Is Montenegro in the EU? Do Montenegrins want to be part of the European Union Community? Why does Montenegro use the Euro? Here’s everything you need to know!

Montenegro is a small yet geopolitically significant nation in the Balkans, and a destination that often captures the attention of travellers for its confusing relationship with the European Union (EU).

While many visitors might assume that its liberal visa policy, active engagement in political reforms and its adoption of the Euro as its currency signifies EU membership, the reality is more complex. Montenegro is, in fact, a candidate country, a status that places it in a distinct category of nations that are neither fully inside nor completely outside the EU framework.

For travellers, understanding Montenegro’s status within Europe can help you immensely. If your Schengen Visa is running out, for example, Montenegro is the perfect place to escape the Schengen Zone while remaining on the continent.

This article delves into Montenegro’s nuanced relationship with the EU, examining the progress it has made in the accession process and the hurdles that still lie ahead. From strategic considerations that shape both Montenegro’s and the EU’s foreign policies to public sentiment within the nation about potential membership, this discussion aims to shed light on a relationship that is pivotal for the future of both parties.

So keep reading, as we navigate the intricate interplay between Montenegro’s national aspirations and the EU’s expanding influence in the Balkans.

Table of Contents

Is Montenegro in the EU?

When I first crossed the border from Croatia to Montenegro – travelling south from Dubrovnik to Kotor – I was perplexed. I had no need for a visa to enter Montenegro, despite it being outside the Schengen Zone, and I was surprised to discover that the Euro was the primary currency in circulation.

‘Is Montenegro in the EU?’, I asked. No. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, despite adopting the Euro before Croatia, which at that time was a full EU member and using the Croatian Kuna. Confused? So was I! Montenegro had all the trappings and desires of EU membership, but it had yet to join.

Fast forward, and in 2023, Montenegro is still not a member of the European Union (EU). However, it holds the status of a candidate country, an intermediary position that marks it as actively engaged in the process of accession. This Balkan nation of around 620,000 inhabitants has been in official negotiations with the EU since June 2012. The negotiation process is organised into 35 chapters, each addressing various sectors like governance, judiciary, human rights, and economic policies. But while Montenegro has opened discussions on most of these chapters, it has only provisionally closed a few.

The path towards EU membership is fraught with both opportunities and challenges for Montenegro. On one hand, the EU offers the promise of economic growth, greater access to markets and enhanced political stability. On the other hand, Montenegro has been urged to enact substantial reforms in areas such as the rule of law and corruption, issues regularly cited in the European Commission’s periodic reports.

The EU’s interest in Montenegro isn’t unilateral; it’s part of a broader strategy to stabilise the Western Balkans and extend the EU’s sphere of influence. For Montenegro, EU membership is often seen as a stamp of geopolitical legitimacy and an avenue for economic advancement. Though Montenegro has made significant progress, the journey toward becoming an EU member is still ongoing, and the timeline for potential accession remains uncertain.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
I travelled from Dubrovnik to Kotor, a destination which is seriously spectacular!

Read more: Is Montenegro a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Where is Montenegro in relation to the EU?

Montenegro is located in the Balkan Peninsula of Southeastern Europe, quite literally on the edge of the current boundaries of the European Union. Bordered by Croatia (an EU member) to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast, it boasts a strategic geographical location. Additionally, the Adriatic Sea lies to its southwest, providing Montenegro with approximately 300 kilometres of coastline. The nation’s position at the intersection of Eastern and Western influences has endowed it with a rich cultural heritage, which is reflected in its architecture, cuisine and traditions.

The capital city is Podgorica, situated in the country’s south-central region, which serves as both the economic and administrative hub. Another significant town is Cetinje, considered the ‘Old Royal Capital’, and is the official residence of the President of Montenegro. The country is renowned for its diverse landscapes, which range from the rugged mountainous terrain of the Dinaric Alps in the north to the scenic beaches along the Adriatic coast in the south.

Geographically small but notably varied, Montenegro covers an area of just 13,812 square kilometres. Its relatively diminutive size belies its importance in regional geopolitics and its aspiration for broader European integration. This interplay between geography and ambition makes Montenegro an interesting study in the dynamics of Southeastern Europe.

UN Map of Montenegro.

Read more: Durmitor: The Mighty Mountains of Montenegro

A history of Montenegro and the EU

The relationship between Montenegro and the European Union (EU) has evolved considerably over the years, shaped by significant historical events and a shared vision for stability and cooperation in the Balkans.

Here’s a chronological overview of key milestones in Montenegro’s journey towards closer integration with the EU, to help you better understand its status:

Pre-Independence Period

Before gaining independence, Montenegro was part of larger political entities, initially within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and subsequently within the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Yugoslavia had its own complex relations with the EU but was largely isolated from it, especially during the 1990s due to conflicts and sanctions.

Independence and Initial Steps

Montenegro declared its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro on 3 June 2006, following a referendum. Almost immediately, the new nation signalled its intention to forge closer ties with the EU. Within the same month, the EU and Montenegro established diplomatic relations, setting the stage for future negotiations.

Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA)

In October 2007, Montenegro signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, marking a critical step towards closer economic and political relations. The SAA came into force in May 2010.

Candidate Status

In December 2010, Montenegro received candidate status from the European Council. This was a pivotal moment that acknowledged Montenegro’s progress in its legislative and economic reforms and set the groundwork for future accession negotiations.

Official Negotiations Begin

In June 2012, the EU formally opened accession negotiations with Montenegro. This involved addressing 35 negotiating chapters that cover a range of policy areas, including judiciary, public administration, and human rights.

Progress and Challenges

Since the negotiations began, Montenegro has managed to open 33 chapters, but only a few have been provisionally closed. While there has been notable progress in several sectors, challenges persist in areas such as the rule of law, corruption, and media freedom. These are often cited in the European Commission’s progress reports as requiring further reforms.

Public Opinion and Economic Ties

Public sentiment in Montenegro has generally been favourable towards EU membership, seeing it as a route towards economic prosperity and stability. Economic ties between the two entities have also strengthened over the years, not least because Montenegro unilaterally adopted the euro as its currency in 2002.

Current Status

Montenegro remains a candidate country engaged in the accession process. While significant progress has been made, substantial challenges lie ahead. Montenegro’s relationship with the EU has been a dynamic one, punctuated by crucial milestones that signify the nation’s earnest aspirations towards EU membership. However, the journey is ongoing, with several hurdles still to be cleared. Both Montenegro and the EU seem committed to this path, recognising its strategic importance and mutual benefits.

The flag of Montenegro.

Read more: Is Yugoslavia Still a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Why does Montenegro want to be in the EU?

The prevailing sentiment in Montenegro, both at the governmental and public levels, has generally been in favour of joining the European Union (EU). Accession to the EU is often seen as a route to achieving several key objectives, some of which are highlighted below:

Economic Benefits

Membership in the EU is commonly viewed as a pathway to economic growth and development. Access to the EU’s single market, funding programmes, and investment opportunities are among the key economic incentives that make EU membership attractive to Montenegro.

Political Stability

Joining the EU is also seen as a way to enhance political stability and governance. The EU requires candidate countries to adopt a wide range of reforms aimed at strengthening institutions, improving the rule of law, and bolstering human rights, all of which are considered beneficial for Montenegro’s long-term stability.

Geopolitical Considerations

Montenegro is in a geopolitically sensitive location, sharing borders with several countries, some of which have fraught relationships with the EU. For Montenegro, EU membership would provide a form of geopolitical alignment and security, particularly given the broader strategic importance of the Western Balkans to the EU.

Public Opinion

Various public opinion surveys over the years have generally indicated a positive view of EU membership among the Montenegrin populace. However, it’s worth noting that there are segments of society that are sceptical, fearing potential loss of national sovereignty, cultural erosion, or inadequate economic gains. Moreover, the length and complexity of the negotiation process can sometimes lead to ‘enlargement fatigue‘ among the population.

Governmental Aspiration

At the level of political leadership, EU accession has been a stated objective for successive governments. Negotiations for accession have been ongoing since 2012, and Montenegro has made significant progress in adopting EU-compatible legislation and reforms.

While challenges and reservations do exist, the prevailing attitude in Montenegro has been pro-EU. The country has been taking tangible steps towards meeting the accession criteria, indicating a clear aspiration for eventual membership.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
The mountains of Montenegro.

Read more: Is Serbia a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

Why does Montenegro use the Euro?

Montenegro’s use of the Euro as its official currency is an intriguing case, especially considering that the country is not a member of the European Union (EU) or the formal Eurozone. After the dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, Montenegro chose to adopt the Euro unilaterally. This decision was a continuation of its earlier use of the German mark, which it had adopted in 1999 as a way to break away from the hyperinflationary Yugoslav dinar.

Here are some reasons and implications of Montenegro’s Euro adoption:

Economic Stability

Adopting a stable and internationally recognised currency like the Euro provides Montenegro with a certain level of economic stability. It eliminates currency risk, making the nation more attractive for foreign investments.

Facilitating Trade and Tourism

Having the Euro simplifies trade relations with EU countries, as there are no currency conversion costs or uncertainties. This is particularly beneficial for Montenegro’s tourism industry, as it draws a significant number of visitors from the Eurozone.

Signal of European Alignment

The adoption of the Euro can also be seen as a political and symbolic gesture to align more closely with European institutions. While it doesn’t accelerate the EU accession process per se, it does indicate Montenegro’s aspirations for closer integration.

Lack of Monetary Policy

It’s essential to note that by adopting the Euro unilaterally, Montenegro relinquished its ability to have an independent monetary policy, such as setting interest rates or influencing money supply. In essence, the country is subject to the European Central Bank’s monetary policy without having a say in its formulation.

EU Perspective

The EU has been rather ambivalent about Montenegro’s unilateral adoption of the Euro. While not encouraging such actions, the EU hasn’t taken steps to prevent Montenegro from using the currency either.

However, formal Eurozone membership will require Montenegro to meet the Maastricht criteria, which include specific requirements related to inflation, budget deficits, and legal compatibility – something that Montenegro currently does not fully meet.

Montenegro’s use of the euro is a unique arrangement aimed at achieving economic stability and signalling a pro-European stance. However, it comes with its set of limitations and does not guarantee a faster track to EU membership.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
The author after a hike in Montenegro.

Read more: Where are the Balkans? Everything You Need to Know.

What could stop Montenegro from joining the EU?

Several factors could potentially hinder Montenegro’s aspiration to become a member of the European Union (EU). Some of the most critical issues include:

Rule of Law and Governance

A key aspect of EU membership is adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Montenegro has faced criticisms for alleged deficiencies in these areas, including judicial independence, corruption, and media freedom. Failure to make meaningful progress in these domains could significantly impede accession and in 2023 long-term leader Milo Djukanovic was ousted from power, partly due to allegations of corruption.

Economic Reforms

Montenegro must demonstrate a functional market economy and the ability to withstand competitive pressure within the EU’s single market. Although the country has made strides, its economy still has structural issues, including high public debt and unemployment.

Public Opinion

While a majority of Montenegrins have typically been pro-EU, there is still a segment of the population that is sceptical. This group fears the potential loss of sovereignty or cultural identity and could influence public opinion to the point where it impacts the pace or direction of accession negotiations.

Regional Relations

Montenegro’s relationships with its neighbours, particularly countries that already are or aspire to be EU members, are crucial. Any unresolved territorial disputes or political tensions could create obstacles to accession.

EU Enlargement Fatigue

Within the EU, there’s a sense of caution or ‘enlargement fatigue’ when it comes to accepting new members. Several existing EU countries may hesitate to extend membership to another country, particularly if they perceive that Montenegro has not met the necessary criteria for accession.

Geopolitical Influences

External geopolitical factors, such as relationships with Russia or China, could also play a role. The EU may scrutinise Montenegro’s external relations as it considers its application for membership.

Alignment with EU Policies

Failure to align national laws and policies with the acquis communautaire, the accumulated body of EU laws and regulations, could halt or slow down the accession process. This is a demanding and extensive part of the accession negotiations, covering a wide array of policy areas.

Internal Politics in Montenegro

Domestic political instability, frequent changes in government, or lack of political will can slow down the pace of reforms needed for EU membership. Strong leadership and public administration are crucial for navigating the complex accession process.

Economic Conditions in the EU

Economic downturns or crises within the EU could potentially make existing members more cautious about expansion, thereby affecting Montenegro’s chances of joining.

So, while Montenegro has made considerable progress in its path towards EU membership, multiple challenges and potential stumbling blocks remain. Both internal and external factors could play a role in determining the pace and success of its EU accession efforts.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
Sunset over Durmitor National Park, Montenegro.

Read more: The Tara Canyon, Montenegro: How To Hike To The Edge of Europe’s Deepest Gorge

So, why do some people think Montenegro is in the EU?

The belief that Montenegro is part of the European Union (EU) likely stems from a variety of factors that give the appearance of closer ties between the small Balkan nation and the EU than actually exist.

  • Use of the Euro: One of the most misleading factors is Montenegro’s unilateral adoption of the euro as its official currency in 2002. While it’s not a formal part of the Eurozone, this move creates an illusion of deeper EU integration than is the case.
  • Candidate Country Status: Montenegro has been in official accession talks with the EU since 2012. This status might be interpreted by some as implying membership, when it is actually a preliminary stage in a potentially long road to full EU membership.
  • Visa Liberalisation: Montenegrin citizens have been able to travel to the Schengen Area without a visa for short stays since December 2009, a privilege often associated with EU member states, although it is not exclusive to them.
  • European Geography and Identity: Montenegro is geographically in Europe and culturally identifies with the European mainstream, which can contribute to the misconception.
  • EU Partnerships and Agreements: The Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Montenegro and the EU further cements relations, fostering the impression of tighter integration. Montenegro also participates in various EU-funded programmes and has adopted a range of EU laws and regulations.
  • Political Discourse: Both Montenegrin and EU officials often publicly speak about the country’s ‘European path’, which may give the casual observer the sense that membership is already a fact rather than a goal.
  • Lack of Public Awareness: Finally, the complexities of EU membership and the status of candidate countries may not be well understood by the general public, leading to simplifications or assumptions.

Given these factors, it’s easy to see how people might think Montenegro is already in the EU, despite the reality being somewhat different. The nation remains in a complex, ongoing process of negotiation and reform aimed at eventual EU membership.

These Photos Will Inspire You To Travel To Montenegro
Montenegro’s flag flies over Kotor.

Read more: Is Kosovo a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

FAQ: Is Montenegro in the EU?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic: ‘Is Montenegro in the EU?’:

Q1. Is Montenegro a member of the European Union (EU)?

Montenegro is not a member of the European Union. However, it is a candidate country and is in the process of negotiating its accession.

Q2. When did Montenegro apply for EU membership?

Montenegro formally applied for EU membership on 15 December 2008. The European Council granted candidate status on 17 December 2010.

Q3. Has Montenegro started negotiations with the EU?

Yes, Montenegro began its accession negotiations on 29 June 2012. These negotiations are structured around 35 chapters that cover various policy areas.

Q4. Why is Montenegro using the Euro if it’s not in the EU?

Montenegro unilaterally adopted the Euro as its official currency in 2002. This was a move aimed at economic stability and was not tied to EU membership. It is worth noting that Montenegro does not have a formal agreement with the EU to use the Euro.

Q5. What are some challenges Montenegro faces in joining the EU?

Some of the significant challenges include reforms in the rule of law, combating corruption, improving judicial independence, and addressing issues related to media freedom. Economic challenges and public opinion are also factors that could impact the pace of accession.

Q6. How many negotiation chapters has Montenegro opened and closed?

As of my last update, Montenegro had opened 33 out of the 35 negotiation chapters. However, only a few have been provisionally closed. The country still has work to do in aligning itself with EU standards.

Q7. What is the Stabilisation and Association Agreement?

The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) is a type of agreement that the EU signs with countries of the Western Balkans as part of the pre-accession strategy. Montenegro’s SAA came into force in May 2010 and serves as a framework for cooperation between the EU and Montenegro.

Q8. Is public opinion in Montenegro in favour of joining the EU?

Generally speaking, public opinion has leaned towards supporting EU membership as a pathway to economic prosperity and political stability. However, there is a segment of the population that is sceptical about joining the EU.

Q9. Does Montenegro meet the criteria for joining the EU?

Montenegro is in the process of meeting the Copenhagen criteria, which are the rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the EU. While progress has been made, several areas, such as rule of law and economic reforms, still require significant work.

Q10. What are the next steps for Montenegro in the accession process?

Montenegro needs to continue its negotiations with the EU, focusing particularly on the chapters that have not yet been opened or provisionally closed. It must also continue to implement reforms to align with EU standards in both legal and practical terms.

Q11. Does Montenegro’s use of the Euro speed up its accession process?

No, the unilateral adoption of the Euro by Montenegro does not formally accelerate its EU accession process. Montenegro will still need to meet all the criteria for EU membership, including those related to economic policy and legislation.