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Kosovo and Serbia

Volume 733: debated on Thursday 8 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress there has been in the European Union’s negotiations with Kosovo and Serbia.

My Lords, the Government continue to support strongly the dialogue that the EU facilitates. This plays a key role in building practical co-operation between Kosovo and Serbia and in helping to normalise relations. This is crucial for both countries to move towards eventual EU membership as well as for stability in the region. To date, the dialogue has secured agreements on freedom of movement, custom stamps, mutual recognition of university diplomas, the sharing of land and civil registries and integrated border management. We urge both parties to implement fully the agreements reached and to work constructively towards achieving further progress.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Kosovo has been a special concern of this country since NATO’s intervention only 12 years ago. However, the shadow of Serbia remains over the north, which has become a virtual no-go area. EULEX law officers are not able to go there; even NATO is restricted. What can the Government do to speed up the European Union dialogue and also to persuade those other member states—Spain, Cyprus and others—that they must recognise Kosovo? There is a conflict around the corner and Kosovo’s very future is at stake.

The noble Earl is absolutely right. This is not a smooth pathway and at every stage Serbia must be encouraged to participate in the dialogue over Kosovar independence in order to see its way into EU membership. As for the five countries of the EU which do not go along with the independence position—Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain—for reasons which one can certainly recognise, we and the rest of the EU engage with them. We seek their constructive involvement. We do not expect them to change their minds overnight, but they all support the broad aim of the EU representative, Robert Cooper, and his team in seeing a way forward for Kosovar independence and a Serbia that accepts that constructively, works toward it and paves its own way towards EU membership.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that Serbia’s progress towards European Union membership, which we would all like to see, will be impeded if Belgrade cannot make it clear that it is opposed to the partition of Kosovo, as it must be also to any attempt by the fellow Serb, Milorad Dodik, to break up the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Would he also agree that Pristina’s chances of getting the wider recognition that we all wish for, which the Minister has mentioned, will be impeded if it is not able to take more concrete steps to assure the rights of minorities in Kosovo, especially of the Serb population?

I am very glad that the noble Lord made it back from abroad to make those two very valid points. Of course, he is absolutely right that we must ensure that Serbia is not minded to retain the utterly destructive views of the partition of Kosovo, or indeed Bosnia—so yes, very much, to the first point that my noble friend makes. The Kosovar Government have made some progress in the protection of minorities but he is absolutely right that major challenges remain, notably with regard to Kosovo Serb communities in the north. We urge the Kosovar Government to do all they can to guarantee the rights, identity and culture of Kosovo’s minority communities and set out a comprehensive strategy for the north, where the difficulties are acute, as my noble friend knows, to cover areas such as health, education and employment. These are two areas where I totally accept what the noble Lord says.

My Lords, the Opposition thank the noble Earl for his timely question, and welcome the progress made in normalising relations. Will the Minister convey our congratulations to the distinguished British diplomat, Robert Cooper, on the role he is playing as EU mediator working to achieve integrated management of border crossings? Does the Minister agree with me that this demonstrates the value of the new External Action Service in strengthening the capabilities of the European Union? How does the recent progress affect the prospect of negotiations being opened for Serbia’s membership?

I hope the answer is that it will be positive. The noble Lord is right. Robert Cooper is an extremely able servant of the European Union and, indeed, citizen of this country. The role of the EAS is relevant, although I know that the noble Lord is the first to recognise that with a number of international organisations down there—the UN, the EAS, the ICO and so on—co-ordination is very important. I cannot give an estimate of the speed of progress. It will all come up at the European Council tomorrow. We may see some progress after that but I cannot predict it.

My Lords, with the EU’s attention currently and squarely focused on the financial crisis within its own borders, is there not a real danger that there will be less time and energy to understand or respond strategically to events in its most immediate neighbourhoods? Will the Minister give an indication as to how the eurozone crisis has impacted on the EU’s foreign policy and its ability to deploy soft power in an area such as the Balkans? Will he also tell the House whether, on the expiry of the mandates of the International Civilian Office in Kosovo and the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, these mandates will be renewed?

Yes, I can tell the right reverend Prelate that the mandate for EULEX will be renewed. As to the broader question, clearly the minds of the leadership of the European Union are distracted by the eurozone problems but I do not see that they should impact necessarily on the expertise and determination being applied by the EU authorities in pursuing the dialogue and seeing that Serbia recognises the need to accept and accommodate the independence of Kosovo in its thinking, attitudes and policies so that it can go forward to membership of the EU.