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Croatia: NATO Membership

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 26 March 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they support Croatia becoming a full member of NATO in April 2009.

My Lords, the UK Government are firm supporters of Croatia’s membership of NATO. We were pleased with the offer made to Croatia and Albania at the 2008 summit to begin accession talks. We completed our ratification of the accession protocols in January 2009. We are urging all other NATO allies to do so in time for both Croatia and Albania to join as full members at NATO’s 60th anniversary summit next week.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I declare an interest as chairman of the UK parliamentary group on Croatia. Before the summit on 3 April, as the Minister indicated, NATO candidacies have to be ratified by existing members. So far, however, not all existing members have ratified Croatia’s accession protocol. What further steps can the Government now take to assist the timely completion of that process before 3 April?

My Lords, the noble Earl has in mind a little legal problem in Slovenia, where a political party has appealed Slovenia’s ratification to the courts. The Slovenian authorities have assured us that they hope to clear this hurdle in advance and that the ratification documents are ready to go. We hope that all will be done in time and we can celebrate the 60th anniversary with these two new members both joining.

My Lords, on these Benches we believe that Croatia’s NATO membership is good for both Croatia and the region. Does the Minister agree that it would also be a good stabilising factor for Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is currently going through some rather turbulent political times?

My Lords, there are a number of similar accession issues in different countries, but we have always made clear that we would support logical expansions. In general, expansion has slowed for broader geopolitical reasons that we are all familiar with.

My Lords, we understand that at the 60th anniversary summit of NATO there will be agreement on setting up a new NATO strategic review. Given the degree of disputation among members about how far NATO enlargement should go—to the western CIS, the southern Caucasus, et cetera—and about NATO’s future role outside Europe, will Her Majesty’s Government do their best to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to discuss what that NATO strategic review should include at an early stage?

My Lords, as always, I cannot commit the Leaders of the House to specific items of business, but this strategic review is enormously important and we should, if possible—and I do not see why not—have an opportunity to discuss it here. The two membership expansions that caused such controversy last year—Georgia and Ukraine—are not likely to feature heavily at the summit this year. There is a feeling that a solid process is now in place.

My Lords, paying tribute to the skills of the Croatian negotiating team on EU membership, can the Minister say something about the likely prospect of them joining next year in a considerable double whammy?

My Lords, Croatia has made significant progress over recent years and we welcome the Commission’s indicative road map, which would allow the reaching of the final stages for negotiation with Croatia in 2009. It is an ambitious document. The view is that Croatia will need to step up its efforts to meet it. Certainly, the road map does not represent any weakening of our conditions-based approach. Those conditions absolutely must be met in order to secure membership. Full compliance with the ICTY remains a key condition of progress towards the EU.

My Lords, does the noble Lord suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, regards the words “double whammy” as an acceptable part of the English language?

My Lords, the noble Lord is adding a suitable note of casual, American jargon to our otherwise stiff English here.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, provided the countries qualify, moving towards NATO membership and EU membership for the western Balkans is a desirable aim? However, some of us would be very concerned if we moved too rapidly in accepting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Some of us might not like that at all. I hope that the Government will be cautious about moving in that direction, albeit that he said it was for next year and not this year.

My Lords, let me be clear. We said that we see Croatia’s progress towards the EU and NATO as demonstrating the positive effects of enlargement in securing, as my noble friend said, stability and prosperity in the western Balkans. Perhaps I may correct him: I did not suggest that the issues of Georgia and Ukraine were for next year. I said that we have now, I think, put them on a less controversial path which has removed the immediacy and reflects the need that progress in that area has to be very considered.