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FRI, 22 FEB 2002 01:00:41 GMT

After the First Round of Talks between Solana and Djukanovic

Think, and then Take it or Leave It

Two days after the meeting details of Solana's offer to Djukanovic are still a mystery. The only thing that is certain is that Montenegrin President is faced with a big challenge: whatever decision he may make it will have dramatic consequences for the future of Montenegro

AIM Podgorica, February 13, 2002

Although after three and a half hours of talking in the elite Brussels La Plaza Hotel Milo Djukanovic and Javier Solana remained utterly uncommunicative and although the statement from the seat of the European Union did not contain much more than polite phrases about "open and useful talks", it appears that the Sunday meeting between Montenegrin President and EU High Representative for foreign policy and security resulted in certain progress. Perhaps this progress in negotiations could best be defined as the impression that the interlocutors have for the first time started to think that a compromise is, after all, possible!? A specific confirmation of this conclusion is the seven-day time-out that the two politicians took in order to consult the membership having agreed not to meet in the meantime with the third interested party - the representatives of the authorities in Belgrade.

The next day scanty hints from Solana's offer to Djukanovic leaked. The EU had allegedly demanded that Podgorica postpone the referendum "for two or three years, maybe less", underlining that the federation was just a temporary solution. Referring to an unnamed diplomat of the European government, SENSE agency reported that the European fifteen needed this time to resolve certain important issues, such as formation of quick intervention forces. With this indication of delayed sovereignty, Brussels would guarantee to Montenegro firm Constitutional mechanisms of protection from the domination of Serbia, transfer of some important ministries to Podgorica and strong financial and political support. From the circles close to Djukanovic information leaked that the EU had also offered Montenegro guarantees for direct communication with the IMF and other financial institutions, accepting of euro as "Montenegrin" currency, full foreign political capacity except the most important one – the seat in the OUN!?

Such an empty shell of a state is certainly unprecedented in international law, but High Representative of EU for foreign policy and security quite obviously is interested more in the form than the content. It is increasingly heard in the circles of European diplomats and analysts that Solana has taken his mission to preserve FRY too seriously, so he would not shrink from violating even the fundamental democratic postulates in this struggle. Former chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, lord Russell Johnston, warned Solana in an open letter that the latter had gone beyond the limits of bias in mediation between Montenegro and Serbia.

Certain other reputable and influential Western politicians, analysts and public workers might soon come out in public with similar reactions. One of the leading people of the ruling Montenegrin coalition claims that last time Solana had received unanimous support of the European “fifteen” in Caseres for the alleged good services in Montenegrin-Serbian dialogue, because a few members of the EU were “irritated by his inclination towards Belgrade”!?

Without going into the question of reliability of this unnamed Montenegrin highly positioned politician, there are indications that not everybody in the EU feels comfortable because of the hue and cry against Djukanovic who until just recently was their favourite. “We understand that what we are asking for is very difficult for Montenegro”, said a high diplomat of a European government in a special briefing for SENSE agency, stressing that the “European view does not consist of the effort to deceive Milo Djukanovic or to humiliate the government in Podgorica”. Emphasizing the estimate of Brussels that the federal framework is the best, as well as resolute opposition to the referendum in Montenegro, this diplomat made a point of stressing that he was not speaking “about eternal solutions, but about a period perhaps shorter than two years”.

Solana's spokesman confirmed after the meeting in La Plaza that the EU was practically predicting sovereignty to Djukanovic, but with a certain amount of patience. In this way Brussels denied all the “arguments” it had used in the past months against Montenegrin independence. Because, Montenegro certainly will not become bigger, nor will it be more densely populated than it is now. It is not realistic to expect an economic boom either, and the supporters of the federation will not disappear into thin air... Therefore, it obviously turned out that the key problem is neither in the size, nor in poverty and division of Montenegro, which were mostly the explanations of the stand against its independence. The real problem is in the EU itself which still does not have an answer to the question – what about Kosovo? Although European diplomats have resolutely denied assertions that Montenegro is the “hostage of Kosovo”, the sequence of developments has shown their correctness.

“For the sake of its interests the European Union would like us to be no more” Miodrag Ilickovic, vice-president of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, summarized. Miodrag Vlahovic, director of the Centre of Regional Studies in Podgorica, warns that the possible official offer of the EU to Montenegro to temporarily preserve the federation and give up on the referendum would be a “dubious, problematic and questionable affair”. Vlahovic believes that Montenegrin administration should not accept such a proposal because of the danger that “temporary abandoning of the idea of the referendum could be used for the abolishment of the right to referendum in general”. On the other hand, he estimates that it would be exceptionally difficult for Montenegro to reject the offer of the EU which would guarantee the existing degree of its independence, international representation and absolute right to decision-making on the state status in the referendum.

Solana’s offer, at least for the time being, is not that generous, but should it actually be put on the table it would indeed be a difficult test for Djukanovic and his conception of the union of sovereign states. On the eve of last week’s meeting in Brussels, a few newspapers hinted at such a possibility – union of two independent states without a single serious joint function, but with one seat in the UN that they would take in turns! It will be difficult for Djukanovic to refuse such an offer despite the danger that hardcore supporters of full independence, primarily the Liberal League of Montenegro, whose support the minority government of Vujanovic relies on, will remain discontented. It would also be very difficult to find a valid reason for Serbia to accept a solution that would de facto and de iure make it fifteen times less equal than Montenegro. Such a model would make only the EU happy, but for a short time, I am afraid, because such an invalid creation would certainly create many times more difficult problems than the present ones. In any case, should Brussels bet on the seat in the UN that would be taken in turns by Serbia and Montenegro, somebody will have to play with a supreme bluff or finally lay down the cards. However, it was not just Solana who sent Djukanovic home to do his homework. “These talks were more useful than the previous ones, because we had the time to present in detail to Solana all the arguments why we wish Montenegro and Serbia to found their relations on the same principles as the countries of the EU”, said Montenegrin President after the meeting expressing conviction that the High Representative of the EU would study well the platform from Podgorica on the union of internationally recognized states in the course of next week.

Solana and Djukanovic will meet again next week. The end of negotiations will be in the end of February at the plenary meeting of Montenegrin, Serbian and federal authorities, plus Solana. Milo Djukanovic is playing the most important game in his political career, in which, due to circumstances, his stake is the state of Montenegro. Political analysts in Podgorica agree: refraining from the referendum would be fatal for the option of independence, for Democratic Party of Socialists and Djukanovic. Most of them estimate that at the moment he schedules the referendum, the pressure exerted by the EU on Podgorica will greatly diminish or disappear altogether. “This is the last test for the generation of politicians whose choice is Montenegrin independence”, Miodrag Vlahovic warns.

Darko SUKOVIC

(AIM)