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Western Balkans Summit

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what outcomes they hope to achieve from the Western Balkans Summit in London on 10 July 2018.

My Lords, the Western Balkans Summit will be a demonstration of the Government’s long-standing commitment to the region and to European security. The summit will focus on three areas: first, regional security, where we hope to increase co-operation against common threats, including corruption and organised crime; secondly, economic stability, to improve the business environment, entrepreneurship and digital skills; and, thirdly, political co-operation, to help the region overcome legacy issues stemming from the conflicts of the 1990s.

My Lords, next week sees not only the Western Balkans Summit but the 23rd anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Does the Minister consider it wholly unacceptable, and a barrier to lasting peace and reconciliation, that there are people, possibly some who may even attend the summit, who still deny that genocide? How do the Government intend to challenge those who are vocal in their denial?

My Lords, we are clear that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide; indeed, we make that clear in our engagement in the region. We will be working with leaders from the region to address legacy issues from the conflicts of the 1990s in the context of a summit, including by supporting accountability for war crimes. The noble and learned Lord will aware that the International Criminal Tribunal and its successor, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, have played an important role in holding to account those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law in the region, including at Srebrenica. We support those efforts.

My Lords, for the past five years, the Berlin process has brought together the six west Balkan countries and relevant countries of the European Union. After Brexit, as part neither of the region nor of the EU, I presume that we will not be members of that. Will our influence therefore be diminished?

What is very clear is the mutual interest that the United Kingdom and the EU have in the western Balkans area. That is an interest which I am glad to say seems to be welcomed by the west Balkan countries. The noble Lord raised Brexit. We and our friends in the EU will have regard to that mutuality of interest. A stable western Balkans area means good news for both the EU and the UK. We also have respective capacity to contribute help, be it in defence or with programme help such as the UK has contributed across the region.

My Lords, the Western Balkans Summit was an item on the agenda of the Bulgarian presidency—which, naturally, was quite important. Do the UK Government support further enlargement?

The UK Government support enlargement where the applicant countries can satisfy the criteria required, whether it is by the EU or, in some cases, by NATO, if that is where the enlargement is also sought. The United Kingdom is clear that it sees a welcome development in the western Balkans area; we think that the EU has an important role to play in that, and we look forward to playing our full role alongside our EU friends.

My Lords, in their response to your Lordships’ Select Committee report on the western Balkans, the Government pointed to the UK’s involvement in EU missions as an example of successful working in the region. Will the Minister answer my noble friend’s question? If we support involvement in such missions now, what will we do next year when we leave the EU?

In response to the first part of the noble Lord’s question, I should point out that the summit comes under the umbrella of the Berlin process. Of course, the UK will continue to be a member of that process even after we have left the EU.

The noble Lord seems to be adding to the discussion from a sedentary position—I am not sure what he said over the shoulder of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. My understanding is that we will be members of the Berlin process after we have left the EU—that is important. As I said earlier, in or out of the EU, the UK continues to have a strong interest in and a demonstrable commitment to the western Balkans area.

My Lords, can my noble friend explain to Peers opposite that they are very gloomy about the attitude of the European Union post Brexit? They seem to think that it would cut off its nose to spite its face, and that it would not want us to support it in its various diplomatic endeavours in the Balkans. Why ever could that be? Are they just so pig-headed as to not want us to assist it?

My Lords, far be it from me to comment on the idiosyncrasies and foibles of noble Members opposite: no doubt they can give an account of themselves to my noble friend if they so desire. What I want to make crystal clear is the UK’s demonstrable commitment to the western Balkans. That can be manifested in numerous ways, whether it is by programme aid or by diplomatic engagement, which has been at a high level and consistent. That commitment will not cease. We believe in the importance of that area and want to continue to help these countries.

My Lords, will the Minister give me an assurance that the summit will discuss the Brussels policy which, whether through inadvertence or ignorance, is now in danger of delivering on the dreams of Milošević, Tudjman and Karadžić? Let me explain. Now that Croatia is a member of the European Union, every Bosnian Croat in the south of Bosnia has a European passport and will therefore be a European citizen. When Serbia joins, every Bosnian Serb in the north of the country will have access to the European Union. The Muslims in the middle of Bosnia will be left isolated in a dysfunctional state, surrounded by their enemy. Does the Minister realise just how fatal that will be to the peace of Bosnia in the future and to our battle against Islamic terrorism?

I was trying to extract the question from the noble Lord’s contribution. It is important to identify what the different countries themselves feel. I was very interested to learn—the noble Lord may be aware of it—of the recent European leaders network meeting, in which the Foreign Office was able to participate. The countries themselves seemed to share a common view that they would succeed or fail together and that the region belongs to the Euro-Atlantic community. That is a very positive message, indicating that the countries themselves have a vision that is positive and, we hope, peaceful. The United Kingdom and our EU partners will do all we can to facilitate that progress.