My Lords, we will continue to encourage others to recognise Kosovo, using opportunities in bilateral and multilateral fora, and we will provide support to the lobbying efforts of the Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Government are also part-funding a project to deepen Kosovo’s links with EU member states that do not recognise it, and to improve Kosovo’s image abroad through public diplomacy.
My Lords, that is a very encouraging Answer. The only problem is that this Government do not take enlargement seriously enough. I looked all through the Prime Minister’s speech and I could hardly find any mention of it. He mentions the Second World War and the fact that we brought peace and stability through enlargement. However, is there not much more than that? Should we not take a much closer interest in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, which are to become independent European states?
The noble Earl raises an important issue, and I can assure him that we are steadfastly supportive of EU enlargement. We think that it is crucial, as he said, to bringing security and prosperity to the western Balkans and to wider Europe. The Prime Minister’s speech, which talked about a more diverse, competitive and flexible Europe, relies on an ever-enlarging Europe.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will agree that those countries, particularly the EU countries, which have so far failed to recognise Kosovo, have done so for good—or at least for domestic —reasons, be it Catalonia, the Basque country, or Northern Cyprus. It is most unlikely that there will be any fundamental change by those countries unless and until Serbia and Kosovo itself reach an agreement. Therefore, the talks led by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, and brokered by the EU, stand the very best chance of resolving this problem of recognition.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, on her work in securing discussions between Serbia and Kosovo. She has personally led great efforts to secure these further discussions, supported of course by us and many others. Whatever individual countries’ reasons are for not recognising Kosovo, the UK’s position is very clear. We support Kosovo’s progress as an independent state which we recognise, and recognise that the independence of that state is irreversible.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this imbroglio has gone on far too long already? Are the British Government capable of persuading Serbia that the recognition of Kosovo would be a spur to its own EU membership and would be the best result for both countries? Will she personally, and other Ministers in government, support the respectable lobbyists in this country and elsewhere, who are now pressing hard for Kosovo’s recognition and independence?
The noble Lord is, of course, aware of the discussions with Serbia about its aspirations for EU membership. It is not being discussed as a precondition at the moment but, of course, Serbia recognises that stability in the region has to be the way forward in ensuring that every country can make its own individual journey towards further involvement in the EU.
My Lords, when the noble Baroness and other Ministers go around Europe steadfastly supporting European enlargement and encouraging other countries to join, as she put it, at the same time as Ministers are talking about the possibility of the UK’s withdrawal from Europe, does it not cause some confusion?
My Lords, it certainly does not cause confusion on this side of the House. However, if I can assist noble Lords opposite in the confusion that they may have, of course we believe that a reformed EU—a much more flexible and competitive EU—is better. That message is completely consistent with having an enlarged EU. The noble Lord’s confusion may well be in relation to some of the briefings that he has been getting from his Front Bench.
My Lords, what assurances can the Minister give the House that the opening of accession negotiations between the EU and Serbia will not be considered by the European Council until such time as Serbia has achieved a necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria, in particular the key priority of taking steps towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo in line with the conditions of the stabilisation and association process?
I can inform the right reverend Prelate that the UK is not asking Serbia to recognise Kosovo at this stage but we are making it clear that the future of Serbia and Kosovo lie in the European Union, as independent states, and that Serbia must accommodate itself to this reality before it joins the EU. Neither should be able to block the other’s path to the EU. As the right reverend Prelate will be aware, the accession discussions with Croatia were much tougher than those on previous accessions, and we will ensure that any future country wishing to be part of the EU family satisfies those very stringent preconditions.
My Lords, in response to the exchange between the noble Baroness and my noble friend about the European Union, I can assure noble Lords that we, too, seek a reformed European Union but wish to do so in co-operation with colleagues rather than by threatening them. We, too, believe that peace and stability in the Balkans is a matter of the enlargement of the European Union but, on the current enlargement, I wonder when the Government will publish their figures in relation to those people who may come to this country from Bulgaria and Romania at the end of the transition period.
The Government are making appropriate preparations in relation to people from Bulgaria and Romania who may wish to come to the United Kingdom. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the transition provisions for Bulgaria and Romania come off for the rest of the European Union at the same time, so the option for Bulgarians and Romanians to travel elsewhere in the European Union will also be open. I hope that the mistakes that were made—this is not a political point—in relation to Poland’s accession will not be made this time, because of the way in which we implemented the transition provisions.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government welcome the resolution passed by the Serbian Parliament on 13 January 2013, which calls for talks with the interim institutions of self-government in Pristina with the aim of securing security, peace, stability and better living conditions for the Serb community and for all other national communities in Kosovo and Metohija?
I am not familiar with the specific resolution to which the noble Lord refers but I can assure him that in our discussions with Kosovo we regularly talk about the issue of minorities there, and we ensure that all such discussions cover the views of the minority communities, including those of the Serbs.