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Volume 687: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

Lord Anderson of Swansea rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for the future status of Kosovo.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to open this short debate on Kosovo. It is timely because the status problem is likely to be resolved shortly, and it is important that your Lordships should be able to express views before that decision is published. Perhaps the Minister will confirm the expected timetable. We know that Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special envoy, has delayed his report until after the elections in Serbia on 21 January. His proposals are then likely to be passed to Pristina and to Belgrade in February, and to be published in March. The EU Commission has already given its views on the importance of the decision in its annual report, which was published on 8 November. In addition, the text of the Council’s joint action on the establishment of the EU preparatory team has declared that the EU has a vital interest in a positive result of this process and stands ready to enhance its role in Kosovo following the status settlement.

Technically, of course, Kosovo is now part of Serbia and therefore regularised by UN Security Council Resolution 1244, but it is in legal limbo and, in practice, a UN protectorate, which leads to intense frustration among the Albanian majority. The EU report states that the status issue has dominated Kosovo politics and has deflected Kosovo from necessary internal reforms. It points out some areas of improvement, such as strengthening the Assembly’s role and establishing new institutions, but its overall tone is very negative. In particular, it highlights a lack of, or inadequate, progress in key political and economic fields, and points out that unemployment remains high and that more needs to be done in fields such as organised crime, the trafficking of human beings, and drugs. Otherwise, as optimists might say, it is a highly favourable report. It is sad to reflect that the imminence of the decision on status has been known for some time but that it did not stimulate greater effort to make progress in Kosovo.

It might be helpful to look at Kosovo in its regional and historical context. The prospect of EU membership is a major positive factor for the west Balkans as a whole. The EU correctly recognises that much of the solution lies in boosting regional co-operation and integration and in reducing the existing barriers to intra-regional trade. Yet we know that we face enlargement fatigue and that the question of absorption capacity lies like a cloud over the whole region, even over Croatia.

There is also some evidence of recent backsliding in the region. There is strain in Macedonia, for example, following the July elections, which some see as a threat to the Ohrid Framework Agreement. And a year after candidate status was accorded to Macedonia last December under the UK presidency, the EU has still not decided to begin accession negotiations. Then there was the October election of Silajdzic for the Bosniak presidential seat in Sarajevo, mounting extremism in Bosnia, and the Serbian referendum on 30 October, which included a clause declaring Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia.

What of Kosovo itself? Obviously we need to place Kosovo in the context of the negative legacy of the former Yugoslavia. It was the poorest province of former Yugoslavia, and much neglected. The UNDP states that the per capita income is now just over $1,000 per annum. It does have some natural resources, particularly lignite. It has enough lignite to power the country for 200 years, but it is located in areas of tension and there is low investment in it, due partly to low energy-bill collection and to land title problems. All this might, of course, improve when the status question has been resolved.

On my several visits to Kosovo I have noted a lack of community spirit which includes lack of indigenous NGOs, crime, violence, and alas a dependency culture. Of the population of 2.473 million, 60 per cent are unemployed and 55 per cent are under the age of 30. The average age of the Albanians is 28 and of the Serbs 54. A recent study by two former members of UNMIK argued that the UN had been insufficiently robust in tackling what they call the “thugocracy”. They state that,

“most Albanians who took up arms to challenge Serbian oppression did not object to one ethnic group bullying all the others; they simply wanted their ethnic group to be the one on top”.

However, the inventiveness and enterprise of the Kosovars from 1989 to 1999—the university is an example—shows that they are capable of enterprise even if they have shown little capacity for it since the war.

It is small wonder that Martti Ahtisaari appears to have concluded on the basis of his experiences since February that an internal consensus is not available and that an imposed solution is inevitable. Commentators fear riots by one side or the other when the proposals are published. There is of course much combustible material from the past, but we cannot ignore the reality that 90 per cent-plus of the population have a fixed determination for independence. Equally, they cannot be given a blank cheque. The result is likely to be a unique formula—independence, but with strong conditionalities, including protection of minority rights and substantial decentralisation to Serbian municipalities.

It has been a bad year for Serbia, which has lost Montenegro and is about to lose Kosovo. It has a victim complex, conveniently forgetting the responsibility of Milosevic for its troubles and simply refusing to recognise current realities, as the referendum showed. But the international community should be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of a proud country and should do nothing to humiliate it. There is recent evidence that the international community has recognised this, including the decision on 20 November at the Riga summit of NATO. I also think of the European Union opening visa facilitation negotiations on 30 November, which it hopes to conclude by the end of next year. It is all part of what has been called an EU charm offensive. There must have been strong international guarantees of minority rights with sanctions for any infringement. Again, Javier Solana has undertaken to review, after the Serb elections in January, the reopening of SAA negotiations, which were suspended in May. Clearly, the European Union hopes that this will encourage a moderate outcome of those elections.

There is also a major challenge to Kosovo to act responsibly. It is fair to say that Prime Minister Ceku has taken a limited number of initiatives on national reconciliation, but the immediate prospect is difficult. Even if there is conditional independence, as recommended, this could well not be accepted by the Security Council and any status change depends on an amendment of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Russia is now in a more assertive mood and may well see independence as a negative precedent for Chechnya and could well seek to make trouble in the frozen conflicts in Georgia—in Abkhazia and South Ossetia—and in Moldova in relation to Transnistria. China’s response may be influenced by Taiwan and Tibet. Even though the West argues that Kosovo is unique, Russia and China may demand a price if they do not veto. Even if the Security Council, as expected, issues a mandate for the European Union, over time more countries will recognise Kosovo’s independence, whatever the Russian and Chinese position.

I end with a series of questions to my noble friend. What are the current assumptions of his department about the response of Russia and China at the Security Council? What safeguards does he expect, apart from minority rights? Does he anticipate a continuing role from NATO even if there is an ESDP mission? I am of course aware that the GAERC at its meeting today and tomorrow will consider a proposed council joint action to extend the mandate of the EU planning team. Is my noble friend confident, however, that the European Union has fully recognised the scale of the task that awaits it in Kosovo and is making the necessary budget amendments?

The International Organisation for Migration, IOM, has stated that trafficking in women and girls is now the third source of income, after arms and drugs, for the Albanian mafia network. Will he undertake to ensure that the problem of human trafficking is given high priority in any negotiations? What steps are proposed to tackle the problem of the 300,000 illegally held small arms in Kosovo that Saferworld reports are held there? Finally, and perhaps most importantly of these questions, what specific contribution will the UK make in finance and technical assistance?

I have one final reflection. I posed the question of what is our interest and that of our European Union partners. The answer is surely a Kosovo that is as stable as can be managed during and after the transition period, with a clear perspective of eventual membership of Euro-Atlantic institutions. Bluntly, if we do not go to them and help them manage the transition, they will come to us in the shape of refugees, illegal immigrants, organised crime, drug barons and human traffickers. Kosovo will ultimately be independent politically, with no conditions, if—and, given all its problems, perhaps this is a big “if”—it meets the relevant EU criteria. Then, and only then, it should be welcomed as a full member of our European family.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. He and I have stood together on many occasions and on all of them, I think, we have stood on the same side on crucial foreign policy issues. I followed his perceptive speech with a good deal of interest and agreement, and I shall touch on some of the matters that he did.

I cannot quite agree with the noble Lord that the October elections in Bosnia produced a more nationalist outcome. In fact, all the nationalist parties were weaker at the end of those elections than at the beginning. I do not think that Haris Silajdzic is any more nationalist than the Bosniak whom he removed in the elections.

I have kept quiet on the Balkans since I left there at the end of January because I believe that, when you leave the stage, you leave the stage, and I wanted to let some time go by. However, time and events now persuade me to say one or two words about an increasingly troublesome situation in the western Balkans. I fear that I shall be critical of the international community, but that criticism does not extend to the policies of Her Majesty’s Government, which are correct, robust and well targeted; I suspect that what has happened recently in the Balkans is despite them, rather than because of them. I pay particular tribute to the Government’s ambassadors on the ground in the western Balkans, especially the remarkable and extremely able Matthew Rycroft in Sarajevo.

I fear that I cannot be so complimentary or encouraging about the recent policies of the international community in the Balkans. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is correct: things have gone backwards in the past year or so. I find the situation at present extremely troublesome. There are brighter signs: Macedonia, despite the election, seems to be moving forward gently, and Albania continues to surprise us by its progress. However, I deeply regret that the international community has allowed the remarkable progress made over the past years in Bosnia and Herzegovina—not during my time alone, but before that—to be checked. In my view, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has now moved into reverse.

Maybe all this is because it is election year or because Governments still have to be formed. Elections were held in October and I do not suppose that the Governments will be formed until February, if the past is anything to go by. But I fear that it is more than that. I am especially disturbed that Republika Srpska has been allowed again to behave in a fashion by which it seems to indicate that it thinks of itself not as part of a state but as a state itself. It has gone backwards on the agreements made to transfer powers to the state level in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has reneged on the agreements that it made about police reform. It has been allowed to threaten referenda, which is deeply irresponsible in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially as they have been proposed contrary to Dayton. It has been allowed to begin to open representation in capital cities abroad, and allowed—even encouraged—by Belgrade to entertain the idea that a resolution in Kosovo would need some change in the status of Republika Srpska and the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Serbs in Belgrade have decided once again that the way to the future is back to the past. The Serbs are a great and remarkable people, for whom I have admiration and respect; nevertheless, from time to time, they love to believe that it is Serbs against the world. I fear that that is happening. I fear that the elections on 21 January will see a shift to the right and a rise in the power of Seselj’s party.

Against this, we must view the situation in Kosovo. Here I fear that we made a mistake right at the start. There is a rule about peacemaking—if the international community, together with the local community, can form a common project that they can seek to achieve together, they can move things forward. But I regret that in 1999 we left a vacuum where the answer to the only question that anybody wanted to ask—what is the status of Kosovo?—should have lain. One thing was plain and obvious—whatever else happened, Kosovo could not again be governed by Belgrade. But we would not admit that. I cannot imagine why.

By their actions in Kosovo, the Serbs lost the moral right to govern a province in which they had only 5 per cent of the population. But our incapacity to tell Kosovo at least that it would not be governed by Belgrade did two things: it enabled the nationalists in Belgrade to play the issue for votes and it enabled the destructive forces in Kosovo to fill the vacuum that we would not fill with an answer by seeking to provide the answer themselves, usually by force or the threat of force.

We must address the issue that we should have addressed in 1999. This is not the benefit of hindsight. With Senator Joe Biden, I wrote a paper in 1999 for both our Governments, recommending that we should at least recognise that Kosovo would never again be governed by Belgrade; we argued that to allow Belgrade the illusion that that might be so and to allow Kosovo the opportunity to doubt our intentions on this matter would only damage the prospects of making peace there. That is what has happened.

We proposed at the time that some tests should be set for Kosovo. When it had reached those attributes that a state can fulfil—good relations with its neighbours, proper protection of human rights, protection of property—we might entertain its claim for statehood. In 1999, we proposed what later became known as “standards before status”, but by then it was too late because the malevolent forces had already gathered and both sides, in Kosovo and Belgrade, had begun to grip the situation that we had failed to grip. So now we must return to this question.

I heartily congratulate Martti Ahtisaari, whose patient, sagacious and determined diplomacy has produced a set of proposals, the outline of which is visible to all. What is proposed is strong decentralisation, strong protection for minority rights—in this case, the Serbs—and a form of independence under international tutelage. I think that that is the right solution. However, it was not right that the international community, faced with the Ahtisaari proposals—he has now finished his work and there is nothing further that he can do—decided yet again to delay. I cannot imagine why. I suppose that it was in the mistaken belief that, somehow or other, delaying until 21 January might save us from a backlash from the right in Serbia. It will not. It is almost never right in the Balkans to delay or to appease. We have simply allowed the nationalist forces to gather around behind the delusion that Kosovo might have some status in the future other than ultimate independence. That has been extremely damaging.

I hope that delay will not continue. It does nobody any good. The Ahtisaari proposals are there. We all know that the Russians are opposed to them and that some new members of the European Union will follow the old, historic pro-Belgrade policy in whatever circumstances, but this is a nettle that must be grasped. I hope that we will have the Serb elections on 21 January, and on 22 January we will announce what the Ahtisaari proposals will be. Belgrade will want to delay again. It will say, “Hang on, let’s wait until we have formed a Government, months down the track”. The Belgrade policy is very clear. It wants to provoke the Kosovo Albanians into a strong reaction—one of force, disturbance and instability. That is Belgrade’s game and we should not be playing it.

I suspect that the Government share that view, although they have probably not been able to say so. I suspect that the Government did not want NATO to abandon conditionality on Karadzic and Mladic, but we were forced to do so because of a sudden and unexpected volte-face by the United States, which I deeply regret—it was wrong. I suspect that the Government have been taking a robust line on this question of delay and I recommend that they continue doing so.

I have one final point. The one thing that keeps the western Balkans on the track of reform is the magnetic pull of Brussels—nothing else. The sadness is that that magnetic pull has weakened because there is doubt in the capitals of Europe about whether we want the western Balkans in the EU. The question of enlargement has become muddled up with Turkey. But this is not about expanding Europe beyond its present borders. It is about unfinished business within our present borders. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, is right. If we do not bring them in, we will find them in our cities, with criminality and trafficked women, because that is the corridor through which they come. It is in Europe’s interest to keep that magnetic pull strong and to keep the western Balkans on the track of reform. The international community has allowed that to slacken; it has allowed the conditionality and the magnetic pull of Brussels to be weakened in the past year, and the Balkans are now moving backwards. They will not return to conflict, but they will stay in a black hole of dysfunctionality and criminality for as long as we allow this to continue.

I deeply regret the way in which things are going. I hope that the Government and the international community will insist that the Ahtisaari proposals for Kosovo are published on 21 January, that there is no further delay and that this nettle is grasped—and that we do at last in the early part of next year what we should have done in 1999.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the international community is facing a critical moment in what could—and, one hopes, will—be the final chapter in the cascade of events, many of them tragic and many of them not too brilliantly handled, that followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. The long-awaited report on the future of Kosovo by the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, Martti Ahtisaari, to which the noble Lords who preceded me referred, has in my view—and in this I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown—wisely been postponed until after the Serbian elections in January, although I firmly agree with the noble Lord that it should not be postponed further after that.

The challenge remains how to ensure that this final chapter in the break-up of Yugoslavia is completed in a way that ensures a peaceful transition to a future that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Kosovars while guaranteeing the human rights of all the inhabitants of Kosovo and ensuring peace and stability throughout the Balkan region. That is easy to say but difficult to do. The Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, could not, therefore, be more timely.

Perhaps the easiest part of the question to answer is what the legitimate aspirations of the Kosovars are. With roughly 90 per cent of the population of ethnic Albanian origin and their absolute determination to have an independent state of their own, it is hard to see how any outcome could be accepted and respected that does not in one way or another and in some predictable timescale secure their independence. But answering that question is only the beginning of any solution. It raises the need to protect, not only on paper but in everyday life, the human rights of the minority populations in Kosovo, most obviously but by no means exclusively the Serbs. It raises also the spectre of a greater Albania, which has the potential to be intensely destabilising right across a region which contains several states with substantial ethnic Albanian minorities. It raises also the question of the prospects for EU membership of Kosovo and its neighbour, Serbia. Finding answers to all those questions, not just the simple one about Kosovo’s independence, is likely to determine whether any outcome can be sustainable and achieved peacefully.

From time to time, it has been suggested that a possible solution to the problem of minorities would be to detach from Kosovo as it is presently defined those geographical areas which are principally inhabited by ethnic Serbs and to incorporate them in Serbia. However, such a solution would surely cause more problems than it would resolve and create destabilising pressure for further territorial adjustments in the region, including in Serbia. It would be to enter the logic of ethnic cleansing, which we should now aim to put behind us, not to legitimate. But if that solution is to be rejected, it is all the more essential that the personal and political rights of minorities should be permanently entrenched in whatever constitution an independent Kosovo adopts, and that the practical implementation of such rights should be ensured for at least an initial period by some degree of international supervision. As to the spectre of a greater Albania, it would probably be best if that were to be quite explicitly ruled out in any settlement which is reached over Kosovo.

In the longer term, by far the most important of the questions which I have posed, and one which has to be answered, is that relating to Kosovo and its neighbours’ future prospects of one day joining the European Union. There, I firmly join both noble Lords who have preceded me in saying that that is crucial to getting this situation right. It is that prospect which offers the best hope that political institutions, the rule of law and free economies will evolve steadily in a positive direction, and that nationalist pressures and rivalries will be kept firmly under control. Without that prospect, or if that prospect becomes shrouded in doubt and dispute, the chances of a successful evolution will be sharply reduced, and the risk of developments which could drag the Balkans back towards the nightmare conditions of the 1990s would be increased. That is why the European Union’s current bout of enlargement fatigue is potentially so extraordinarily damaging, to itself as much as to anyone else, and why it is so important that the European Council meeting in a few days’ time moves decisively to confirm the commitments earlier entered into with respect to all the countries of the west Balkans. I hope that the Minister will say something on that point.

Even if all these questions can be satisfactorily answered, shadows remain over the prospects for Kosovo, most notably the attitude of Serbia and the manoeuvring of the Russian Federation, which has recently begun to hint at some obscure and unacceptable linkage with problems in a quite different geographical region, the Caucasus, presumably in connection with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By using its veto, Russia can prevent the Security Council’s endorsement of any proposals put forward by Ahtisaari, even if they are backed by an overwhelming majority of the other members, but it cannot prevent Kosovo’s independence being accepted by that same overwhelming majority, thus becoming an inescapable fact of international life. Moreover, it cannot hope to impose an outcome parallel with that in Abkhazia and North Ossetia, given the Security Council’s frequently reiterated confirmation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It would surely be far better, therefore, for Russia not to brandish the threat of such linkages, but to negotiate in good faith in the Security Council on the basis of whatever proposals Ahtisaari comes forward with and which will then be endorsed by the new Secretary-General of the United Nations.

One thread that runs through all these analyses of the Kosovo problem is the absolutely central role of the European Union. In some parts of our media, even in some parts of your Lordships’ House, it is customary to mock the European Union’s common foreign and security policy as if it were some kind of will-o’-the-wisp or fantasy. But in the Balkans it has been a key element for years. It is keeping the peace in Bosnia. It is helping Macedonia avoid civil strife. It has acted as a midwife to Montenegro’s peaceful detachment from Serbia. In Kosovo, too, it is a key player. Its role in the months ahead could make all the difference between success and failure. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House how Her Majesty’s Government intend to ensure that the EU remains united and effective in its policy towards Kosovo in the period ahead.

My Lords, I rise with some hesitation to speak on a subject on which both the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Ashdown know a great deal more than I.

I taught students from this area, Serbs, Albanians, Macedonians and Bosnians, together in the mid-1990s. One of them, a Serb who learned Albanian, went on to write her PhD thesis, “The Parallel State in Kosovo”, from which I learnt a great deal about the pains of that area and, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown, said, the sheer impossibility of putting back Serbian control of Kosovo. Tremendous problems are caused by the refusal of Serbian nationalists to see where they have reached after many years of gross mistakes by their leaders. Unfortunately, that is where we are.

I also remember seeing in a Ministry of Defence briefing during the Kosovo war a map of Ulster superimposed over one of Kosovo. The geographical similarities were pointed out, which led to the depressing thought that there were probably political similarities as well. The Balkans are now off the front page here and in the rest of Europe, but as has been said, the problems are still very much there and will come back to bite the rest of Europe unless they are effectively dealt with. I join my noble friend Lord Ashdown in complimenting Her Majesty’s Government on continuing to pay attention to this problem when some European Governments have begun to look elsewhere, much as the British Government attempted to hold attention on Cyprus for many years when European Governments preferred not to do so. I wish only that British Ministers spent more time going round the rest of the European Union explaining why we need an effective common foreign and security policy and what the real problems are with which we should be dealing rather than spending too much time in Washington and elsewhere and neglecting making the case here and on the Continent for effective European co-operation.

We all agree that the alternative outcomes are much worse. I recall that another of my students, who was studying Turkey and Europe, told me happily one day that we had to understand that the Albanian mafia was causing the Turkish mafia to lose control of the heroin trade in the part of north London in which she was living because they were prepared to be much more violent than the Turks. We know that drugs, people smuggling and all sorts of trans-national organised crime has and will come from that region unless we manage to incorporate it in a larger entity. I am not entirely clear what is meant by conditional independence for Kosovo. The only form of conditional independence that I really understand in this context is that of becoming a member of the European Union, which is a form of conditional independence. That prospect is not very happily received in this country but it is probably the best that we can hope for the western Balkans.

The western Balkans have to be contained in the European Union. They are now surrounded by the European Union, or they will be when Bulgaria and Romania come in in January. To leave them outside is to leave some weak and unviable states causing problems in a wider Europe. I am extremely unhappy about the proliferation of weak and tiny states—Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia; we are not entirely sure yet what Serbia will emerge as—which will have to be contained in an EU that will have to have rather stronger institutional and political monitoring arrangements as they come in. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will also consider, as they react to the 50th anniversary declaration of the European Union in which fellow Governments will no doubt wish to say something about returning to institutional reform, that if we have a larger number of very small states coming in to the European Union in the next 10 years that will force further institutional reform. There are positive reasons why Her Majesty’s Government should be prepared even to tell the editor of the Daily Mail, and possibly even the editor of the Sun, that some institutional reforms are in Britain’s interests.

A number of speakers have already spoken about the Contact Group and about the Russian element. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, if I understood him correctly, dared to suggest that Russian policy on this might possibly be rational. In the conversations that I have had with people in Moscow over the past three or four years about the southern Caucasus, rationality, rather than emotion, has been in very short supply. The ability of the Russians to argue that, of course, Abkhazia and South Ossetia can become independent but no such implications carry any weight for any part of the north Caucasus is part of the problem that we have in dealing with the frozen conflicts. We have to try as far as we can to carry the Russians with us on Kosovo. That probably requires us to say rather more about what we mean by “conditional independence” than we have yet agreed.

The problem of Serbia itself remains. We have to continue to work with the Serbian Government and with young Serbs as far as we can. I am very happy that we have a number of very bright young Serbians studying in this country at present; it is exactly the sort of thing that we should be encouraging. The Foreign Office should be wondering whether it can provide more Chevening scholarships for good young Serbs to come here. We need, as far as possible, to end their sense of victimhood, isolation and of being cut off from the rest of Europe, which is so much the problem in Belgrade, Niš and elsewhere.

I end by coming back to the question that has been put in all three previous speeches; that is, what is the role for the European Union and has the European Union collectively understood fully how large a task it is taking on—Her Majesty’s Government carries a share of the responsibility for this—as it takes on more of what the UN was undertaking for the first few years? That has to be, alongside the continuing situation in Bosnia, a major responsibility, and it will cost money. It will require political attention and other sorts of resources. I would very much like the Minister to assure us, as he winds up, that Her Majesty’s Government will be saying that openly and publicly to their colleagues in the other 24 member states.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, on securing this debate. It has enabled your Lordships’ House to consider the current hiatus in moves to decide Kosovo’s future status. With such distinguished speakers, we would expect no less in your Lordships’ House. In some ways it is ironic that the manoeuvring that triggered the first war and the break-up of Yugoslavia began in Kosovo in 1989, when Slobodan Milosevic scrapped the Serbian province’s autonomous status. Now we have turned full circle back to negotiations over Kosovo’s independence. I declare an interest as a member of the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe (BACEE), run superbly by Nicholas Jarrold. We have been aware that this period will be one of crucial decisions for Kosovo and the Balkans. The United Nations-sponsored final status talks have started, and after more than six years of UN rule it is time for the people of Kosovo—Albanian and Serb alike—to be given a chance to define their future.

Together with the United Nations and our European partners, we support a process that will determine Kosovo’s future status. It will require Kosovo’s leadership to continue progress on the UN-endorsed standards that are designed to make certain the basic values of multi-ethnicity, democracy and market orientation, while placing Kosovo decisively on the path to integration with Europe. The Kosovo Serb community and the Government of Serbia and Montenegro must also assume a heavy share of responsibility for successful negotiations. Belgrade should help Kosovo’s Serbs make certain that they will have a place in whatever political structure emerges.

No one can deny that Kosovo is an emotional matter for the Serbs. Historically, it lay at the heart of Serbia’s medieval empire. It is where they lost a battle in 1389 that led to 500 years of Ottoman rule and it contains some of their main religious sites. It is a Serbian province, rather than an ex-Yugoslav republic, such as Montenegro. Indeed, the new Serbian constitution, as summarised by Dana, a Serbian daily paper,

“promised a Kosovo in Serbia and a Serbia in Europe”.

The paper went on to note that,

“it is hard to tell which is further away”.

That statement currently rings true, given that over 90 per cent of Kosovo’s 2 million people are ethnic Albanians who will settle only for independence, and opinion polls show that although most Serbs would like the position to which the constitution aspires, too few believe that independence can be prevented.

As noble Lords have highlighted, the Serbian constitutional referendum and the forthcoming legislative elections have been a tactical delay of the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy. The report sets out proposals that were originally due at the end of this year. While the current postponement has been made in agreement with members of the Contact Group, we support, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in his eloquent speech, Martii Ahtisaari’s resistance to being further delayed until after a future Serbian presidential election.

Sources suggest that Mr Ahtisaari’s proposals are likely to be along the lines of an independent Kosovo, but with a continuing international presence to protect minority rights, as was stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Can the Minister indicate whether the Government have considered this option ahead of the report’s publication and whether they have had any discussions with key partners about the possibility of a continuing international presence and its consistency? What consideration have they given to the views of Kosovo’s politicians on a continuing international presence?

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said that there could be no doubt that Russia’s reaction as a member of the Contact Group would be a key factor in the final outcome for Kosovo’s independence. I totally agree with him. Russia will doubtless be assessing the precedent that might be set for both Chechnya, which it wishes to hold on to, and the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as assessing their views on a potential NATO and EU presence. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with Serbia’s traditional ally on these issues, and what assessment have they made of Russia’s current thinking?

Several factors could influence the current impasse in the moves for Kosovo’s independence. Prime Minister Kostunica highlighted that Serbia will seek international financial support, should independence lead to an influx of a large number of Serbian refugees into Serbia. Have Her Majesty’s Government given any undertakings in this respect?

Meanwhile, the Economist recently cited concerns that, even if there is independence, the Serb-inhabited north of Kosovo will ignore it and continue to operate as it does now as part of Serbia. There may be a need to redraw municipal boundaries and to give full protection for all religious sites. It is clear that a nasty side effect of independence could be a further strengthening of nationalistic parties, raising the risk of trouble spreading once again through this already war-torn region.

As noble Lords have said, it is time for the EU to take up the mantle from the UN and NATO, and to play a firm and decisive role to try and move towards independence in a consensual manner, which is reasonably possible.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on securing this timely debate. I know very well the keen personal interest that he has in the Balkans and that, during his time as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of another place, he led missions to Kosovo with great success. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, has played a key role in the region, and I believe every noble Lord who has spoken has made an important contribution, based on a great deal of knowledge.

It is in the United Kingdom’s strategic interest to work to ensure that this key part of Europe continues to leave the tragic events of the 1990s behind, and to move forward to a stable, prosperous, democratic European future. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for his comments about Ambassador Rycroft and colleagues—a view which I strongly share.

To set the context of what I have to say, I shall also lay down two markers for the debate, as I think that they help shape it. First, there are the fundamental questions mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Ashdown and Lord Hannay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, about delay. I completely agree, as do Her Majesty’s Government, that no further delay after the elections of 21 January is tolerable. We must not allow Belgrade to control the timeline, and we will strongly resist all calls from Belgrade—and possibly by some others in the EU—for any further delay. That is just to start.

Secondly, I want to lay out the ground of this and respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about greater Albania and partition, which might get dragged across all these discussions at this stage. The Contact Group and the EU have repeatedly said that there can be no partition of Kosovo, and no union of Kosovo with any other country or any part of any country. Talk of greater Albania does not, as we understand it, reflect Albanian opinion in Albania, Kosovo or Macedonia, and we must resist any of those confusions entering into the discussion.

My Lords, the Minister’s two statements have been extremely welcome to many who will be watching this debate. He talked about there being no redrawing of borders. In this febrile atmosphere, there really are people in Banja Luka, and I believe high up in Belgrade, who still entertain the idea that there might be some exchange of the Republika Srpska for Kosovo. Will the Minister make it clear that Her Majesty’s Government and the international community will tolerate no such thing? Does he not believe that it would be useful to get a statement from Belgrade and Banja Luka that they adhere to the Dayton agreement, that they reconfirm that they see no redrawing of borders, and that there can be no question of any transfer of territory along those lines?

My Lords, we adhere to that agreement, and we will press others to adhere to it as well. That is the straightforward answer.

May I set out the context of the debate with a brief update on where the UN-led status process has reached? The process was launched a year ago following a report to the UN Security Council by the Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide—I hope I have pronounced his name reasonably competently—which concluded that the status quo was unsustainable. There would never be a good time to resolve this difficult and complex problem, and therefore the international community should meet its responsibilities by gripping it now. The Foreign Affairs Committee in another place reached a similar conclusion in its report last year, judging that deferring a decision on Kosovo’s status would serve only to make it increasingly unstable and hostile towards the international community.

Last month, the UN special envoy and former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, announced his decision to adjust his envisaged end-of-2006 timetable and to present his proposal for a status settlement to Belgrade and Pristina without delay following parliamentary elections in Serbia on 21 January. I have mentioned our adherence to that timeline, and Her Majesty’s Government fully support that decision. We recognise the case for deconflicting the final stages of a difficult status process from the elections in Serbia. Equally, we believe that any delay to the process should be strictly limited, and we therefore also support former President Ahtisaari’s intention not to delay further to allow time for a new Government to be formed or for presidential elections to be held.

We expect that, having engaged with the parties over his proposals, the special envoy will present his recommendations to the Security Council. We recognise that this is a sensitive matter. The special envoy’s proposals will no doubt be the subject of detailed discussion in the UN Security Council. However, we believe that the international community should back his recommendations. As has been said in this debate, Ahtisaari brings great experience and judgment to his work. We have every confidence in him to deliver a series of recommendations that provide for the most viable way forward for Kosovo and for the stability of the Balkan region as a whole. As a member of the Contact Group and a permanent member of the Security Council, the United Kingdom has a key role in supporting the special envoy throughout the process and in encouraging the international community to be decisive about following up on Ahtisaari’s recommendations.

I am well aware, as is the House—noble Lords have mentioned it—of Chinese and Russian concerns. We have noted recent statements from Moscow indicating opposition to an imposed settlement, but we have also been working with Russia in the Contact Group throughout the process. As part of that group, Russia has accepted that any settlement should be acceptable to the people of Kosovo and that striving for a negotiated settlement should not obscure the fact that no party should be allowed unilaterally to block progress. We will strive to maintain close co-operation throughout the end-game, although, given the way in which the Russians have described these matters, I do not imagine that it will be easy.

However, the Russians need to understand, as I believe the House has understood—my noble friend Lord Anderson and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made this point—that every post-conflict situation is different. There is no universal blueprint for dealing with frozen conflicts exactly along the lines of Kosovo; they are all different. Kosovo is unique because of Milosevic’s unconstitutional abolition of its autonomy in 1989, his regime’s brutal oppression of the Kosovo Albanians throughout the 1990s, the systematic ethnic cleansing of 1999, the NATO campaign of that year, and UNSCR 1244, giving the UN Security Council the central role. In my judgment, it would be far better for Russia to look at the situation in that way—as being distinct for those distinct reasons—without trying to produce an artificial conflation with a series of wholly unrelated issues.

It is for President Ahtisaari to make his recommendations on the possible outcomes of the status process, and, as I said, he will have our full and unequivocal support. Our firm hope is that we can achieve all this through a negotiated agreement. But, if the UN special envoy’s view is that an agreed settlement is not possible, the international community must be prepared to draw the necessary conclusions and face its responsibilities.

The Contact Group has set out the conditions for the negotiating process and the outcome in a set of guiding principles endorsed by the Security Council and in a ministerial statement following a meeting in London in January. Those texts make it clear that Kosovo cannot return to the situation before 1999; it cannot be partitioned; it cannot, as I said earlier, join in union with any or part of any other country; and the settlement must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo.

The texts also stipulate that, having started, the process cannot be blocked. We would ideally like to see an agreed settlement, but we need to be realistic about the prospects for that in view of the limited flexibility displayed by both parties, particularly by Belgrade, during Ahtisaari’s negotiations. In our view, there is nothing to be gained by protracting the process because one or both parties refuse to engage constructively, but there is a considerable risk of instability and unrest if the negotiations become bogged down or open-ended. In the interests of Kosovo, and of the region as a whole, it is important that the status process concludes as soon as possible and in a way which achieves a sustainable, democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo.

It is of course not for me to pre-judge what the UN special envoy’s recommendations will be. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Wallace, that the costs that the EU may bear will largely turn on the detail of those recommendations. The EU will assess those matters in some detail when we are a little more certain of the totality of the recommendations. However, there is growing consensus on the part of many observers that any settlement is likely to be based on some form of independence for Kosovo, supervised by a robust international civilian and military presence and with cast-iron guarantees protecting the rights and security of the Kosovo Serbs and other minorities, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and other noble Lords have stated. Such an outcome would be consistent with the guiding principles and ministerial statement agreed by the Contact Group. It is difficult to identify alternative options providing a better basis for Kosovo’s democratic future and for wider regional stability.

I accept the description of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, of the pattern of weaker states in the area and what may be needed. I believe, as I think he says, that they will be weaker and continue to be weaker if outside the EU in the long run and potentially stronger if they are inside it and within this family, although on this occasion I will not be drawn on the European constitution.

In our view, a key part of this negotiation ought to be about how a settlement can ensure that the Kosovo Serbs and other minorities can have a secure future in a multi-ethnic Kosovo. The UN special envoy, with our full support, has been devoting continuous energy to negotiating a set of provisions which, taken together, should provide solid guarantees for the Serbs and other minority communities in Kosovo, and which would provide them with a generous measure of local self-government. As others have said, that is very important. These provisions could include continued transparent links with Belgrade; horizontal links between Serb majority municipalities; and special arrangements in the areas of law enforcement, education, health, and protection of religious heritage sites. We believe that such guarantees, combined with the international presence to ensure the implementation of these provisions of the settlement, could lay the foundations for a multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo capable, over time, of entering the European family.

Noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, have asked about what the United Kingdom will do to help. We are focusing on Kosovo in the context of the joint Foreign Office/Ministry of Defence/DfID programme budgets. Kosovo has been allocated £2.1 million from the Global Conflict Prevention Pool for the financial year 2006-07. In addition, the FCO’s Global Opportunities Fund Reuniting Europe programme has allocated £0.5 million to Serbia. It also has access to the Balkans civil democracy fund worth £700,000.

With international partners and Kosovo authorities, we play a prominent role in mentoring and in monitoring the issues of combating human trafficking and other aspects of organised crime in Kosovo and the region. We have recently provided a sophisticated witness protection system and equipment, which I understand is now widely used in Kosovo and elsewhere to bring criminals to justice.

The British office in Pristina has bid to the Global Conflict Prevention Pool for a contribution for a joint project with the Swedish Government and the UNDP on small arms—another issue that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, raised. The project’s objective is to collect and destroy small arms, light weapons, ammunition and explosives that have been seized in Kosovo. The project will also train and equip a team from the Kosovo police service to carry out properly audited, accountable destruction of such material in the future. Provided that approval is given for the final stage, the project will begin before the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the course of negotiations so far clearly indicates that Belgrade remains fixated on the retention of sovereignty over Kosovo. Of course, anyone familiar with the history of the region—the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, took us back to a decisive battle; I have the precise date in my briefing notes, but I will not trouble the House with it—understands the special place that Kosovo has in the history, culture and religion of the Serb people. There must be an understanding of that. No one in the international community wants to humiliate Serbia. For the first time, Serbia is being offered the prosperity and security that would come with membership of the EU and NATO. NATO took the decision at the Riga summit to invite Serbia to join the Partnership for Peace. I expect this week’s European Council to send a warm signal to Serbia of the EU’s continued commitment to Serbia’s EU perspective.

It is time for Serbia to look to the future, not—as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, rightly said—to be so fixated on the past. An acceptance of that regional stability requires a settlement acceptable to the people of Kosovo must be in Serbian minds. Events since 1989 have created political realities and shaped public attitudes in such a way that Kosovo could never realistically be ruled from Belgrade again. For its own sake, and that of the Serbian community in Kosovo, Belgrade needs to rethink its approach. The international community did not fully grasp this in 1999. Let us grasp it now.

The British military has been in Kosovo since 1999, and we remain, playing a key role in KFOR. We also maintain a substantial civilian presence there, with a significant diplomatic representation, as well as contributing to economic development and policing and providing advice and assistance to political and community leaders. Our engagement is not simply political, although that is important. We are intensively involved in both civilian and military work on the ground in Kosovo, aimed at delivering security, stability and progress on standards.

It is a demanding challenge. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that NATO is bound to continue to deploy KFOR for the foreseeable future. KFOR, UNMIK and the Kosovan authorities are preparing in a co-ordinated way for what is bound to be a tense period following the settlement. In a more general sense, that is true not only of NATO but of the EU presence, which the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, rightly says must be there, helping to structure the future.

In conclusion, I doubt that anybody in the House—particularly given the history and the wasted and missed opportunities of 1999—pretends that there is a perfect solution. Equally, we must be clear that resting on the status quo—in effect, a UN protectorate under the terms of UNSCR 1244—is not the right option. We therefore need to give our full support to the UN status process led by Ahtisaari. Once he delivers his recommendations, we must be completely resolute in taking them forward. It will, for sure, be difficult. It will be easy to point to the problems that could take the process away from a conclusion, but we must be aware that there will never be an easy time to do this. It is much better to make the move now, rather than camping on the fragile status quo, which would be the worst option for the area’s security.

Our vision for the future of the western Balkans is to see steady progress towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked specifically about the European Union and the European Council meeting. Enlargement is on the agenda this week, and the UK will press forward. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked whether we were really committed to it. I promise that there is no end to the trouble that my colleagues and I have gone to. My right honourable friends Douglas Alexander and Geoff Hoon have been deeply involved in precisely this issue, and Geoff Hoon was most recently in the region on 7 November. We are working hard with EU partners to ensure that the EU’s response to this major UN process in Europe will be neither hesitant nor divided. To achieve that, we need a complete resolution of the legacy issues from the break-up of former Yugoslavia. I suspect that Kosovo is the major outstanding issue. It is in the interest of Europe as a whole that we resolve it in a way that enhances democracy, stability, prosperity and multi-ethnicity in Kosovo, Serbia and the region as a whole. We shall carry on pressing for those objectives because they are the objectives of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and they are right for the countries involved.

House adjourned at 7.45 pm.