Skip to main content

Western Balkans

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

May I start by thanking Mr. Speaker for granting me this debate? I have raised the issue before, and I thought that I should perhaps start by apologising to some of my constituents, because although I try to raise a wide variety of subjects for debate, I have had to return to this one from time to time. However, I do not think there is a need for apology, because things that happen some way away can affect their everyday lives.

I strongly regret the fact that the Government have not seen fit to allow any time to discuss this important area of Europe on the Floor of the House—I know that they are busy with other things—so I am grateful for this opportunity. I am also delighted to see many colleagues here today.

There is a need to debate this issue. One thing we can learn from the Balkan area, and so many other areas, is that we should not ignore history. Unfortunately, the fires that start in the Balkans have often led to larger conflagrations elsewhere in Europe. I hope that we are now away from those eras and can move forward.

Many of the worst troubles that have occurred in that region were precipitated by the over-zealous recognition of Croatia, which was described by the then Foreign Minister of Germany, Herr Genscher, as

“the greatest victory for German foreign policy since 1945.”

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are lessons to be learned from not making recognition a matter of precipitous action?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Although I have never been described as a diplomat, I shall try to tread a course along that line. However, it must be said that taking early action without thinking things through is not always helpful.

My hon. Friend refers to an area about which he knows a great deal. I was not in the House at that time. I was selling furniture, having pursued my degree in Serbo-Croat, which involved studying the history of the region, as well as its language and literature—but even there, among the nests of tables in Uxbridge, I thought it an unwise move.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that there are also many causes for joy in the west Balkans, particularly in Slovenia, where I recently went with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and which has now taken the European presidency? That is a good example of recognition at the right time and in the right circumstances for west Balkan acceptance into the European Union.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I do not want to digress too much, but when I was a student in Belgrade, we used to refer to going up to Ljubljana as going to Europe. Even in those days, there was recognition that Slovenia was a slightly different case. Although the break-up of Yugoslavia brought benefits to the individual countries and states that exist now, from a wider historical perspective, it might be seen as not having had 100 per cent. positive benefits. However, I do not want to dwell on history too much, because we have moved on. I shall confine my comments mainly to recent developments in Serbia and Kosovo, but Bosnia and Macedonia will also come into things because they are very much involved in the area.

Two Sundays ago, we had the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, and subsequent recognition by many states around the world. Obviously, the United Nations and the European Union are divided on the issue, and some EU countries have not recognised the new state of Kosovo. Having tried to consider with a balanced view the days leading up to those events, I found it very difficult to find a balanced view in the press. They had been moving quite well in recognising that Serbia had come a long way from the days of Milosevic, but then they seemed to be talking about a Serbia that had gone back to those days. Leader comments in some newspapers made almost no acknowledgment of what happened in the interim.

Only the week before, Serbia held an historic vote in which it re-elected President Tadic, a European-leaning politician with definite aspirations to join the EU. It rejected, albeit narrowly, the candidate of the Radical party, Nikolic, and that party’s narrow, nationalistic and not particularly attractive agenda. Given that when the election took place, it was known that Kosovo was going to declare independence, it is a remarkable commentary on the Serbian people that they took the brave step of re-electing President Tadic, and it is a shame that they have not been given full credit. I am sure that they would welcome an acknowledgement that they took that decision.

There have been problems since then. I condemn utterly the violence in Belgrade and the damage to various embassies in which one life was lost—thankfully not a member of diplomatic staff. That has not helped anyone’s cause. I do not condone what happened for a moment, but, considering the emotions that are in play, that period has passed relatively peacefully. There have been a few incidents here and there, but events show that the Serbian people do not want to revert to the ultra-nationalistic ideas that existed among a few of their population, certainly during the era of which we are all aware.

I understand the aspirations of the Kosovan Albanians. They have been in a majority for some time, and, without going into the history too much, they enjoyed certain autonomy, certainly under Tito’s Yugoslavia. I understand that they wanted their own state; indeed, de facto, they had it, as Belgrade and Serbia recognised that Belgrade would not hold sway in relation to power over that region.

The negotiations seemed to come to something of a stalemate, but if we look at our own case in Northern Ireland, we can see that a forced or rushed agreement would not have helped us to get to the position where we are today, although there are still problems in the area. Deadlines came and went a number of times, and the Government realised that they had to give that extra bit of time to try to get a settlement. The middle east is another area in which negotiations from time to time go into stalemate or end up in conflict, but we should never give up on trying to achieve peace. However, if one side or another were to try to impose a settlement, that would not be a lasting solution.

In previous debates, one thing that always came up was the fact that the boundaries of countries—the frontiers—should never be changed. For example, one cannot suddenly hive off Republic Srpska from Bosnia. If it wanted to join Serbia, we would say, “No, those are the boundaries. We cannot change them because of ethnic areas.” We cannot say that the Presevo valley in Serbia, which has a majority population of Albanians, should somehow be tagged on to something else; the same applies in respect of Macedonia and other areas. A major tenet of British foreign policy and, by dint of that, of the policy of the west, the European Union and NATO has been that boundaries cannot be changed, and I presume that that is still the case.

Of course, as far as the UN is concerned, Kosovo is still a territory of Serbia. If the Minister can tell me something different, I shall be grateful, but that is the case, as far as I am aware. Whether or not one wants to change the situation, things should be done through the UN. I am reasonably consistent on that. I was not happy with the Government’s position, or indeed that of my own Front Benchers, on going into Iraq without a UN resolution. I had to stand down from my Opposition post because I had a different opinion on the matter. I still think that if we in the west are to be the upholders of international law, and if we lecture other countries about adhering to international law if they want to be part of the great democratic process, what on earth are we doing deciding that we will ignore UN resolutions if we do not like them?

Does my hon. Friend agree that Security Council resolution 1244—at the least in how it is being interpreted by the EU, the United States and the United Kingdom—is vulnerable to the argument that it is ultra vires the UN charter, and, furthermore, that a distinction has to be made between partition on the one hand and intervention on the other?

I now know how the Minister feels when my hon. Friend faces him in European debates. My hon. Friend is an expert on such matters; I do not know the full legal implications. However, many colleagues on both sides of the House have told me, because they know of my interest in the region, that, regardless of their opinion—they would not necessarily be seen as particularly pro-Serb or pro-anything—they are concerned about the legal implications of what has been happening. One reason why I would have liked to debate this matter on the Floor of the House was to enable us to discuss the implications.

Another feature of previous debates in which I have tried to highlight the problems that could arise from instant recognition of a Kosovan state was the potential for division within the EU. In the way that Governments do, the Government said that I should not worry about that, that the situation was all sorted out and that there would be no problem at all. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case.

Some EU countries have decided not to recognise Kosovo. We can understand why, and I have a great deal of sympathy for their views. I am not sure whether the situation does the EU many favours. I am not sure what it says about common EU foreign policy or even the concept of a Foreign Minister if all the countries do not agree. However, I do not want to go into that, because I think that the EU offers the best solution for all the states in the area, although it is a medium to long-term solution.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. On the EU point, the tragedy is that the declaration of independence a fortnight ago means that Kosovo cannot join the EU if Spain, Romania and Slovakia sustain their legitimate reservations and objections. There is a veto there, so Kosovo cannot come in, and even the most moderate, sensible Serbian Government cannot domestically pursue an application to join Europe because it would involve recognition of Kosovo. We can have neither Kosovo nor Serbia in the EU, yet the hon. Gentleman and I would agree that that is the way through the problem. Instead, we will probably have paralysis for the next quarter of a century.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He points to a problem that perhaps has not been thought through clearly enough in the enthusiasm for recognising Kosovo. I understand that there is a natural feeling among the British people in wanting to identify with those who have such aspirations, but we have to think the matter through. I could mention some neighbours of Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia. What are we to say if Republic Srpska says that it, too, wants independence? Why should we say that Kosovo is a one-off? That is what the Government repeat endlessly. What do we say to the people of Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or to the Tamils in Sri Lanka? We have opened up that issue.

The Government have said—I have asked various Ministers, and may even have asked one of the two people whom I have known in the role of Prime Minister—that Kosovo is a special case, but I am afraid that their saying so does not make it a special case. If people were trying to get independence for their area, they would not say, “Oh, that was a special case. That’s all right, I will shut up then.” It will not work.

The Foreign Minister of Serbia said that the situation offers a toolkit to all those who want independence. “Toolkit” is an excellent word. That is exactly what is happening.

My hon. Friend is right to point out the dilemma between the aspirations of the Kosovans and the difficulties for the UN and the EU, and the nature of the special case. Does he not think that, now that we are where we are, the only way forward is special help for Serbia? Surely, it is the key to unlocking the area. We must accept what has happened and make progress by helping Serbia as much as possible.

My hon. Friend comes to exactly my point. I can understand why Serbia will not be able to recognise Kosovo. I think that the Minister realises that that would be so politically damaging that we might end up with a Government in that country who leaned towards the east rather than the west.

The independence of Kosovo is not something that can be undone. It is no good saying, “Oh, we got that wrong, we did not mean it.” It is disappointing that we are where we are, but that is the situation. I agree that a huge amount of help must go to Kosovo itself because, as we know, it is not exactly at the top of the list of viable states. The EU will have to send in money and resources. However, the Serbian people and the country of Serbia are being asked to acknowledge the splitting off of their territory. The only way forward is for this country, together with the EU or whoever, to provide help. Britain is a great ally and always has been.

Turning to the question of the legality or otherwise of the EU’s recognition, does my hon. Friend agree that what is de facto is not de jure and that, for all the reasons he has given, a range of further problems might be precipitated down the line with other countries?

We were deprived by the Government’s timing of the debates of discussion on the foreign policy and defence aspects of the Lisbon treaty, which confers legal personality on the EU. In that context, it simply cannot be justified or intra vires—lawful, in other words—for the EU to make decisions that are based only on a percentage of EU member states. Therefore, that raises serious questions about whether the use of resources for this purpose is, first, legitimate and, secondly, legal.

My hon. Friend is leading me down paths where it would be treacherous to try to match his knowledge. However, I am sure that he is right that it is de facto and not de jure.

I am thinking back, long before I was even dusting nests of tables, to the unilateral declaration of independence by Rhodesia against which a Labour Prime Minister stood resolutely. I was only a young man when that happened—actually, I was a boy—and I do not know what the mood of the country was then. However, it was resolute. I remember the discussions on HMS Tiger, which sat somewhere off Gibraltar. That has a wonderful resonance. We stood up for the rule of law then, and we have to do something now. I have suggested a few things, including how we can show Serbia that, despite everything, the United Kingdom remains a good friend of Serbia.

Last year, I took a small group from the Inter-Parliamentary Union to Serbia and Kosovo. We met Kosovan politicians as well as Serbian ones. It would be useful if a similar visit could be arranged, perhaps through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although the IPU might not look so quickly at a repeat visit. However, it is important for parliamentarians to meet others, not just people like me who know the area well. It would be a good idea for people who do not know the area well to go and talk to politicians.

I would like to leave one thing with the Minister and my party’s Front-Bench spokesman, because this matter will endure for years.

My hon. Friend has been mild-mannered in addressing the issue. What does he feel about the state of the Kosovan economy? Many people think that the viability of the Kosovan economy, in so far as it has anything, depends on the trafficking of drugs, arms and people. It is propped up by a bit of money from the EU. Beyond that, there is nothing. How can a country such as that be called a country in UN terms and be capable of recognition? It does not have a viable economy.

My hon. Friend is right in that I am trying to be mild mannered. I have said that I do not think that an independent Kosovo heads the list of viable states. I am concerned by what goes on in that country. The EU will have to get a grip on that; we should all be concerned about it.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that relates to comments he made earlier. If the boundaries of Kosovo are now those of the historic Kosovo, there is a quarter, or perhaps an Ulster, of Kosovo where the writ of Pristina, or for that matter of Belgrade, does not run. There will be a void in the map of Europe in those areas north of the city of Mitrovica—the north bank—where there will be no police who show adherence to Pristina, because the police are ethnically Serbian, although the writ of Belgrade cannot run there. The prospects for criminality, lawlessness and de facto independence of that particular area have not yet been addressed and that will be a growing problem, which invites the comment that, if the boundaries of Kosovo can be determined by the Kosovans, the people in the north have a right to self-determination as to whether they should go to Serbia.

The hon. Gentleman is right.

I shall conclude shortly to allow others to speak, because a lot of hon. Members want to speak on the subject.

There is also a question about what would happen if the Kosovan state were not viable. If it is not viable, will it want to join Albania? What would our view be on that? In the same way, what if Republic Srpska suddenly said that it wanted independence, but after a while said, “We can’t go it alone, we want to join up with Serbia.”? Those are the things that have been started by the current situation.

I say to the Front-Bench spokesmen and to the wider country, if I can be so bold, that our gaze is on that part of the world only because of recent events. From time to time, things crop up elsewhere and the eyes of the world will go away. That is when I shall fear for the Serbian minority and their religious sites, which are wonderful architecturally but are deeply spiritual sites for the Serbs in Kosovo.

There are Serbs living at this moment in containers, following an incident a few years ago. I have to say to the Minister that it is unacceptable for me to visit a place in Europe—my continent—and see people who have been living for years in containers, regardless of whether they are Serbs or Albanians. Whatever the reason, we have not helped those people. We have a duty to look after minorities, wherever they are and whoever is the majority. We must not think that, because the pendulum has swung the other way, those who suffered can ensure that the minorities under their control are safe, and I am afraid that the idea that people who have suffered know what it is like does not hold true.

I say to the British Government that we have a duty always to keep aware of what is going on in that part of the world. We must not turn a blind eye and say, “This is now sorted. That is it, we can move on. Maybe the Americans will think that we have given it over to Europe.” We must not think that this is sorted. We must carefully watch the situation. We have to give assurances to those people, regardless of who they are, that we in Britain—a traditional good friend of Serbia—and in the EU will look after them and ensure, almost to repeat the words of the dictator Milosevic, that we say, “You shall not be beaten again.”

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing this important debate. One of the most powerful points that he made during the course of his speech was his analysis of the British Government’s stance on Iraq and how they have ignored the United Nations mandate and its views in their illegal war against Iraq. As I have said many times in the past, my hon. Friend took a great principled stand on that by resigning from the Front Bench.

I agree with my hon. Friend when he talks, in a mild-mannered and polite way, about the sheer hypocrisy of the Government’s stance. On one hand, they act against the United Nations mandate yet, on the other, they think that they can somehow impose their own will on Kosovo and Serbia.

I have a few questions. First, why has the matter been resolved so quickly? It has been resolved in the blink of an eye by comparison with some of the major disputes around the world. We talk every day about the problems in Israel and Palestine that have continued for decades. We talk about Cyprus and the terrible problems between the north and the south. Even in Africa—for example, Western Sahara, Morocco and the dispute in Polisario—the difficulties, like many others around the world, have continued for decades, so why have the Government chosen to speed up the process of resolving the conflict in the Balkans, but not other conflicts? Why have the Government selected this conflict over and above all the others?

I believe that one reason is that the Americans have been pushing hard for Kosovan independence. I remember the images of President Bush touring the streets of Tirana a few months ago, when he was waved at and cheered in adulation by Tirana Albanians because of his strong stance on independence for Kosovo. That is one reason why, when Kosovo was celebrating independence two weeks ago, there were almost as many American flags on the streets of Pristina as Kosovan flags.

The Foreign Office, its civil servants and Ministers, as a poodle of the American Administration, have pursued American foreign policy. The Prime Minister may like to appear uncomfortable when President Bush drives him around Camp David in his little golf buggy, but that is just more spin from the Labour Government. If one peels off the surface, how is British foreign policy any different from what it was under the former Prime Minister? Will the Minister explain the difference between United Kingdom and American foreign policy on Kosovo? It is important that we, as a major military power in Europe, show a different stance from that of America.

The United States of America, of course, can easily dictate that Kosovo should be independent, because, luckily, it has no problems with any part of the US wanting to become independent. The United States is lucky to be in that homogeneous situation, and that it is far enough away from Europe that it can make demands and interfere in what is happening in Europe’s back yard.

I concur with my hon. Friend who said that a dangerous precedent has been set. The Government have opened up a Pandora’s box of huge potential conflicts throughout Europe. We have only to look at another part of the Balkans—Romania—and the long, festering sore of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Who is to say that there will not be agitation among the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, and a demand for independence or annexation of that territory by Hungary? Corsicans in France may agitate for independence, and my hon. Friend mentioned the Basques in Spain.

What really worries me is that I heard for the first time yesterday that an organisation is going round the House of Commons lobbying MPs for Gdansk to become a German city again. Being of Polish origin, my sensitivities on that point can be imagined. The outbreak of the second world war was in Gdansk when German boats opened fire—

They were on a good-will visit to Gdansk, yet they opened fire in the early hours of 1 September 1939. However, just last night I heard from an organisation that is actively conspiring for Gdansk to be returned to Germany. Many parts of western Poland—the area was given to Poland after the second world war—have large concentrations of Germans who want to become part of Germany. The Government’s actions are deplorable.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s anxieties and fears, but surely the difference, which creates a greater danger, is that all the areas to which he referred—Transylvania, western Silesia, Pomerania and so on—are at least in the European Union, and have free mobility of labour with the right to purchase property and ways of resolving title. Two weekends ago, we allowed the division of Kosovo from Serbia without their being in the European Union. If the energies of the United Kingdom and the United States had been devoted to getting them into the EU first, we would at least have diminished the scale of the problem. In the areas that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the problem is diminished because of the consequences of European Union membership, free mobility of labour, the right to buy and own property, and so on.

I wholly concur with the hon. Gentleman, and later in my speech I shall come to some of the points that he raised.

It is not politically correct to be antagonistic towards the Kosovans, because we all remember the crowds cheering the former Prime Minister in Kosovo and we all saw on camera how Kosovans suffered, but I shall be critical of them. They started the killing in their revolt against the sovereign country, and drove out between 150,000 and 200,000 Serbs. During the past eight years, 1,248 non-Albanians have been killed with many more kidnapped, now presumed dead; 151 spiritual and cultural monuments in Kosovo have been destroyed by Albanians, and 230 mosques have been built; and 80 per cent. of Christian graveyards have been destroyed or desecrated with no response from the international community. The Albanians have turned Christian graveyards into car parks, playgrounds and rubbish dumps. Anything relating to Serbia or Christianity in public records, books and the names of places and even towns has been wiped out. That is ethnic cleansing on a huge scale.

All that ethnic cleansing has taken place when there was supposedly an international force to prevent it.

Absolutely, and we have apparently sent 1,000 troops to the borders of Kosovo recently, so the situation is outrageous. I hope that the Minister listened carefully to my points about the sheer scale of ethnic cleansing against the Serbian people.

I want to make another controversial point before winding up—I know that colleagues are keen to speak. It has been reported in the press that the BND, the German intelligence service, has confirmed that the 2005 terrorist bombings in Britain were organised in Kosovo. That is apparently something that the German intelligence service is putting out. Has the Minister had any discussions with his German counterpart about that?

I want some assurances from the Minister. What protection will the Serbs in Mitrovica receive now that they are cocooned in an artificial statelet? What rights will they have, and what will the Minister do personally to ensure that the thousands of Serbs living in Mitrovica will be protected? I have heard worrying reports in the media that as a result of some of the riots outside the American embassy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge referred, the wheels might come off Serbia’s application to join the European Union, and that we might do less to help the country to join. Will the Minister give me a guarantee that he will do everything possible to help Serbia to join the European Union?

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that although such violence should not be condoned, it should not, in itself, necessarily be a stumbling block to Serbia joining the EU? The biggest difficulty at the moment is surely the refusal to deal with Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. That is perhaps one issue that the Government should be pursuing for a quick resolution to Serbia’s entry into the EU.

I am sure that the hon. Lady will want to put that matter to the Minister herself. I am dealing purely with the issue of Kosovo.

Finally, how will Serbia be compensated for the loss of 14 per cent. of her territory? Normally, if there is a divorce, there is some sort of settlement. Even in international disputes, there is arbitration. I remember when Czechoslovakia split apart, decisions were made about assets—who was going to have what, and how much of the national debt each side was going to take. How is Britain helping the Serbian nation in its divorce proceedings?

I will end on a personal note about the Serbian people, whom I greatly admire. They are a truly wonderful race. I remember participating in my first ever political demonstration in 1999. I stood outside Downing street in the cold with my Serbian friends, demonstrating against the bombing of Belgrade. I thought that the Government’s participation in such a bombing was a heinous crime. Why was the crime so heinous? It was simply because the Serbian people had the misfortune of being led by a dictator. Milosevic was the last communist remnant of the iron curtain age, when the countries of eastern Europe had communist dictators. He came to power in 1989 under a communist system and held on to power through various methods of intimidation and ballot-rigging; yet because of the actions of one man, a demagogue and communist, the Serbian people suffered much as a result of our own Government and the bombing that took place.

Many Serbs have lost their homes in Kosovo—as my hon. Friend said, they are living in camper vans. I cannot imagine losing my home or having someone take it away. It happened to my grandfather’s generation in Poland, but I cannot imagine coming back to Shropshire and finding that somebody had taken away my home from me and that I had nowhere to live. People face that reality today; it is all very nice for us in the House of Commons, but they have lost everything as a result of an arbitrary move by the Americans and our Government. I repeat that the liberal elite in the Foreign Office and among civil servants and Ministers have come up with a solution, but the ramifications of their mistakes will long outlast them.

The starting point for my contribution to the debate is very simple. I personally do not feel inclined to take sides between Kosovo and Serbia because we all recognise that a considerable dilemma exists at the heart of this. My position rests on the fact that I believe very strongly that we have to act in accordance with the rule of law. The problems that we had in Iraq, and that we have had periodically over the past 75 years—even going back to the origins of the first world war—have all been associated with problems that have arisen from a failure to recognise the rule of law. I am quite sure that sooner or later, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said in relation to Northern Ireland, if a decision is taken in a responsible manner over an extended period against a background of extreme opinions, it is possible to arrive at a solution. The solution may not be perfect even when the final settlement is struck. What is certain is that nobody believes with any certainty—whether they are from the UN, the European Union, the United Kingdom, or the United Kingdom Parliament—that what has been decided in the past few days and weeks represents a settlement of any description.

[Mr. David Marshall in the Chair]

At best, it is a de facto recognition. Nobody could say that it was a de jure recognition. It would be extremely unwise of anybody to make that assumption because that in itself would lock the whole of the future of the Balkans, not to mention Serbia and the recognition of Kosovo, into an impossible situation. It would make the dilemma even worse. I would strongly counsel caution in relation to precipitate assumptions about what various declarations so far amount to in practice. Underpinning de facto recognitions is the question whether there are de facto resolutions, solutions and results. I remember Sir John Harrington’s famous observation:

“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Against that background, we need to be extremely careful about what we do.

In specific terms, I would say that when bombs were being dropped on Sarajevo from the hills above, I was one of very few people who went on record to condemn the actions. Furthermore, I strongly urged that we should take military action to stop that bombing, which seemed to be wholly unnecessary and contrary to any kind of humane behaviour. I also believed strongly that it was important that the people in Serbia should be entitled to a proper understanding and recognition of the rule of law. Therefore, I hope that I have an understanding of what the situation is on both sides of the equation. I am not merely trying to sit in the middle and not make a decision.

My ultimate question is about the rule of international law. I find it rather ironic that on 16 February the EU launched EULEX Kosovo, which is

“an EU rule of law mission in Kosovo.”

Its objective is

“to support the Kosovo authorities by monitoring, mentoring and advising on all areas related to the rule of law, in particular in the police, judiciary, customs and correctional services.”

It is also expected to assist the Kosovo institutions, judicial authorities and law-enforcement agencies on a range of other matters. The EU fact sheet goes on to state:

“The key priorities of the mission are to address immediate concerns regarding protection of minority communities”—

which, of course, is enormously important—

“corruption and the fight against organised crime.”

The fact sheet also states:

“EULEX Kosovo will have some limited correctional powers in the broader field of rule of law, in particular to investigate and prosecute serious and sensitive crimes.”

When I see the European Union, through this organisation, apparently assuming powers to investigate and prosecute serious and sensitive crimes, I have to ask myself by what authority? There is no such EU power, as I pointed out earlier. The EU is divided over this question. There is no certainty of any UN Security Council power. I will explain in a moment why that is almost certainly ultra vires. I know that there is a dispute about this, but to jump from a disputed situation to apparently having—I use the words of the European Union fact sheet—

“some limited correctional powers in the broader field of the rule of law, in particular to investigate and prosecute serious and sensitive crimes”

is to make assumptions that there is a rule of law that lies behind the creation of the rule of law mission.

Does my hon. Friend think that that extends to the fraud, corruption and misapplication of EU funds that are so rife in Kosovo at the moment? For example, when I was there as part of a delegation of the Council of Europe looking at the constitutional referendum in Novi Pazar, it was well known that substantial EU funds had been put into a power project in Kosovo. The power project had never been produced, but the funds had been expended.

I do not know about that particular case, but it reinforces my concerns. In relation to the European Union, as we know and as I mentioned yesterday in the debate on international development, the European Court of Auditors stands accused of not being able to balance its books properly. That could be yet another example of that, and from what my hon. Friend says, there appears to be substantial evidence to support that view. Indeed, in relation to the EULEX Kosovo organisation, the European Union fact sheet states:

“The initial mandate is for 2 years…to be terminated when the Kosovo authorities have gained enough experience to guarantee that all members of society benefit from the rule of law. The financial reference amount intended to cover the expenditure related to a period of sixteen months will be €205 million.”

I simply make the point that the whole of the structure has been set up as though there were a legitimate authority for doing so. It goes without saying that I question whether British taxpayers’ money is being legitimately spent in this sort of context. In a parliamentary context, one cannot go through life calling for democracy and for the rule of law, on which the constitutional arrangements of this country are supposed to be based, and then simply say that this case is sui generis, as the United Kingdom representative did in the Security Council. The Security Council minutes state that the United Kingdom representative made the following comments:

“the Council was facing an extraordinary set of circumstances, he said in conclusion. It was not ideal for Kosovo to become independent without the consent of Serbia and without the consensus of the Council. The unique circumstances of the violent break-up of former Yugoslavia had made it a sui generis case, which created no precedent”.

Did the fact that this was a difficult case make it inevitable that recognition would follow? The short answer is no. That is not to say that I do not want the Kosovan or Serbian people to have an entirely fair and peaceful society. Frankly, I recognise that there is a dilemma, but I do not want either the Kosovan or Serbian people to face a repetition of past difficulties. It troubles me when Mr. John Sawers says on behalf of the Government that

“when in the middle of the status process the Government of Serbia had changed its constitution to exclude any future for Kosovo outside Serbia, it had effectively ended any chance of a negotiated settlement. The international community could not be party to a settlement that was opposed by over 90 per cent. of a territory’s population. Apart from anything else, it would be contrary to its overriding priority of upholding peace and security”.

I have mentioned that the recognition of Croatia was a precipitate and fatal move, which Herr Genscher said at the time was the greatest victory for German foreign policy since 1945. Despite hopes that there would eventually be a peaceful situation in Croatia, what happened was a mistake that precipitated the most awful situation. When I see that the centre of gravity of the problem lies in the fact that the Government of Serbia changed their constitution, the question that comes to mind is this: which country determines the constitution of another country? If the Government of Serbia changed their constitution, is it possible, legal or legitimate for any other nation to step in and say that it is not possible for that constitution to be sustainable? I go further on that. John Sawers says that it would be

“contrary to its”—

the United Kingdom’s—

“overriding priority of upholding peace and security.”

I put the problem as simply as this: will it uphold peace and security to precipitate what could be a serious consequence? That is part of the problem. John Sawers goes on to say:

“NATO had agreed to continue to provide security in Kosovo, and the European Union had agreed to deploy a rule of law mission to oversee the build-up of Kosovo’s capacity”

and that

“The European Union was committed to the future of the region as a whole”.

Any responsible person wants to ensure that there is peace and security in the area, but from what I have seen, it is extremely difficult to envisage that the spokesmen for those who recognise Kosovo will be able to justify their arguments. I notice that Belgium spoke up in the Security Council meeting and said that realities on the ground could not be ignored. There are those who are uncertain about the stability of Belgium with respect to international law in terms of its internal arrangements.

As the hon. Gentleman says, it may well be that they need one another, as we all do in an interdependent world. I am striving not to be in any way unfair to those on both sides of the equation, but I strongly counsel that we must remember that might is not right. Forcing a situation does not produce the best results and de facto solutions do not solve problems, as we have found internationally. There is a range of other consequential circumstances in other states. For example, there are difficulties in relation to Cyprus and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge said, Timor. All over the world it is vital that we stick to the rule of law and if in doubt, stick to the rule of law and do not make assumptions, as the European Union and the Government are doing about the direction in which they must go. I recognise the dilemma, but I also say unequivocally that the European Union itself does not to my understanding have any legitimacy or legal right to recognise Kosovo at this stage. In the case of Croatia, the consequences of recognition led to a very serious situation.

With regard to the acquisition of legal personality by the European Union under the Lisbon treaty, the European Union seems to be operating on that basis irrespective of the fact that, first, it has not gone through yet and, secondly, several member states of the European Union are vigorously opposed, for extremely good reasons within their own countries, to recognising Kosovo. That is critical to the questions that arise in this case. Europe is not, as we are told, a state. The bottom line is, therefore, that the European Union should not be recognising Kosovo and making assertions that it cannot justify.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing the debate. Clearly, this is a particularly timely week for us to be holding it. The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted the historical background, of which we are well aware, and the potential for conflicts in the Balkans to spill over into the rest of Europe. It is true that we need to take great care with foreign policy in that area, which is why the opportunity to scrutinise Government policy and put questions to the Minister is welcome.

I am sure that we all remember the horrors of the ethnic cleansing and violence in the Balkans in the 1990s. It was perhaps all the more shocking because it was taking place so close to home in a country that for many years had been a popular holiday destination for many Brits and was familiar to many of our constituents. It was particularly moving to see such scenes unfolding on our television screens because they were from somewhere so close.

I shall strike a slightly different note from what we have heard so far, because I and my party very much welcome the Kosovan declaration of independence and the recognition of Kosovo by the Government. However, we agree that it must not be allowed to set a precedent, and that must be made very clear indeed.

I am truly bewildered by the statement “We welcome Kosovan independence.” As I said, many of us wish Kosovars well, but how on earth does the hon. Lady expect or hope that Kosovo will come into the European Union, particularly given the fact that if the criteria on war crimes are met and Serbia is admitted, it will have a veto on expansion of the European Union? Kosovo cannot and will not be advanced by the declaration of independence, because it cannot become a member of the United Nations or the European Union. I am bewildered as to how it is a great leap forward for Kosovars.

I believe that it is a step in the right direction. It would be premature to describe it as a great leap forward; these are clearly early days. In the rest of my speech, I shall outline how I hope that in future Kosovo will be able to be a member of the European Union, but the process will not be without difficulties, as it will not be without its difficulties for Serbia. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point that underlines just how difficult and sensitive the issue is. There will be no magic solution to the situation in the Balkans. There never was such a solution during the past century or before it, and it would be far too optimistic of us to imagine that one will suddenly present itself now. The question is more one of judging what the best path forward is, while recognising the difficulties.

If possible, will the hon. Lady give an indication of where her party stands with regard to the United Nations resolutions?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Kosovo, obviously United Nations resolution 1244 is in place and we very much hoped that it would be possible to get Russia on board. However, it became obvious during the months and years of negotiations that that would not happen. That was similar to the situation when the UK Government, through NATO, took action in Kosovo. We recognise that in some cases, when there is pressing humanitarian need or ethnic cleansing is going on, it will not always be possible to achieve unanimity across the United Nations.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene a second time. If I am not mistaken, her party was very keen on a United Nations mandate for the bombing of Iraq and the invasion of Iraq.

That is certainly true. At the time, we were also keen to preserve international consensus and to follow the international diplomatic process to its end through the inspectors who were in the country under Hans Blix. Of course that process was not followed through to the end. What we have seen in this case is different because there were exhaustive attempts to bring the parties together but it became clear that there was an immovable obstacle that could not be got round, whereas in the Iraq situation there was quite a lot of international consensus on giving Hans Blix much more time to do the job on weapons of mass destruction, which might have led the international community to come to more of a consensus.

I shall return to the subject of today’s debate, as I am sure you would wish me to do, Mr. Marshall. In addition to welcoming the declaration of independence, I shall touch on the importance of preventing ethnic violence and protecting minority rights, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) in particular mentioned. I shall then touch on the challenges ahead for Kosovo and the future possibilities for it and the other Balkan states within the EU.

The status quo was not an option. UNMIK was always a temporary measure; it would never have been able to continue in perpetuity. It is right that we recognise that and then look for the best solution. For the past seven or eight years, my father has been working in eastern Europe on a variety of regeneration and economic development programmes for the World Bank, the Department for International Development, the EU and so on. Most recently, he has been working in Kosovo for the Ministry of Health, so I have enjoyed many fascinating conversations with him, to try to understand the country and mindset a little better. He has the advantage of being in the interesting position of working in the Ministry with both Kosovans and Serbs, who obviously often have slightly different perspectives on an issue.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge mentioned the apparent parallel with Northern Ireland. However, the situation is very different from that faced in Northern Ireland because of the sheer extent of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Kosovo. This morning, I telephoned one of my dad’s colleagues, Albana, whose story he had mentioned to me, and she told me of her experience. In March 1999, there was a knock on her door. It was soldiers from the Serbian army who told her that she had 24 hours to leave her home and that if they came back in 24 hours and she was still there, she would be killed. She and her husband took their eight-month-old son and drove towards the Macedonian border. They had to abandon their car because of the sheer volume of traffic and queues and walk the final 20 to 30 km across the border into Macedonia. They had to wait at the border for two days before they could finally leave.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned just how appalling such a situation would be, and I think we all agree that it would be appalling if it happened to anyone, but what I have described was not happening to just one person. Albana’s story is replicated by many, many Kosovars, within such recent living memory—just the past decade—that it becomes clear that it would be impossible for Kosovo to prosper as part of Serbia; it would not be acceptable for it to remain part of Serbia. It is ironic, given the intentions of Milosevic, that many of his actions made it impossible for Kosovo to remain as part of Serbia and to make the case for a very different solution.

Of course, dialogue and a mutually agreed political solution would be the best way forward. That is what everyone aims for and there have been exhaustive attempts to secure it. A well-respected plan was put together by Martti Ahtisaari. When even that seemed to falter, further efforts were made in the later months of 2007 to reach a solution, but it became clear that it would not happen. At such a point, we have a choice. Do we just do nothing and say, “Well, that’s it. It’ll just stay as it is,” or do we act? We have seen sometimes in the past the consequences of inaction in that area.

I do not believe that what we have seen is the best option, but in the absence of the best option, people have to go for the least worst option, which is what I think the declaration represents. That is why I welcome it. Of course no one has a crystal ball; no one can predict every future consequence but, on balance, I believe that it will prove the best way forward.

I would like some clarity from the Minister, particularly about the Foreign Secretary’s written statement on 19 February in which he talked about the situation being the “last remaining issue” in the Balkans. That may be slightly optimistic. Can the Minister tell us whether he really believes that there will not be similar issues in future? It seems to me that we are at the start of the process rather than reaching the end of it, as the phrase “last remaining issue” might suggest.

Clearly, the prevention of the ethnic violence must be a priority. British forces—1st Battalion the Welsh Guards—are on stand-by. We hope that they will not be needed, and it will be interesting to find out whether the Minister believes that they will need to be deployed. It is right that we take that responsibility and that we aid the security of the area. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham set out some of the great problems for the Serb population within Kosovo, and it is important that the rights of that minority are safeguarded—it should have guaranteed places in Government, Parliament, and the police and civil service. EU staff have a crucial role to play in that regard.

The challenges ahead for Kosovo are not only political. The economic situation in the country is dire: unemployment is more than 40 per cent., there is little industry, and even electricity and other infrastructure is intermittent. As in so many countries, sadly, corruption is a problem. We clearly do not yet have success. That should be measured not only by peace and security in the general area, but by the development of the Kosovan economy, if the country is truly able to become a stable part of the region.

The future vision is for Kosovo, Serbia and the other Balkan states to join the EU. Even critics of the EU agree that for the past 60 years, it has been good at preserving peace and security among its members.

A European Union based on an association of nation states co-operating, but not co-ordinated, would be a solution. They should not be put into a compression chamber.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is a sensitive situation in its early stages. The prize is a wonderful one to aim for, but the Government will know how important it is to secure peace and security in that troubled region.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on raising the debate. He has considerable experience and knowledge of the area and has spoken frequently on it in the past. I do not have quite the same expertise, although I spent hours preparing lectures at the Army staff college on German anti-partisan operations in the area and recall the names of Ante Pavelic and the Ustase, General Nedic of the Serbian puppet Government, the Waffen SS division Handschar, which was recruited from Bosnian Muslims, and, of course, Mihailovic and Tito. The history of the area is complex; the cultural and racial mixtures, and the capacity of all sides to carry out massacre and counter-massacre, is familiar to us all.

I must begin by disappointing my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and for Stone (Mr. Cash) by saying that it is on record that the Opposition support the Government’s position on the independence of Kosovo, although we recognise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge pointed out, that there are a series of unanswered questions on the matter, not least on the attitude of the Serbian Government and people. We all accept that Kosovan independence is now a given, so I shall ask the Minister a series of questions on the consequences.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, the British embassy in Belgrade came under attack as protests against Kosovo independence swept the Serbian capital last week. The damage to the building was limited and embassy staff were safe, but will the Minister tell the House what additional measures have been taken to ensure their safety and security?

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on Monday that there must be

“a decision based on law and compromise between Belgrade and Pristina”

on the future status of Kosovo. It did not say what compromise Russia has in mind. On the ground in Kosovo, ethnic Serbs in the north, with the support of Serbia and Russia, are making steady efforts to resist the authority of the new state. Will the Minister tell the House what assessment he has made of the Russian statement and does he agree with analysts who believe Kosovo is headed for partition, with the risk of a frozen conflict emerging in the country? Will he assure the House that the Government will oppose that, and does he not agree that our goal must be the promotion of a successful multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo, and not a new division along ethnic lines?

Last week, the European Union announced the withdrawal of its staff from northern Kosovo because of the security situation. Pieter Feith, the European Union envoy supervising Kosovo, said that was not intended to formalise the current division between north and south Kosovo. Is the Minister confident that that is the case? What conditions have been set for the return of EU staff to the area so that they can continue preparations for the transition to an EU mission in Kosovo? Does the Minister agree that Kosovo should not be allowed to drift into partition and towards the creation of an entity in the north that severs links with the central Government and answers only to Belgrade?

Western officials have accused Slobodan Samardzic, Serbia’s Minister for Kosovo, of inciting disorder, both in Belgrade and along Kosovo’s northern border, since Kosovo Albanian leaders declared independence on 17 February. Do the Government agree with that assessment of the Minister’s actions?

Additionally, does the Minister share my view that any partition of Kosovo along ethnic grounds would create pressure on neighbouring countries such as Macedonia, Montenegro, and even other areas in southern Serbia where Albanians constitute a sizeable minority? I emphasise that point because there is such a patchwork of different ethnic groups in the region that if we start to unravel it we could return ultimately to complete chaos and widespread ethnic cleansing.

The repercussions of Kosovo’s declaration of independence are already being felt in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The leadership of the entity of Republic Srpska has tried to link the independence of Kosovo with their aspirations for secession from Bosnia, which was touched on by some of my hon. Friends. Does the Minister agree that any attempt to undermine the integrity of Bosnia and the Dayton peace accords must be resisted?

The annual threat assessment made by the US director of national intelligence, dated 5 February 2008, states that any move by the Bosnian-Serb entity towards secession would

“put pressure on US and NATO forces in the region to assist”.

With an untested EU military force on the ground in Bosnia, NATO presumably has contingency plans to redeploy in an emergency. Last December, the Conservatives called for deployment of a NATO reserve force in Bosnia to cushion the country from any attempts by separatists to break it. Will the Minister clarify the Government’s policy regarding additional deployments to Bosnia and Herzegovina? Many hon. Members, however they see the situation in Kosovo, fear that if there are insufficient forces to deploy immediately, forces that arrive two or three days later may be too late.

The debate has been excellent and I praise my hon. Friend, who has strong views on the issue, for the way in which he put forward a case that is sympathetic to the Serbs, but which recognised that some of the unfortunate actions in which they took part in the past have not helped their cause. We should be sensitive to Serbia and to the aspirations of its democratic leadership, and to the fact that it rejected some extremists who would only have made the situation much worse.

I am delighted that you are chairing the proceedings, Mr. Marshall, and that Miss Begg oversaw the earlier part of the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) both on securing the debate and on the way in which he argued his case. All three main parties disagree with him, but the careful way in which he argued his case continues to earn him respect for the sincerity and depth of knowledge that he brings to debates. Perhaps that is a unique feature of debates that we have here in Westminster Hall.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has stayed with us—I know that he must leave early, which we all understand—but the last time I had to respond to a debate, he spoke with equal passion and knowledge about international politics in relation to Ireland and the Commonwealth. He encouraged me to read some more. I can confirm that I took up his suggestion: I was up until after 1 o’clock this morning reading about the nature of Ireland and the Commonwealth and got to the meeting of the Irish Cabinet on 8 December 1921. I think I know how it ends, and I am looking forward to reading the last couple of chapters. However, although we should never forget the lessons of history—current dynamics and contemporary decisions should not be motivated exclusively by recent or long-standing history—it is nevertheless incumbent on us all to analyse these issues in much greater detail. In the limited time available to me, I shall try to deal with many of the comments made by the hon. Gentleman for Uxbridge, who made a carefully argued case.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) argued his case with even more passion, but I hope that he does not mind my saying that his speech was perhaps a little less considered. On occasion, his arguments were lopsided. Hansard will record verbatim what he said, but he suggested that we showed a different policy position from the United States on this issue. If that is the starting point, I passionately disagree. One cannot determine international politics and foreign relations by trying to find ways to disagree with America. I am content that, more often than not, we agree with the USA. It is one of the great democracies of our globe, and I am comfortable, politically and personally, in finding common cause with America more often than I disagree with it. Based on his comments today, the hon. Gentleman does not share that assertion. His trite repetition of international politics being seen through the prism of some contemporary poodle-ism, which he offered again today, was unfounded.

I look forward to debating the European Union with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) again this afternoon. In his unique way, he argued on these big issues through the aspect of EU legal personality. I shall respond to his comments if time allows, but I put it on record again, as the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) did, that the Government and the major Opposition parties support and recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set that out in more detail in a written statement put before the House on 19 February, giving the rationale and reasoning behind the decision. I understand that 29 countries have recognised Kosovo’s independence, and the number continues to grow almost daily.

Although a good speech has been drafted for me by well-informed civil servants, who do a fantastic job in implementing Ministers’ decisions—I respond to a point made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham—I hope that the House would prefer me to respond to the specific points raised during the debate rather than read a well-crafted speech. It is for hon. Members to decide whether my comments formulate themselves into a well-crafted argument.

The hon. Members for Uxbridge and for Shrewsbury and Atcham asked about the Government’s attitude to Serbia more generally. I say clearly to the House, and therefore more widely—to those in Serbia who listen, and particularly to the Government in Serbia—that the United Kingdom is determined to have strong bilateral and multilateral relations, based on issues of common concern, where Serbia continues to look westwards and joins a family of European nations that respect democracy, human rights, the rule of law and free, open and transparent economic markets—the norms that the European Union increasingly expects member states to follow.

In that regard, if Serbia so wishes, we would certainly support its destiny in Europe, in time—as, of course, we would in respect of Kosovo. Indeed, the hon. Member for Uxbridge was fair enough to say so. We have made it clear that we are willing to sign a political agreement with Serbia, but the violence that we have seen over the past couple of days aimed at diplomatic missions does nothing to help create a conducive environment to enable that to happen. Serbia is damaging her standing across the globe by allowing such events to happen on the streets of her capital. To respond to the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk, we have made it clear to the Serbian Government that those actions are utterly unacceptable. We condemn them without reservation, and we demand that they are not repeated. The Serbian Government have given assurances on these matters; they are determined to ensure that they are not repeated.

In response to further points raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk, the international community is not interested in partition. We will put in place the necessary investment of people and diplomatic effort to ensure that that does not happen. We are committed, as he and his party’s Front-Bench team are, to a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo. Indeed, I have read over the past couple of days that the courts in northern Kosovo are being protected and supported by Portuguese forces, to help ensure that that is happening. It is incumbent on all in positions of responsibility in Kosovo, Serbia and the wider Balkan region, to realise the consequences of their comments. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman raised a particular example that, at best, was unfortunate; reckless is another way of interpreting what he said.

United Nations Security Council resolution 1244. It left Kosovo within Serbia on an interim basis, pending the outcome of a process to determine Kosovo’s final status. The nature of that outcome is not constrained in any way by that resolution. The status process was duly taken forward by the UN special envoy Ahtisaari. It resulted in his proposals for supervised independence. References to the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in resolution 1244 are related to that interim stage, but not to Kosovo’s final status.

On the question of EU unity and EU action, on 18 February the General Affairs and External Relations Council set out a clear EU response to developments in Kosovo. It agreed to a range of political and practical assistance to Kosovo, including the deployment of an EU special representative to Kosovo, and the deployment of a European security and defence policy mission to assist with reform of policing and the justice sector. It will also provide support for Kosovo’s political and economic development, in line with the EU perspective for the region. That, the largest EU deployment of its kind, was agreed unanimously. It is not for the European Union or the United Nations to recognise nation states bilaterally. It is for other sovereign nations to do so, which is why the United Kingdom, with 20 other nations thus far, recognises Kosovo’s independence.

The question was posed whether that sets a precedent. I understand the issue clearly. The hon. Member for Uxbridge, fairly and in a measured way, outlined his concerns. I do not wish to disappoint him, but we clearly argued the case at the UN and elsewhere. In the case of Kosovo, given its tragic recent history, there is a range of circumstances that are not replicated anywhere else in the world.

Security Council resolution 1244 has provided for a political process to determine Kosovo’s final status. That process has taken place and it resulted in the proposal for supervised independence. That, of course, was not agreed to unanimously because Russia indicated throughout the process that it would not allow a UN process to be concluded. It has now been agreed that the Ahtisaari proposals should be the bedrock for the principles and specifics of what needs to be delivered on the ground. They propose extensive powers for local government, and they guarantee thresholds of representation in Parliament, a police force, a judiciary and a civil service that reflect Kosovo’s ethnic diversity. The House will be aware that the majority of Serbs in Kosovo do not live in that northern region, but 60 per cent. live in the south.