EU ministers agree launch of Montenegro accession talks
(LUXEMBOURG) - European Union ministers agreed Tuesday to launch accession talks with Montenegro, while warning the Balkan country it will have to step up its fight against corruption and ensure judicial independence.
The decision was adopted during a meeting in Luxembourg and must be endorsed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
The EU executive said European affairs ministers had approved its proposal to open the talks. "Appreciate the Europe Ministers' recommendation to open accession negotiations with Montenegro," Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said on Twitter.
The ministers in a statement noted that Montenegro must put special emphasis on the rule of law and fundamental rights as it "attacks the problems identified by the (European) Commission in its last report".
It named in particular "the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and organised crime".
In Podgorica, Montenegro's President Filip Vujanovic hailed the EU ministers' decision as a boost for the whole Balkan region in its quest to join the European Union.
"The significance of this decision is that the EU indicated that the accession negotiations for the western Balkan countries are being continued," Vujanovic said.
Foreign Minister Milan Rocen said the decision was "a stimulus for Montenegro to continue reforms".
"The new approach in the negotiation process is an additional motive for Montenegro to work even better and break some of the stereotypes inflicted on our country," he added.
"We have taken over the European relay from Croatia," which is set to become the EU's newest member next year.
Montenegro obtained official status as an EU candidate nation in December 2010 and now joins Turkey and Iceland, which are also in current negotiations toward ultimate EU accession, a process that generally takes years.
Earlier Montenegro's speaker of parliament Ranko Krivokapic warned his countrymen that the negotiations would be "strewn with difficult tests" and would take "several years, maybe even a decade".
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