Sustainable development and coherent, fair and transparent reform of human-resources management will need to be central concerns for Montenegro's mayors well beyond the country's possible accession to the European Union, local and regional leaders from the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) told their Montenegrin counterparts on 18 October. Demands made by the EU are not just pre-conditions, they said, but reflect a basic reality that local and regional authorities within the EU need constantly to adjust policies and procedures to serve local needs.
The meeting of the CoR's Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) with Montenegro, hosted by Veselin Grbović, mayor of Nikšić, was held within the context of renewed momentum in Montenegro's EU accession negotiations. The country is generally seen as a frontrunner among the candidate countries, but the head of the EU's delegation to Montenegro, Aivo Orav, emphasised that, despite the boost to the morale of Montenegrin politicians given by the country's accession to NATO military alliance in mid-2017, they can make no assumptions that their bid for membership of the EU will succeed "by default", without additional and sustained efforts.
The CoR's rapporteur on enlargement, Franco Iacop (IT/EPP) from the Regional Council of the Friuli Venezia Giulia, noted in particular concerns about physical and political attacks on journalists and other media professionals, while Uno Silberg (EE/EA) of Kose Municipal Council underlined that, to secure support for EU accession, Montenegrin politicians must help citizens understand at every stage of reforms how EU legislation will change their daily lives.
Local politicians from Montenegro have been meeting CoR members regularly since 2012, with each meeting focused on areas where Montenegrins believe the experience of EU counterparts could help them. The meeting in Nikšić, Montenegro's second-largest city with a population of over 56,000 people, focused on how to strengthen human resources in local administrations and on policies to protect and promote cultural and natural heritage.
Jelena Drenjanin (SI/EPP), the co-chair of the JCC Montenegro and member of Huddinge Municipal Council, noted that her own country – Sweden – struggles to retain civil servants and that Montenegro will need to develop its own approach as no single model of human-resources management fits all countries. Montenegrin speakers – including Svetlana Vuković, director of Montenegro's Human Resources Management Authority, and Lazar Mijanović from the Municipality of Nikšić – said that reforms in the training of civil servants are under way and are comprehensive in nature, but noted the difficulty for local administrations to retain civil servants, who are often offered better-paid jobs in the private sector, particularly in the IT sector. Gordana Marčetić of the University of Zagreb shared Croatia's experience of accession to the EU and its implications on human-resources management in public administration, especially on the system of evaluating and promoting civil servants. She warned that, although general principles of good human-resources management are universal, there is no "one-size-fits-all" model, and national specificities should be taken into account. She called for Montenegro to look to making a fundamental change to its systems, warning of the danger of superficial changes undertaken simply to fulfil the EU's formal requirements.
The debate on Montenegro's natural and cultural heritage showed that the EU and Montenegrin politicians agree that a sustainable, long-term approach to tourism – the main contributor to Montenegro's economy – will help increase national income, create new jobs, and protect and strengthen local identity. Tanya Hristova (BG/EPP), mayor of Gabrovo, said that Bulgaria is finding that cooperation between the different levels of government and that highlighting the linkages between local, national and European identities is critical to protecting and raising awareness of the country's cultural heritage.
In a discussion led by Aleksandar Kašćelan, the co-chair of the JCC Montenegro and mayor of Old Royal Capital of Cetinje, the CoR's rapporteur on biodiversity, Rob Biwer (LU/PES) of Bettembourg Municipal Council, said that the EU's local and regional leaders believe that local and regional authorities should have greater direct responsibilities and money for the protection, planning, sustainable use, management, restoration and monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystems – a position that, if accepted, would affect Montenegro as a would-be member of the EU.
Other speakers included Petar Smolović, mayor of Bijelo Polje, who presented an ambitious project to protect and increase the touristic value of the Đalovi'a cave in his municipality. Aleksandar Dajković, Director-General of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage of Montenegro, presented Montenegro's policy to protect its cultural heritage. Vesna Marjanović, a member of the National Assembly of Serbia and of EuropaNostra Serbia/European Heritage Alliance, presented the examples of how cooperation with the EU is helping to protect and promote Serbia's cultural heritage, particularly its architecture.
The Joint Consultative Committee between the CoR and Montenegro has 16 members, eight from each side.
Other CoR members who participated in the meeting were: Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP) from Zarasai Council; Pavel Branda (CZ/ECR - observer), deputy mayor of Rádlo Municipality, and Andreja Potočnik (SI/ALDE) of Tržič Council.