Montenegrins eager for the political and economic benefits of closer cooperation with the European Union can use all the influential voices they can get in Brussels.
But that point might be lost on some members of the ruling coalition in Podgorica.
“We don’t need to remind anyone of the increased frequency of Angela Merkel’s trembling, which would be something like weltschmerz today,” Nikola Divanovic, a lawmaker for Montenegro’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told fellow parliamentarians during a discussion of EU integration hopes on July 26.
Sixty-two-year-old Angela Merkel, already the fourth-longest-serving chancellor in Germany’s history, was forced to reassure the public she was in good health after visibly shaking at different appearances in June and July.
“Weltschmerz” is a word coined by an 18th-19th-century German Romantic author that translates roughly as world-weariness.
“But I doubt it would provoke empathy today,” Divanovic added, since “the aim is to present Merkel as a steely leader and the EU’s main sponsor and banker.”
There was a riposte from a right-wing deputy about Divanovic’s comment, but silence from the DPS, a successor party of the Yugoslav Communists that has been part of Montenegrin ruling coalitions for nearly three decades.
The episode has spurred talk of rising Euroskepticism in a tiny country that’s waist-deep in negotiations for eventual EU membership and where support for accession surged to a five-year high of around 65 percent late last year.
“I think that kind of metaphor is inappropriate, to put it mildly,” Podgorica-based political analyst Sergej Sekulovic told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service. “But on the other hand, it would not surprise me nor be particularly controversial to see that there are Euroskeptic voices also within the DPS, but they should be more open and clear if that was the point of Divanovic’s discussion.”
During her four terms, Merkel’s governments have been a consistent voice for integrating Western Balkan states like Montenegro into Western institutions.
Critics say EU interest in the Balkans has waned as the bloc grapples with internal debates such as those over Brexit and immigration, and that Britain’s new prime minister could further diminish Western attention.
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, a longtime DPS party leader, warned in May that “third parties like Russia and China are making gains due to a lack of concrete EU activity” in the Balkans.
After Divanovic’s jab at Merkel and Berlin on July 26, opposition lawmaker Branka Bosnjak countered that “it is highly incorrect to compare Angela Merkel’s trembling to the trembling of Europe, that is, of Germany.”
She added that Djukanovic had been urged to greater action by German officials frustrated with the pace of Montenegro’s reforms during his most recent visit to Berlin.
But another DPS lawmaker, former TV host Aleksandra Vukovic, doubled down on Divanovic’s comments by saying of Merkel: “She is anxious and trembles at what the future of such a conceptual Europe and the EU will be.”
The German Embassy has not commented on Divanovic’s remarks or the broader criticisms that emerged from the July 26 debate in Podgorica.
Montenegro and its neighbors have labored to combat illegal entries since migrant inflows skyrocketed four years ago. Measures to stop the stream of refugees included requesting a status agreement with the EU’s border and coast-guard agency, Frontex.
Merkel risked political backlash at the height of a fractious European debate in 2015 by opening Germany to hundreds of thousands of migrants as millions of Syrians, Afghans, and others braved perilous Mediterranean and Balkan journeys in hopes of reaching the relative wealth of the EU.
Recent census data suggest that around one in eight of the nearly 20 million Germans with immigrant roots comes from the Balkans.
Fellow former Yugoslav republics Slovenia and Croatia are already in the EU, while North Macedonia and Serbia are in membership negotiations alongside Montenegro. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are considered “potential candidates.”
More than a dozen people, including two alleged Russian military intelligence officers, were convicted in Montenegro in May for their roles in a 2016 plot to overthrow the government that was said, in part, to have been aimed at blocking Podgorica’s accession to NATO.