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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Volume 727: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

My Lords, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is of serious concern. A new state-level Government have still not been formed following elections last October, preventing any progress on reforms. The process of government formation in the federation entity has proved divisive and problematic. Conclusions adopted by the Republika Srpska National Assembly on 13 April represent a serious challenge to the Dayton agreement and the rule of law. We have strongly condemned these conclusions and have made it clear that we will not tolerate such attempts to undermine Dayton or the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extremely helpful reply. Is it not the case that the plan by the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, to hold a referendum is clearly against the provisions of the Dayton agreement and confirms the country's depressing dynamic back towards dissolution? Given that the country would be unlikely to go through dissolution without returning to bloodshed, will the Government give us their assurance that they are prepared to use every means possible to protect and preserve the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and act against those who would seek to put it at jeopardy?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Ashdown on his constant concern, backed by his huge expertise and familiarity with this issue, which as we all recognise is a serious one and trending in the wrong direction. Will I give that assurance? Yes, I certainly will. We will, if necessary, argue for the European Union to deploy fully all incentives and deterrents at its disposal and we will use all the pressures available to us against what looks like a blatant and clear attempt to contravene the Dayton agreement by Republika Srpska and its leader. These are bad developments, which we are determined to see resisted. We do not want the territorial integrity and structure of the Bosnian state undermined, as it would be if these kinds of proposals are pursued.

My Lords, is my noble friend convinced that the Republic of Serbia is doing everything possible to exert pressure on Republika Srpska?

The Republic of Serbia is being helpful in some respects. I cannot say that everything one would like to see being done is being done. But the general support is there because that nation, too, has a clear interest in seeing that Bosnia-Herzegovina remains intact and does not fall back into its grim past, which we all remember and which was so stained with blood.

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that this dangerous situation, which may well lead to the dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been aggravated by the failure to form a state-level Government as well? Does he agree that the EU and Washington need to move swiftly now to knock heads together and to use all legal powers at their disposal to prevent the referendum happening?

Yes, I think we do, and we have to address the fact that, on the Bosnian side, the formation of a Government has been very slow and stumbling, with the largest parties in effect excluded, so there is a very weak situation. That is quite aside from the Republika Srpska side, where, as we have recognised in the past few minutes, a policy is being pursued which, if pushed through to a referendum as proposed, would lead to a direct challenge to the whole Dayton structure. Do we need to move rapidly? Yes, we certainly do. Do we need to support the EU new strategy, including a new figurehead to work alongside the Office of the High Representative? Yes, we do. Will we do these things? Yes, we will.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that in the longer term the only way to guarantee peace and stability in this region is to ensure that all countries are able to meet the Copenhagen criteria and that they are welcomed into the European Union?

That is certainly so. Obviously, the aspiration is there for the west Balkans to be part of the European Union in due course. Unfortunately, there are a number of very important conditions, and the noble Baroness is absolutely right to point to some of them. These immediate concerns that we are discussing need to be addressed; it is a question of consolidating the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and preventing its breaking down into the old rivalries. Beyond that comes the prospect of the west Balkans joining the European Union, which we should certainly work for.

My Lords, is not the inclusion of Macedonia one of the fundamental ways in which the movement of the western Balkans into the European Union needs to start? That country’s candidature has been agreed but those discussions have been blocked so far by the disagreement between Greece and Macedonia over a name. Surely that is one of the most important areas in which the integration of the western Balkans should start, and others can then follow.

The whole issue of the western Balkans and the particular issue that my noble friend has raised require very close attention. They are full of very difficult problems, which we must gradually seek to overcome. We cannot say that any one starting point is the right one for this process; we have to work on all these fronts.

The Minister said something about consolidating Bosnia and Herzegovina. Would he agree that this means that work needs to be done at local level and city level to hold the thing together?

Most certainly it does. The work is going on and our own country, the United Kingdom, contributes directly—for instance, with work in judicial training, policing methods and community work of all sorts. This is a central part of the glue to try to bring these communities together again and enable one country to emerge.