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Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2008

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 17 February the Parliamentary Assembly of Kosovo was convened for an extraordinary session at which Prime Minister Thaçi read out Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The declaration made clear that Kosovo was a democratic, secular and multi-ethnic republic and that its leaders would promote the rights and participation of all communities in Kosovo. The declaration in particular committed Kosovo to implementing fully the obligations contained in UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari’s comprehensive proposal for a Kosovo status settlement, including its extensive minority safeguards. And the declaration invited and welcomed an international civilian presence to supervise implementation of the comprehensive proposal, an EU rule of law and police mission (EULEX) and a continuation of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR). The declaration was endorsed by all parliamentary members present.

The declaration took place following exhaustive negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina aimed at finding a mutually agreed resolution to Kosovo’s status. UN Special Envoy Ahtisaari had presided over 14 months of intensive negotiations before concluding an agreement was out of reach. An EU-Russia-US troika facilitated an additional four months of talks, with EU member Ambassador Ischinger concluding that the parties would not be capable of reaching agreement if negotiations were to be continued, in whatever format.

My Statement of 11 December noted that, against this backdrop of inconclusive negotiations, almost all in the international community were agreed that the status quo in Kosovo was unsustainable. This is a point that had been underlined by the European Union, the UN Secretary General and the Contact Group. My Statement made clear that we could not therefore allow the status process to grind to a halt, having learned in the 1990s the cost of an indecisive international response to developments in the Balkans. In the view of the Government, it would be important for the EU to play a leading role in bringing the status process through to conclusion. The UN Special Envoy’s comprehensive proposal, balancing independence with strong minority safeguards and international supervision, remained in our view the only viable way forward.

Since my Statement, the Government have worked hard to ensure the necessary international community resolve and engagement to solve the Kosovo issue. The Government strongly support the decision at the December European Council that the EU should play a leading role in implementing a settlement defining Kosovo’s status.

Against this background, the General Affairs and External Relations Council met on 18 February, the day following Kosovo’s declaration of independence. EU Ministers agreed that the EU should play a leading role in strengthening stability in the region. The EU has given effect to this commitment through a series of steps:

in terms of ensuring security and justice sector reform, the EU has agreed on the deployment of an ESDP Policing and Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) consisting of 2,200 international personnel. This will be the largest civilian ESDP mission to date;

in terms of ensuring Kosovo’s political development and good governance, the EU has now agreed on the appointment of an EU Special Representative to Kosovo;

the EU has agreed to make a major contribution to the international civilian office which will oversee settlement implementation; and

the EU has committed itself to the promotion of Kosovo’s economic and political development. The Commission will use community instruments to take this forward and is planning to organise a donors conference.

EU Ministers were clear in their view that Kosovo constituted a sui generis case which did not set any precedent.

Taken together, these decisions amount to a clear and united EU approach towards contributing to Kosovo’s future and to delivering stability in the Western Balkans region. I welcome the leadership that the European Union has shown in tackling this European foreign policy challenge.

EU Ministers also discussed the issue of recognition. There was agreement that this is a matter for national governments and the Council acknowledged that it was for member states to decide, in accordance with national practice and international law, on their relations with Kosovo.

Bringing all these elements together—the unsustainable status quo; Kosovo’s commitment to the stringent safeguards in the UN Special Envoy’s comprehensive proposal; and the international support for settlement implementation and, increasingly, recognition—the Government consider that UK recognition of Kosovo is fully justified. Our firm view is that it is the best way of resolving Kosovo’s status, ensuring regional stability and solving this last remaining issue from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister wrote to President Sejdiu on 18 February indicating to the Kosovo Government that the United Kingdom recognises Kosovo’s independence. I have also written to Prime Minister Thaçi proposing the establishment of diplomatic relations. At least 16 other countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the US and Turkey, have also either recognised Kosovo or indicated their intention to do so.

Kosovo’s independence will bring a long-awaited certainty and permanence to Kosovo’s identity, marking an end to nearly nine years of political and economic limbo But it will also be just the beginning of a challenging journey ahead, building a stable, sustainable, multi-ethnic and democratic country. It will be important for Kosovo’s Assembly and Government to adhere faithfully to the undertakings made in their declaration of independence. It will also be important for all sides to refrain from action that risks provoking or increasing ethnic tensions.

The UK will make a full contribution in support of Kosovo’s efforts. The UK will second approximately 70 personnel to the ESDP mission and about 10 to the International Civilian Office. We will maintain our current contribution of around 140 troops to KFOR as well as maintaining a battalion on stand-by as part of the NATO operational reserve force. And in terms of development, the UK has committed £23 million in bilateral assistance to Kosovo over the next three years.

As Kosovo moves forward, there will remain a need to address the regional dimension. We recognise how difficult an issue Kosovo’s independence is for Serbia. Despite the difference of view with Belgrade on Kosovo, the Government will remain keen to maintain a co-operative and warm bilateral relationship. We will also want to assist Serbia and the other countries of the region to move towards European standards and EU accession. The interim political agreement offered to Serbia following the January General Affairs and External Relations Council was a sign of the EU’s commitment to Serbia’s progress. There remains a compelling strategic case for enlargement to the western Balkans as a whole so that this region can share in the security, stability, and prosperity that the EU offers.