The European Union's External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten, on a visit to Belgrade yesterday, announced plans for the EU to increase its financial assistance to Serbia and Montenegro next year by about 30 percent. The increase is for development and implementing last March's agreement on establishing a new loose federation between Serbia and Montenegro.
Prague, 4 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The visit to Belgrade yesterday of the European Union's External Affairs Commissioner, Christ Patten, came nearly four months after EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana succeeded in persuading the leaders of Yugoslavia's two constituent republics, Serbia and Montenegro, to sign an agreement on setting up a new union of Serbia and Montenegro.
The deal effectively ended the hopes of some Montenegrin politicians of leading their small republic to independence.
Patten remarked on the lack of progress since the 14 March signing. He called on officials in both republics to redouble their efforts to establish the new union. And he sought to offer a softer approach than Solana in persuading the Serbs and Montenegrins to sign. "We don't seek to impose any solutions. That is not our job."
Rather, Patten says, the EU is "giving democratic governments the opportunity to make democratic choices, but we do want to assist and provide some sensible advice as friends and serious longtime partners."
As Patten put it to his Belgrade audience, "Your destiny is in your hands." "We have a profound wish to help you choose a path which brings you closer to the member states of the European Union," he added.
The 14 March agreement calls for the free flow of people, goods, services and capital between Montenegro and Serbia. Policymaking concerning market and customs affairs are to remain in the hands of the republics. Although there will be a common market, no provision has been made for a common currency.
Patten says development of a harmonized market in goods and services between Serbia and Montenegro is a prerequisite for Yugoslavia to fulfill a stabilization and association agreement with the EU.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic notes that the Serb and Montenegrin finance ministers met several days ago to discuss harmonizing their republics' economic relations. Svilanovic foresees ratification of the constitutional charter by the end of this year.
"I hope that in the next month or two, work on the constitutional charter will be concluded, and that when Commissioner Patten returns here in the autumn we can discuss further concrete details and begin the talks on the treaty on association and stabilization."
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said after his talks last night with Patten that the prospect of eventually joining the EU is "the motor which drives the process of redefining relations between Serbia and Montenegro." He added, "What is understood by the harmonization of our mutual relations, the goal both for Serbia and Montenegro, is that our citizens will find themselves in the European Union, and in our mutual relations we will do everything we can to achieve that goal."
Meanwhile, Montenegro's President Milos Djukanovic, in an interview on Montenegrin TV last night, described himself as the "last line of defense of Montenegrin state and national interests." He said that "certain circles in Brussels and Belgrade" are trying to make changes to the 14 March Belgrade agreement to Montenegro's disadvantage.
Djukanovic remains vague in his accusations, having signed the 14 March agreement under pressure from Solana. That deal resulted in the collapse of the Montenegrin government and strengthened the pro-Belgrade anti-Djukanovic bloc, which yesterday formed coalition governments in five Montenegrin municipalities and would also like to form a new Montenegrin republican government.