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> Hard work could see tiny nation realise EU dream

Published date: 26.05.2006 17:24 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

Ispis Print

MONTENEGRO has done the right thing for itself in ditching Serbia.

But while jubilation greeted Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's declaration earlier this week, "We've got our state!", there's still a lot of work to do to make Montenegro into a real country. Yet if that is done, the tiny state should not, in theory, be too far from its dream of joining the EU and NATO.

As more than half of Montenegrins recognised, they had nothing to gain from staying hitched to Serbia as part of the glowering rump of Yugoslavia. With 10 times the population, none of the scenery or coastline, and the lion's share of diplomatic troubles, Serbia was dragging Montenegro back.

Although the EU began preliminary membership talks last year with Serbia and Montenegro, it suspended them when Serb authorities failed to hand over Ratko Mladic, the war crimes fugitive, who has been indicted for genocide.

The EU will have to soften its position of "no new states in the Balkans" because Montenegro has taken the decision for it.

The EU might even, despite "enlargement fatigue", be prepared to consider Montenegrin membership; after all, one of Montenegro's assets, in that context, is that it has only 650,000 people.

The other extraordinary asset is its stunning scenery and coastline; it takes nothing to imagine where the tourism and property boom will go.

Before the vote, Montenegro made a handful of high-spirited, showy preparations for being a country.

It inaugurated an airport terminal a week ago and it opened a bridge in Podgorica, the capital, that spans the Moraca river. It even unveiled a statue in a park of Montenegro's last king.

In more substantial ways, it was separate from Serbia. It had its own laws and currency and the joint parliament it shared with Serbia often stood empty. In the three years of their union, they acted separately. But all the same, Montenegro has some way to go. The division of assets with Serbia could be messy. It demands that Serbia, now landlocked, decides whether to scrap its navy.

Montenegro will have to apply on its own for membership in all international bodies, including making its own applications to join the EU and NATO. It was an important first step that the EU said this week it would acknowledge the results of the weekend vote.

The next steps should not be overwhelming, unless anything worrying emerges to cloud the picture. International investors point to the hovering threat of "shady money" moving in, with inadequate controls to stop money laundering or other scams. It is also possible that Montenegro's exit will stir up even more tension over the future of Kosovo, desperate for its own independence from Serbia but unable to say how it will protect its Serb minority.

Better to deal with these problems one by one, however. That is the virtue of Montenegro's vote: not that it brings certainty, but that it breaks the problem into pieces small enough to resolve.

The Times