Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Stabilisation and Association Agreement) (Republic of Montenegro) Order 2009.
Relevant Document: 23rd Report, Session 2008-09, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
My Lords, the stabilisation and association agreement is an international agreement between Montenegro and the European Community and its member states which was signed on 15 October 2007. This treaty has not yet entered into force but will do so once all 27 countries have ratified it. This order is a necessary step towards the UK’s ratification.
The principal effect of the draft order is to ensure that the powers under Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 would be available to give effect to any provisions of the agreement and permit any expenditure arising from the SAA to be from the consolidated fund. Montenegro secured its independence in May 2006. It is the fifth country in the western Balkans to apply to join the EU and, as with all other countries in the region, Montenegro shares a troubled past. However, our task today is not to look to Montenegro’s past but to debate its future and the reform process by which Montenegro can move towards the EU.
The UK is a strong supporter of EU enlargement, including for the countries of the western Balkans. Enlargement has been one of the European Union’s biggest success stories, creating stability, security and prosperity across our continent. A larger EU gives a stronger influence in shaping global action to meet today’s challenges and helps business and our economy by providing access to a bigger market. We recognise, too, that it is important that enlargement is based upon conditionality; that a country may only join the EU once it has met all the criteria for membership and has undertaken the necessary reforms to do so. The implementation of the stabilisation and association agreement begins the process to a time when Montenegro might be able to start moving toward full accession to the EU; it is an important step in the fulfilment of that conditionality.
Montenegro has come a long way since independence and should be commended for the efforts it has made to put in place a thorough reform process. The stabilisation and association agreement recognises Montenegro as a “potential candidate” for the EU. It sets out clear stages for Montenegro’s progress towards eventual EU membership via a closer partnership with the EU under the EU’s stabilisation and association process. I emphasise that it is a rigorous, condition-based process.
The efforts Montenegro has made in implementing its interim agreement demonstrate that the prospect of EU membership accession continues to encourage reform. The most recent European Commission progress report in October 2009 shows that Montenegro has made progress on political and judicial reform, but highlights the need for further progress in specific areas such as strengthening administrative capacity and fighting corruption. It also gave a positive assessment of Montenegro’s performance on regional co-operation.
Montenegro’s SAA has now been ratified by 23 of the EU member states, as well as by the Montenegran and European Parliaments. A track record of SAA implementation is required before Montenegro can achieve candidate status. The avis questionnaire, which Montenegro is currently completing, will also play a key role in identifying future reforms for the country before Montenegro begins the process of opening accession chapters.
I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. I commend this draft order to the Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order, whose purpose, as we have heard, is formally to give parliamentary approval to an EU stabilisation and association agreement with Montenegro. It is a beautiful country, proud of its long history. We never forget what the famous Montenegran writer, Milovan Djilas, wrote in Land Without Justice:
“For centuries this country’s social and political life was organised on a patriarchal, tribal basis in which the bratstvo (family ties) was vital”.
Despite much modernisation, it is still a tough and brutal country that has not forgotten its old feuds, described by the Minister as a “troubled past”. This only goes to endorse the importance of this agreement association with the EU.
The SAA provides for enhanced co-operation between Montenegro and the European Union. The agreement was signed in October 2007, following Montenegro’s gaining of independence from Serbia and, effectively, the former Yugoslavia. It covers a wide range of subjects, including Montenegran accession to the WTO, and promotes further regional co-operation between Montenegro and its neighbours.
Montenegro will be helped to conform to EU standards and to foster freer trade with the European Union and its neighbours, some of which are also undertaking similar processes. There are additional measures on co-operation to combat terrorism, border and visa controls, money laundering and people trafficking. Montenegro has declared its interest in joining the Union. The country is now recognised by the EU as a potential candidate for membership.
As the shadow Minister for Europe noted in another place, the SAA may not be the most controversial of treaties on European matters—I doubt that this order will face much, if any, strong opposition. However, should the order be passed, it will represent an agreement with the UK.
With this in mind, I have a few probing questions which I am looking forward to the Minister answering. The European Commission’s Montenegro progress report for 2009 concludes that Montenegro has made progress in the political sphere, judicial field and border disputes, to name a few. The European Scrutiny Committee’s report of 11 November stated that the Commission is preparing an opinion on the application for membership from Montenegro.
I have three questions. Is the Minister aware of any further developments in this regard and does she believe that Montenegro is likely to become officially a candidate for the EU in the near future? Secondly, what is her assessment of relations with Russia regarding future development in Montenegro? Thirdly, does the order act as a fast track to EU membership or does it mean that Montenegro becomes just a potential candidate?
I hope that we can learn from previous experience and insist on institutional reform prior to EU accession, in contrast to the accessions to the EU of Austria, Sweden and Finland in 1994, and later of Bulgaria and Romania, which led to so many complex problems and difficult decisions.
The EU interior Ministers have recently announced their intention to relax visa restrictions for those travelling from Montenegro to the EU. Will the Minister confirm if that applies specifically to the UK? The progress report also stated that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has deemed Montenegran compliance as generally satisfactory. Does the EU share that view? How did it reach its estimation? Does the EU have cause to believe that wanted war criminals from the Balkans, particularly from the former Yugoslavia, may be in the country?
In conclusion, we on these Benches support the progression of this order, and agree that Montenegro’s development in recent years has been encouraging. We acknowledge that agreement of the order could foster much more political and economic progress. I look forward to the Minister’s response, especially to our questions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for coming to the Grand Committee to propose that the order be approved. I also thank the principal opposition spokesman for her comments, which we support, and for her questions, which should be answered today as far as is possible if that is convenient for the Government at this stage.
There is some feeling now, although progress has been made, that if this is going to take some time then some in Montenegro will be disappointed about the progress. However, if we look back at how long it took for a large number of member countries from different parts of the European Union territories that were previously candidates for entry, the current rate of progress does not necessarily reflect badly on anyone.
As we know, all the western Balkan countries now wish to join the EU as soon as possible and that is widely considered objectively to be a good thing, not just because there is something automatic about it but because of the turbulent history of that area. My noble friend Lord Ashdown, who is here and who may contribute briefly to this discussion today, is a great expert on more than just one part of the former Yugoslavia. The encouraging feature in Serbia itself, for example, appears to be that the previously atavistic and strident nationalism of the transitional period has now been replaced by a much more positive pro-European and pro-EU feeling there among the population in general and among the leading politicians. That, too, bodes well for the stability of the region.
Montenegro itself broke away from Serbia in 2006, as the Minister said. That was originally resisted by Serbia but was then accepted, which is also progress. It is a very small territory in terms of population, a complicated territory and a beautiful country, as the opposition spokesman said, with well under 1 million people, including the minorities from Serbia and Albania. Some anxieties have been expressed by those who know more about the country—I have never been there myself; I hope to go in due course—that there is an element of unruly freewheeling bandit capitalism is manifesting itself there in various ways. That may need observation to see how it develops but it is often a feature of countries in transition, something that has been seen in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. I do not wish that to sound condescending; it is just one of those things that happen in those parts of the world where a history of such activity has been manifest in the past.
Montenegro is potentially a good candidate to be a member of the European Union, and many British people and other tourists and visitors from other member states have proclaimed with some enthusiasm the merits of a tourist industry in what is an extraordinary country, particularly with the Adriatic Sea border areas that many foreigners now visit.
The situation bodes well in due course but more work needs to be done. There seems to be a willingness among leading Montenegran politicians and parties to engage with this process in an energetic way. That looks good for the future, provided that there is constant reassurance from the Commission, the other institutions and the European Parliament itself that their monitoring processes are effective, realistic and comprehensive, and that the British public in our own member state can be reassured that Montenegro will, in due course, be a first-class, high-quality candidate. Time will tell, and time is needed before that happens.
I rise not in any sense to oppose the order but to support it. It gives me great pleasure to see Montenegro reach this point. I have known the country since 1995 and its extremely wily, intelligent, clever and effective leader, Milo Djukanovic, for at least that long. As the noble Baroness said a few moments ago, it is an unbelievably beautiful country with a remarkable people. The ties with Britain go well back to Tennyson’s great eagle of liberty. Indeed, if you go to Cetinje, the old capital of Montenegro, you will find that the old British legation is still there. It is still right in the centre of what was at the heart of one of the real issues of freedom in the 19th century.
I have four points to which I hope that the Government and the European Union will pay particular attention. Some have been covered already and I apologise if I cover them again. The first is the rule of law. It is the great gift of Europe to install the rule of law in countries such as these. I remember an old Bosnian coming to me and saying, “Is it true that when we join Europe it’ll be like when the Austrians were here? We pay too much tax and the Government will pay it back”. I said, “Yes, it will”, to which he said, “That’s fantastic. If that happens, it will be unbelievable”. That was his reason for wanting to join.
There is what my noble friend described as “bandit capitalism”. Perhaps not everyone would use that phrase, but there is a certain tradition that goes back deep into Montenegro’s past known as the Hajduk. The Hajduk is a sort of Robin Hood character—a rather romantic figure who lives in the mountains and robs but gives to the poor. I think it would be fair to say that this is a key issue for us to keep a close eye on. I recall going to see a very senior figure in the Montenegran Government in about 1997 or 1998 when we were trying to persuade Montenegro not to part company with Milosevic. I said to him, “You’re going to need more money”. He replied, “Yes, but it’s not like your Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Brown, who has to raise taxes if he needs more money. All we have to do is smuggle more cigarettes to Italy”. That was a long time ago and I feel certain that things will have changed, but it will require a strenuous application of the conditionality of the European Union if we are to achieve the necessary moves forward on the rule of law.
The second issue—here I echo the words of the noble Baroness who spoke for Her Majesty’s Opposition—concerns war criminals. For six years I was next door on the other side of the river Drina, and for four years I was next door on the other side of the river Drina in Bosnia, when catching Radovan Karadzic was our first priority. I have absolutely no doubt that he was hidden by the Serbian Orthodox Church in the monasteries of Montenegro. To say that they did not co-operate would be an understatement. In fact, the Serbian Orthodox Church did all that it could—at least, with the knowledge if not the connivance of the Montenegran Government—to make sure that Karadzic was never brought to justice. My view is that the outstanding fugitive, Ratko Mladic, is not in Montenegro. I think that he is probably being protected either in Moscow or unofficially by certain renegade elements of the Serb security services. However, I would want to be assured that Montenegro fulfilled its full conditions under the ICTY legislation for the capture of war criminals.
The third issue is the Moscow element, referred to by my noble friend. This is a small country—the population is about 600,000—and it is not difficult for it to be bought pretty well lock, stock and barrel by the Moscow mafia. Today, almost all the coast from the very beautiful coastal town of Budva past Sveti Stefan and east and south is owned by Moscow mafiosi, one of whom—I hope that I shall not be too insulting—is undoubtedly the very powerful figure of the mayor of Moscow, who owns some of the most prime areas there. I hope that we make it explicit to the Government of Podgorica that they must adhere to the rule according to European standards, not Russian standards.
My penultimate point is about the Muslim population. It is very easy for us to forget that there is a large Muslim population outside Bosnia in the Sandžak and the area around Rožaje in Montenegro. By the way, the Montenegran Government have been extremely good at understanding the importance of preserving ethnic harmony with the Muslim minority in Albania. I have no word of criticism for their policies in this regard, but it is an area in which we would wish to support them and help them to ensure that they continue to observe those policies. They always have done so and the policies stand in stark contrast to, for instance, the policy that was followed in neighbouring Serbia—at least in the days of President Milosevic.
My final point is the most important. It gives me real pleasure to see Montenegro reach this point, which I hope will be reached by all other countries of the western Balkans, but there is a problem. The precedent created by the breakaway of Montenegro from Serbian Montenegro, as it was originally, is being followed actively and explicitly by Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska, as a precedent to follow in Bosnia—with a deliberate intention, explicitly stated by him, that if he is to make Bosnia dysfunctional in the same way as, in effect, happened in the Serbia-Montenegro state, the consequence will be that the Republic of Srpska could follow Montenegro and split away. That would be a catastrophe and would lead us straight back to war. If we were to tolerate that, it would mean that the European Union was prepared to lay its hands to the policy of Radovan Karadzic in dividing up Bosnia, as it were by absentmindedness or worse.
The noble Baroness referred to “bratstvo”, which is the word for brotherhood. In the old days of Tito it was “bratstvo i jedinstvo”—brotherhood and unity. That has been followed more recently by that other Balkan saying which has dominated—“Da komsiji crkne krava”, which means, “My neighbour’s cow is dead, that makes me happy”. That has been the policy. I hope that we will return to a policy of bratstvo i jedinstvo within the European Union. But that means—and I hope that the Minister will respond to this directly—that we must make it explicitly clear to the Government of Podgorica that their passage further down the road to Europe would be blocked if they did not support European policy in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that if they continued to give tacit encouragement to cessationism by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Srpska, Milorad Dodik, that would effectively block any further passage towards membership of the European Union. If we allowed Dodik to use Djukanovic as the model for breaking up Bosnia, whatever we do to help Montenegro towards a European future, we will be denying Bosnia a similar future. I hope we will take a very strong line on that.
I thank noble Lords for their questions, to which I shall attempt to respond.
The issue of the rule of law ran through much of what has been said, relating to organised crime, corruption and how we anticipate this being managed in the negotiations. As I said in my opening remarks, the EU accession process is rigorous, condition-based, and not time-bound. Before accession negotiations begin, justice and home affairs issues are front-loaded in the SAA process. Many noble Lords will be aware that we learnt that lesson from the Bulgarian and Romanian accession process, which was subsequently adapted to comprise a more rigorous assessment process to ensure that candidate countries absolutely meet the criteria for membership. The EU has designated a significant chapter of the negotiations to the judiciary and to fundamental rights. That is important, as noble Lords said. This means that issues falling within this area will be much more thoroughly scrutinised than was the case in the past.
On the related issue of people trafficking and organised crime, I re-emphasise that the accession track is rigorously condition-based. That applies to Montenegro even at this stage of the process; people do not always realise that it applies at this stage. Before Montenegro can open accession negotiations, it needs to demonstrate a track record of SAA implementation, as well as obtaining a positive opinion from the European Commission. We need to recognise that we have learnt lessons from previous accessions, and the introduction of the chapter on justice and the rule of law is very important. The Commission will now have to consider its response and form an opinion on the avis. We expect this to take several months.
I turn to the issue of the Schengen visa. As we know, the UK is not part of Schengen. The agreement applies to Schengen countries to liberalise visas for Montenegro, so that does not apply to the United Kingdom. However, the UK will be reviewing Montenegro’s visa requirements in 2011.
Russia’s relationship with Montenegro is a good one; it is a very popular holiday destination for the Russians. I have no concerns to draw to the attention of Members on this issue at this time.
I understand that there has been a satisfactory level of co-operation with the ICTY, and there are no outstanding issues. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, raised a question on how it reached its estimation: it is based on having satisfactory reports from Prosecutor Brammertz’s office in the ICTY—as the Committee knows, that is very important—and on our own diplomatic reporting on the matters. Are there wanted war criminals in Montenegro? We have not been given to suspect the existence of any indicted criminals in that country.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, also raised the issue of its Prime Minister. I am aware that there have been allegations linking its Prime Minister to organised crime and corruption; I understand these relate to the 1990s—I am sure noble Lords are well aware of the circumstances—when the country was subject to international sanctions. However, I am not aware of any connections which give us reason to doubt his Government’s willingness to improve their record in tackling corruption and organised crime. Their willingness seems strong, such is their seriousness in beginning this process towards, hopefully, accession. Indeed, I also understand that a case against him in the Italian courts has recently been dropped.
The Government strongly support the European perspective on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the part it has played in encouraging politicians to agree on necessary reforms. The UK supports the goal of transition from the OHR to the EU special representative. However, I was there myself in the early summer and we consistently stated then, and continue to do so now, that this can only happen when the 5+2 objectives and conditions required for transition have been fully completed. I agree we must stick very firmly to that position. We continue to urge Bosnian politicians to seize the opportunity presented by the EU-US initiative to reach agreement on completing these 5+2 objectives and conditions. The Foreign Secretary visited Sarajevo in November, and urged Bosnian politicians to focus on making the reforms necessary for the closure of the Office of the High Representative, which would facilitate clearer movements towards EU integration.
I turn to the issue of regional co-operation. It is significant that Montenegro recognised the independence of Kosovo on 9 October 2008: that is a signal of its seriousness in trying to be an effective and co-operative regional actor. We also recognise that the latest progress report we have seen mentions regional initiatives and efforts as significant, welcome developments for the country.
I am most grateful to the Minister for her answer. I fully understand the British Government’s position on Bosnia. I support it and am delighted that the British Government follow that position. However, with great respect, the point I was trying to make is that there is not much point in our pressing for Bosnia to fulfil the conditions laid down by the European Union if Montenegro, seeking to join the European Union, actively undermines our policy in Bosnia. By giving comfort to Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, who is pursuing a policy which not only blocks Bosnia’s passage to the European Union but encourages secessionism and the break-up of the state, we are allowing Montenegro to act in a way that is contrary to European policy and to the policy of the British Government.
I am asking the Minister a complex question; I fully understand if she does not feel able to answer it now, and I am perfectly happy to get a letter later on. I am asking her to assure us that, as part of Montenegro’s continuing progress down the path to Europe, we should require Milo Djukanovic and the Montenegran Government actively to support our Government’s policy with respect to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to give no comfort to the Republika Srpska Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, who is seeking to pursue something contrary to both our interests and Bosnia’s interests.
I thank the noble Lord very much for that, and I will take the offer that he gave me to write a letter, because it is a complex aspect of this process, and I understand that the point that he makes is a serious one that should be addressed.