Montenegrin ruling majority MPs on Wednesday elected a new Prosecution Council, saying this will open the way for necessary judiciary reforms – but opposition parties called the move unilateral and complained of a lack of dialogue.
Ruling majority MPs in the Montenegrin parliament. Photo: Parliament of Montenegro
Montenegro’s parliament on Wednesday elected a new Prosecution Council, opening the way for judiciary reforms initiated by the ruling majority.
Lawyers Sinisa Gazivoda, Milos Vuksanovic, Borivoje Djukanovic, Filip Jovovic and NGO representative Stevo Muk were elected to the new Council with the support of the 41 ruling majority MPs in the 81-seat parliament.
An MP from the ruling Black on White bloc, Milos Konatar, said that appointing the new Prosecution Council was the first step in judiciary reforms in Montenegro.
“Without these appointments, there can be no reform of the prosecution. Without reform of the prosecution, we can’t achieve results in the fight against corruption and organised crime,” Konatar told parliament.
On May 27, the ruling majority passed changes to the law governing prosecution appointments despite concerns of potential politicization raised by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional law.
The law changes opened the way to electing an interim Supreme State Prosecutor after Ivica Stankovic retired on June 21, and to the dismissal of Special State Prosecutor, Milivoje Katnic.
Both were contentious figures because of their links to the former government led by the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and because of Katnic’s key role in the trial of a group of people accused of plotting a coup in 2016.
Under the law changes, five of 11 Prosecutorial Council members are elected in parliament, while any reputable lawyer can be elected an interim Supreme State Prosecutor with a six-month mandate.
According to the constitution, the Supreme State Prosecutor needs the votes of a two-thirds majority of MPs, or 54, with the bar falling to 48 MPs in a second-round vote.
The opposition criticized the election of the new Prosecution Council, claiming that the new members have ties with ruling majority parties and the Serbian Orthodox Church, the largest religious community in the country.
“We expected negotiations on electing the new Supreme State Prosecutor in parliament. Instead of dialogue, the ruling majority is trying to control the prosecution with the interim prosecutor,” said opposition DPS MP Danijel Zivkovic.“Such an approach could endanger our path to European Union membership,” he added.
On December 27, the EU ambassador, Oriana Christina Popa, urged the ruling majority and opposition to agree on judicial appointments. She said the new Prosecution Council members should have broad support and be independent and politically neutral.
In its latest report on Montenegro’s progress towards EU membership, the European Commission noted only “limited progress” in the fight against corruption, warning that the prosecution continues to be perceived as vulnerable to political interference, and that cases of high-level corruption have to be further consolidated.
“Reform results and the track record on judicial accountability remain limited. Independence and professionalism of the judiciary need to be further strengthened,” the report said.
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