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news 12 Oct 16

UK 'Blocking Montenegro' From Opening EU Chapters

In spite of the fact that Britain is committed to leaving the European Union, the UK is blocking Montenegro from opening two more accession chapters, BIRN has learned.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
Photo: Pixabay.

Britain is blocking Montenegro from opening two more EU accession chapters, apparently because it doubts the country is ready to make concessions on the free movement of labour, BIRN has learned from a well-informed source in Montenegro.

The two new chapters relate to freedom of movement, in Chapter 2, and the right of establishment and freedom to provide services, in Chapter 3.

A Montenegrin government source told BIRN that the Britain was the only EU member country blocking Montenegro; all other member states had reached a consensus on allowing Podgorica to open the two chapters.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the alleged blockade when asked by BIRN about London's concerns over Montenegro’s accession.

It said the British embassy in Podgorica should be asked why its government was blocking Montenegro. The UK embassy also declined to comment.

Montenegro has already opened 24 out of its 35 negotiating chapters, including the most challenging ones, on the rule of law, judicial reforms and the fight against organized crime and corruption.

In April 2015, Montenegro said it was ready to open negotiation in Chapter 3, after the European Commission approved a negotiating position for this area a year earlier.

"Freedom of movement" means that all citizens of EU countries can move to, or reside, study or work in any other EU member country.

The EU believes this is a fundamental principle, which also encourages economic development and breaks down barriers.

However, Britain is deeply opposed to the principle, claiming an unprecedented influx of EU workers has undermined wage levels and pushed UK-born workers out of jobs.

Opposition to unrestricted EU immigration was a key issue in the June 23 referendum in the UK, which saw the country vote to leave the European club.

Since then, the new British government under Theresa May has clarified that it will not trade free movement of labour for continued free access to EU markets when it opens formal negotiations on leaving the EU in spring 2017.

However, several professional bodies have warned the British government of a crisis if it limits the freedom of movement and if access to skilled workers cannot be secured.

Montenegro's first activities in the field of harmonizing local and EU legislation on the provision of services started in 2012, and for months the government has been awaiting a signal from Brussels to open this chapter.

However, since Britain voted to quit the EU in a referendum on June 23,  the future of the European project has distracted and preoccupied EU leaders, to the disadvantage of prospective members.

The UK insists it has no objection to Montenegro’s accession per se. According to the UK embassy website in Podgorica: “We support Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic ambitions and its efforts on political and institutional reform to reach the standards required for membership of the EU and NATO”.

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