As membership of NATO looms ever closer, almost the last hopes of anti-NATO groups in Montenegro lie in persuading the Dutch people to block the process in a referendum.
After US President Donald Trump signed the NATO accession protocol for Montenegro – removing one of the last remaining obstacles to membership of the alliance – NATO foes in Montenegro are looking to The Netherlands – one of two alliance members which still did not ratify the treaty, along with Spain – to block the process.
A group of anti-NATO organisations has launched a lobbying campaign to push for the organisation of the referendum in The Netherlands, as Dutch citizens have a constitutional right to refer such decisions to a plebiscite.
The campaign has started as it becomes obvious that a referendum on NATO membership is not going to happen in Montenegro itself – where the government insists that having a majority in support of NATO in parliament is enough.
The Dutch earlier rejected an EU political, trade and defence treaty with Ukraine in a referendum.
The Neutrality Union, a group of the organisations behind the initiative in Montenegro and the Netherlands, told BIRN that enough signatures of Dutch citizens to initiate a referendum will be submitted by the April 19 deadline. Dutch law requires 10,000 signatures to initiate a referendum.
The leader of the Union Neutrality initiative in The Netherlands, Gojko Raicevic, declined to reveal more details of planned activities in the country, however. “I do not want to comment more until we achieve something,” Raicevic told BIRN.
Montenegro gained candidate country status in 2010 and is expected to become a full member of NATO this spring after 26 of the 28 members backed its membership protocol.
The Podgorica government hopes the process will end by the time of the next NATO Summit in May, though NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the final decision could be made as late as June, due to the longer legal proceedings needed in The Netherland to ratify the treaty.
Under Dutch rules, the decision on ratification has to await a two-month constitutional deadline during which time a referendum can be called.
In a reaction to the initiative, the Montenegrin Foreign Minister, Srdjan Darmanovic, said a referendum in The Netherlands was “only possible in theory”.
“If there is no referendum, which is likely, we still cannot know with certainty when The Netherlands will be able to ratify the protocol … before the summit or later,” Darmanović told local daily Vijesti on Monday.
Spain also has not ratified the treaty – but that is not seen in Montenegro as a likely long-term obstacle to membership, as the treaty is already before the Spanish parliament.
NATO membership remains highly controversial in Montenegro. An opinion poll conducted in December 2016 showed only 39.5 per cent of Montenegrins were in favour.
The large Serbian community is especially opposed, owing to NATO’s role in bombing Serbia, aimed at forcing Serbia to withdraw its forces from the then province of Kosovo. Russia has also vocally opposed Montenegrin accession to NATO.
BalkanInsight, 13 Apr 2017