it is around 50 %.

The research also pointed out that 74.8 % of voters on a potential referendum on Montenegro's accession would vote positively. It should also be noted that, according to the survey, a convincing majority of citizens (59.3 %) believe that Montenegro will certainly become part of the European Union regardless of their personal opinions about it. This means, among other things, that the European path is perceived by some citizens as an expected and certain future of their country.

When it comes to rating the quality and quantity of information, 52.2 % of respondents are not satisfied, although 21 % of them believe that the public is being provided with all most relevant information. Only 11.7 % of respondents believe that public information is good and comprehensive. These and other data suggest that further efforts should be employed to improve citizen participation in the actual process of Montenegro's accession to the European Union .

State Secretary – Chief Negotiator for Montenegro’s Accession to EU Mr. Aleksandar Andrija Pejović said that communications in the coming period would be focused on a better understanding of the obligations and responsibilities, as well as on the benefits from membership through the three pillars of Montenegro's European Integration: accession negotiations flow, implementation of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and EU support programs. Recalling that 35 chapters are being negotiated between Montenegro and the EU, Mr. Pejović said that in the coming period the communication would be focused on customizing our legal system to the acquis communautaire and the results that will emerge from this process. “This aims to a transformation of society and should provoke certain reforms that will affect the political, economic and social climate in Montenegro. The whole society is accessing the EU, and therefore it is important to inform citizens about the EU in a timely and appropriate manner and about its system of values, rules and policies, including changes on the way to full membership,“ said Mr. Pejović.

Head of the EU Delegation to Montenegro Mr. Mitja Drobnič said that the EU accession process was not a classic diplomatic exercise but aimed to transform society and bring reforms the implementation of which requires support and understanding of citizens. “Citizens need to be involved in the process, and this can be achieved not only through better informing but through their larger participation in debates. The Montenegrin government has a key role and responsibility in the EU accession of Montenegro. The aim of the Government's communication strategy is to contribute to a better understanding of the EU, and for that purpose we allocated 550,000 euros on annual level. In addition, on March 25 we will open the EU Info Centre in Podgorica that will be available to all interested citizens. We want to explain to citizens, in a simple way and not using EU jargon, how reforms can improve their lives,“ Mr. Drobnič announced.

Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Montenegro Mr. Ian Whitting rated the draft 2014-2018 Strategy for informing the public about the EU and Montenegro's preparations for membership as very successful. “We are delighted with the project. Communication is not something that is at the centre of the EU accession, it represents the essence of everything we do. We hope that the Government will evaluate the project in the same manner,“ Ambassador Whitting said.

Mr. Rastislav Vrbensky, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Montenegro emphasized that the integration process of Montenegro concerns all citizens and that the relevant information has to reach all addresses. “ I am very pleased that the results, data and recommendations from the research served as a basis for the development of the Strategy. I wish to emphasize that its implementation, so important for the entire Montenegrin society, requires a full, permanent and active involvement of all stakeholders in the integration process. Although the Government is a leader in this process - we all have an obligation to contribute to the achievement of the Strategy. Bearing in mind that the process of integration of Montenegro into the EU concerns all citizens of Montenegro, in order for all the relevant information to reach out to all addresses in the country and to involve all citizens in the decision-making processes, it becomes of paramount importance to develop innovative approaches to communication mechanisms, as well as to carefully consider the needs of specific target groups along with targeted messages,“ said Mr. Vrbensky.

Preparations for the strategy implied consideration of comparative practices, analyses of local and international NGOs and public opinion researches.

Members of the working group that drafted the Strategy presented the document, its objectives and the way it has been made. Ms. Gordana Jovanovic, Advisor to Deputy Prime Minister for communications support to integration processes and Coordinator of the Department of Public Relations and communications support to integration processes in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, said that the working group members were maximally committed to that job, after months of preparations. “Our intention has been to improve communication at all levels and to design communication activities which should contribute to the achievement of the general objective. We wanted to give everyone a strategic framework so as to get an as good as possible work done and deliver a message to citizens,“ said Ms. Jovanović.