Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Welcome Montenegro!

The results of the referendum on Montenegro has now been recognized by all.

Since more than 55 % voted for independence, the issue is settled.

The result has been fully accepted by the government of Serbia. That's of critical importance.

There are a large number of practical problems and related issues that have to be settled in the functional separation we are now heading for.

Will Montenegrians in Serbia become foreigners? Will Serb citizens in Montenegro? Who pays the pensions? Will the border be open for trade and travel like in the past? What happens with what's left of the navy and its installations in the Bay of Kotor and in Bar? How will the foreign debt - as well as the joint assets - be divided?

It requires goodwill and generosity in Belgrade as well as Podgorica to reach agreement on these and others issues. Possible also the mediation of the European Union.

But soon we will see Montenegro entering the United Nations as an independent state.

It's a country with potential - but also with potential problems.

It needs to handle its national diversity with care. Montenegrians are in a minority in Montenegro.

It needs to clearly break with its recent past of large-scale smuggling and criminality. Many still remember the minor navy of high-speed smuggling vessels operated under semi-official Podgorica protection.

There is no reason to think that all of this can't be done. But Europe will be watching.

Montenegro has always been Europe. If it handles things wisely in its immediate period of independence, the door to membership of the European Union will also open up.

But it will not come easily. And not fast either.

The key is in Podgorica.