Interview for the magazine Diplomarius, prepared and published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro
UN Resident Coordinator Rastislav Vrbensky talks for Diplomarius about UN’s mandate in the country and key areas of UN’s engagement. He underlines that strategic priority of the UN mission in the country is supporting Montenegro on its path to the EU membership. He also stresses excellent cooperation with numerous partners in the country, primarily with the Government of Montenegro and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration.
Could you please tell us briefly about the mandate of United Nations in Montenegro and areas of work?
Vrbensky: As the UN System in the country, we try to focus on several areas where we believe we are good and able to offer comparative advantages of our agencies in order to create added value. In Montenegro, we focus on two concrete areas and those are development and human rights.
Our mission in the country is defined through the Integrated UN Programme for Montenegro which was defined together with the Government of Montenegro and other partners. In this strategic document which defines our actions in the areas of development and human rights, we have identified three concrete programmatic areas that we stick to strictly. Those are: 1) Social Inclusion, hence the work on improving the status of marginalised groups and work on their inclusion in the society, as well as on improving their access to social services, 2) Democratic Governance which implies strengthening institutions, work on human rights, transparency, fight against discrimination and 3) something we call programme for integration of economy and environment, but namely that is Sustainable Development.
The specific thing about Montenegro is that the Government and the UN System in the country have jointly and voluntary applied for the reform agenda of the UN at national level, called ‘’Delivering As One’’, through which we strive to work coherently as a unified UN System in the country. Montenegro is among 30+ countries in the world which voluntary applied for this concept. Besides improved coordination of our work in the country, DaO also helped Montenegro become more visible on the global scene. It is important to mention that the presence of United Nations in Montenegro, from the point of number of agencies, is not that high. There are five resident organisations - UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, UNDP, IOM - and seven additional UN organisations that implement activities in the country from their headquarters in Vienna, Geneva and Venice. So, there are twelve organisations in total.
The last thing I would like to mention is that, although we do not have many agencies working in the country and our staff is around 100 employed, taking our annual delivery of around USD 12 million and comparing it to the number of citizens, Montenegro is definitely one of the countries in the region where the UN has most activities per capita. That is, at the same time, a confirmation of quality and good partnerships that we realise.
One of UN’s key priorities in Montenegro is support to EU accession. Could you tell us more about it? How does the UN support Montenegrin EU accession process?
Vrbensky: In most countries, the UN tries to align its programmatic activities with country’s priorities. It is clear that the key foreign policy priority, but also reform goal, of Montenegro is the EU membership, and we do not hesitate to say that the relevance of the UN in the country largely depends on our ability to support Montenegro in the process of accession to the EU.
Therefore, we largely focus on activities related to Montenegro’s priority on its European path. And how we do it? What we do to support Montenegro’s accession to the EU?
Primarily, we offer analytical studies – our research products as the contribution for the Montenegro Progress Report of the European Commission. The EC has recognised that the contribution of the UN System to progress reports presents a very usefull source of information. Secondly, we support Montenegrin negotiations talks in a practical way for several negotiation groups. Above all, we have provided assistance for Chapters 23 and 24, but I believe that, as the negotiations evolve in these areas, we will also advance our technical support, as well as our financial support.
So, we continue our support to negotiation teams of Montenegro. The UN supports the Government in programming IPA resources. Besides, we work with the Government and the European Commission on practical implementation and progress monitoring in the areas of social inclusion, gender equality, health services, issues regarding displaced and internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, stateless person…In short – support to negotiations, support to the IPA programmes, and practical implementation in certain areas where progress is realised.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that we have very close cooperation with the Government, especially with coordinating structures in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, but as well with the sector for IPA funds, representatives of the European Commission in Podgorica and Brussels. These will be our key priorities for the future.
Last year the United Nations launched a large-scale work on designing new development priorities for the period after 2015. What was the result and what was the role of Montenegro in the process?
Vrbensky: As you know, Millennium Development golas, defined by the world leaders back in 2000, will expire at the end of 2015. Having that in mind, the UN Secretary General this time decided that identifying development priorities should be organised in a differnt, innovative way. Earlier, it was so called top-down approach, where politicians identified development priorities within the UN General Assembly and some preparatory meetings. This time, we had so called bottom-up approach – the idea was to hear opinions and desires of ordinary people around the world, with particular focus on the most vulnerable whose voice is often unheard – what kind of future they want and what are the key problems they face?
Montenegro participated very energeticly in the process which gathered large number of actors in the country, including Government, numerous other partners, us and we did it in a way which was recognised as very good. In national consultations on future development priorities, we were innovative, we used social media a lot, we included a large number of partnering organisations, NGOs to reach different groups of people. And people in Montenegro identified 8 key development priorities, from good governance, over fight against corruption, employment, health, infrastructure, education to values. What is very interesting, almost unbelievable, is the fact that over 8000 people participated in consultations, which makes more than 1% of population of Montenegro. As a result of successfully organised national consultations, high-level Montenegrin delegation was invited to speak at the special session of the General Assembly dedicated to post-2015 development priorities, as one of very few countries which had that opportunity.
We made success, but certainly we will not stop there. Problems are identified and now we want to talk to people again - about the implementation and how to change things in those priority areas.
Recently, a Centre for Sustainable Development was established in Montenegro. What is the mission of the Centre?
Vrbensky: I have to say that the idea of founding the Centre for Sustainable Development existed for several years. That idea came from the Montenegrin Constitution which defines the country as ecological state, as well as from the fact that the Montenegrin economy is pretty much dependable on natural resources. As we often mention in conversation with colleagues and with partners – green economy is not a choice but the necessity of Montenegro, having in mind that its economy greatly depends on agricultural and hydro potentials, natural beauties and ecosystems. Work on sustainable development is very important segment of our portfolio. Together with the Government, we decided that, besides implementation of concrete projects, an institutional framework needs to be established.
We will use our cooperation to build something that will remain to Montenegro, something that will last longer than UN’s presence in the country. We decided to establish the Centre which will primarily deal with issues related to Montenegro, and in the future, hopefully, it will grow to a regional Centre dealing with topics related to sustainability.
At the end of the last year, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government for establishment of the Centre, which started its work on the 1st January 2014. The Centre will focus on four areas which are important for Montenegro and the region – sustainable tourism, sustainable energy, management of ecosystems and climate changes, security and environment. We already have expertise in these areas. What is also important is that the Centre will not only focus on practical implementation of initiatives, but will also work as a link between science and practice. The Centre will hopefully become part of a global network of centres for sustainable development, such as Rio+ Centre established last year by the UNDP and the government of Brazil.
Montenegro is one of the youngest members of the UN. How do you see the position of Montenegro in the international community, and especially in the UN?
Vrbensky: I think that Montenegro invested a lot of energy in building good relations with United Nations. Montenegro is very active member, whose work is visible, not only through participation in the Human Rights Council, but also through a very active participation in different global processes. In the last UN General Assembly, the presence of Montenegrin delegation was very visible. We felt honoured to provide support, as I mentioned, for the Montenegrin participation in the post-2015 consultations.The Montenegrin delegation had a chance to present its country findings among few countries of the world. The same applies for the high level meeting on Millennium Development Goals, where we again provided support to Montenegro in preparation of the Report on Millennium Development Goals in Montenegro. I think that the country is very much respected because of its active support to Delivery as One reform. A decision of the Government to support the United Nations System through the construction of the UN Eco house will additionally strengthen the partnership and reconfirm Montenegro’s commitment to the core UN values.