Montenegro's new government has finally taken power after ensuring the backing of an anti-Western alliance which has called for closer ties with the Kremlin. But Ursula von der Leyen said the country is still a frontrunner among the candidates for the EU membership.
After months of negotiations, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milojko Spajic, finally got his new coalition government approved at the break of dawn on Tuesday.
But the incoming government led by the 36-year-old leader of the pro-European, centrist party “Europe Now!” is an awkward coalition, as the new government was only formed with the support of an anti-Western, pro-Russian alliance.
“Europe Now!”, a young party formed in 2022 and advocating for Montenegro to join the European Union, received 26% of the vote in the legislative elections in Montenegro in June after promising the electorate higher wages and pensions and economic reforms.
Spajic was appointed Montenegro’s prime minister in August, when he secured the votes of 46 deputies out of a total of 81, with 19 voting against him, one abstaining, and the others being absent. But until now, he had been unable to find enough allies to form a new government under his leadership.
He finally got the support of “For the Future of Montenegro” alliance, whose leader Andrija Mandic had previously criticised Montenegro’s NATO membership and called for closer ties with Russia. He was also against splitting from Serbia in a referendum in 2006.
A condition for the group’s backing of Spajic’s coalition government was that Mandic would be elected as the speaker of parliament, a role that was confirmed on Monday to the dismay of the opposition.
On Monday, Spajic tried to convince parliamentarians to support his new coalition government’s programs by saying: “Our goal is to make Montenegro the Switzerland of the Balkans, the Singapore of Europe.”
But the opposition, the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, lamented that the new government would be far from what Spajic had promised.
“Montenegro now has an anti-European, anti-Montenegrin and pro-Russian government,” said the president of the party Danijel Zivkovic.
Hundreds of opposition supporters waving Montenegrin flags staged a protest in front of the parliament building in the capital against the new government on Monday.
The coalition agreement also includes the condition that the pro-Serbian groups will join the government within a year with their government ministries.
Montenegro still EU 'frontrunner'
Despite previous recommendations from EU officials saying Spajic should avoid introducing anti-NATO, anti-Western political groups in its government, EU Commission top official Ursula von der Leyen told Spajic on Tuesday that he should push ahead with Montenegro’s European Union integration process.
"Montenegro has been for a long time the most advanced Western Balkan country on the EU accession path and I am happy to see that you are determined to keep the ... position," von der Leyen said after talks with President Jakov Milatovic.
“My first message is that I welcome that you now should be fully focused on the task of the accession objective,” she added. “Together we should go now the last mile, bring it over the finish line.”
Von der Leyen met Spajic and other Montenegrin officials while on a tour of Western Balkan nations aspiring to join the 27-nation union. Von der Leyen visited North Macedonia and Kosovo before Montenegro and is slated to travel to Serbia later on Tuesday.