Montenegro appoints predominantly pro-EU new government

PODGORICA (Reuters) -After weeks of negotiations, Montenegro’s parliament on Tuesday appointed a new government, a coalition of pro-European and pro-Serb parties expected to lead the small Balkan country in its bid to join the European Union.

The new government, led by economist Milojko Spajic of the Europe Now Movement, will have 19 ministries and five deputy-prime ministers. It will include the centre-right pro-European Democrats, the pro-Serbian Socialist People’s Party and five parties of the Albanian minority.

“Our four main foreign policy priorities are full membership … in the EU, active, credible membership in NATO, improvement of good relations with neighbours and strengthening of the country’s role in multilateral organisations,” Spajic told lawmakers.

He said economic policies would aim to improve the living standards of Montenegro’s population of only 620,000, and include reforms enabling more fiscal revenue, investment a better business climate and judiciary.

Following an overnight debate, 46 lawmakers in the 81-seat parliament backed the government.

The pro-Serb and pro-Russia alliance For A Better Montenegro, led by Andrija Mandic, agreed to vote for Spajic’s cabinet in exchange for the position of the parliament speaker and four ministerial posts after a government reshuffle tentatively scheduled for next year.

At its first session on Tuesday, the new government postponed for 30 days a population and household census scheduled for Nov. 1 due to technical problems and a planned boycott by opposition parties, which have cited fears the census would not be transparent.

Spajic said that software will be installed allowing all citizens to check their individual data filed in the system and that opposition members for the first time will be included in census commissions, which oversee the census.

“We shall try to talk to all parties to unblock the mechanism,” Spajic told reporters after the session. “I do not want the boycott to occur.”

According to the World Bank, the economy of Montenegro which unilaterally adopted euro in 2002 as its de facto currency, and mainly relies on revenues from its Adriatic tourism, is expected to grow by 4.8% in 2023.

Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, a year after a botched coup attempt that the then government blamed on Russian agents and Serbian nationalists.

Russia dismissed the accusation as “absurd”, and the government of neighbouring Serbia denied involvement.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Montenegro, unlike Serbia, joined EU sanctions against Moscow, sent aid to Ukraine and expelled a number of Russian diplomats. The Kremlin has placed Montenegro on its list of unfriendly states.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Robert Birsel and Susan Fenton)