Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic has said he expects to open two new negotiating chapters on justice and the judiciary early this year to further Montenegro's bid to join the European Union.
Markovic made his remarks at a joint press conference on February 27 with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who was visiting Podgorica. Juncker said Montenegro had already demonstrated a devotion to common European values that is worthy of admiration.
The EU recently drafted a new expansion strategy that envisages Montenegro and Serbia joining the bloc by 2025.
"The key thing is that we are absolutely devoted to values of the union," Markovic said. "We don’t have a doubt about that, as much as we don’t have a doubt that there is no alternative for a European future," he said.
Juncker also met with Montenegrin parliament speaker Ivan Brajovic and gave an address to parliament on February 27.
Later in Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States was "proud" to call Montenegro an ally as Montenegrin Defense Minister Oredreg Boskovic visited the Pentagon.
Mattis said he welcomed the small Balkan state, which became NATO's newest member in June, as a country that shares a "community of values" with the rest of the military alliance, including having a political system "based on democracy."
"The United States is proud to call you our ally, as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder alongside our fellow NATO members against common security threats, like those posed by Russia, as it seeks to redraw international borders by force and seeks veto authority over European diplomatic, economic, and security decisions," Mattis said.
"In the face of such threats, the United States will continue to engage Russia to honor both the letter and spirit of its international commitments," he said.
Mattis thanked Boskovic for making plans to reach NATO's defense-spending goal of 2 percent of economic output by 2024 to ensure "our militaries remain fit" and the defense burden is evenly shared.
He said Boskovic also informed the Pentagon of Montenegro's plans to increase troop contributions to NATO's mission in Afghanistan, where he said it had already sent 25 percent of its land forces in 16 different rotations.
"There are no mightier mountaineers, no braver soldiers than your country's troops," Mattis said, quoting the English poet Lord Tennyson.
Boskovic said "the United States always understood small nations much better than others."
He said Montenegro's region was a "very important region for Europe because an unstable Balkans is an unstable Europe."