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Kosovo/Cologne European Summit

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With your permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on two subjects: Kosovo and the European Council in Cologne which I attended on 3 and 4 June, accompanied by my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The conclusions of the Council are being placed in the Library of the House.

A large part of the European Council was taken up with the crisis in Kosovo. President Ahtisaari came straight from his mission to Belgrade to brief the Council. The peace plan that President Ahtisaari and the Russian special envoy, Mr. Chernomyrdin, presented to Milosevic was accepted by the Serb Parliament and the Federal Yugoslav Government on 3 June. The plan incorporated all NATO's demands. It provided for the immediate and verifiable end to violence in Kosovo; the withdrawal of all military, police and paramilitary forces according to a rapid timetable; the deployment of an effective international security presence and a civil administration--the document specified that, in any such force, the substantial participation would be that of NATO, and that there would be a unified command and control--and for the force to be authorised to establish a safe environment for the people in Kosovo and to facilitate the safe return of all displaced people and refugees.

So the document presented by President Ahtisaari embodied all the conditions set by the international community: all Serb forces come out; an international force with NATO at its core goes in; and the refugees go home in safety and peace. However, we did not--and do not--take Milosevic's assurance on trust. The Balkans are littered with his broken promises. That is why NATO has insisted all along that the bombing will not stop until a full and verifiable withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo has begun.

To give us the certainty we need about Serb withdrawal, the commander of NATO's forces in Macedonia, General Sir Mike Jackson, met representatives of the Federal Yugoslav military on the border at Blace on 5 and 6 June. Those talks ended early on 7 June after the Yugoslav side repeatedly failed to accept the document put forward by NATO. Instead they tried, among other things, to insist on large numbers of Serb troops remaining. That was and is unacceptable.

However, this morning, the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues from the G8 group of countries completed their work on the text of a Security Council resolution. I can confirm to the House that agreement has now been reached in the G8 on a text that enshrines the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin plan and its detailed terms.

The text is strong and clear and meets our requirements. It will now go forward to the Security Council. It comes under chapter VII of the United Nations charter, which means that the resolution will be legally binding on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and it authorises, through its detailed provisions, the use of force to ensure its implementation. It requires, in particular, the withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo, and authorises the deployment of our forces as part of a substantial NATO component in the international security presence,

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which will have a unified chain of command. The members of the G8 that are also on the SecurityCouncil--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Canada--have agreed that they will co-sponsor the draft.

If we need any reminder of the regime that we are dealing with, let me give the House one account, delivered by a refugee when the United Kingdom Government's war crimes co-ordinator, David Gowan, visited Albanian and Macedonian refugee camps last week.

A professional in his late 30s or early 40s said that he was one of more than 2,000 men picked up by Serb forces in early May in villages south of Pristina. They were separated from their families, beaten and transferred to the prison at Mittrovica. The prisoners were forced into cells and made to stand, shoulder to shoulder, for 24 hours without food, water or access to a lavatory. They were then beaten again, systematically, in the prison.

Yet that refugee still said that he was among the lucky ones. He had witnessed himself summary executions when he was detained at the village of Vushtria, and had heard reports of a mass execution of 103 men in the nearby village of Studime. So when the refugees say that they want to be sure that the Serb troops will go out, and that our troops will go in to guarantee their safety, it is not hard to understand why.

The next step, therefore, will be further military talks to put in place the necessary technical agreement. They are taking place today at Blace. Given the progress on a Security Council resolution, there is no excuse for the Yugoslav authorities to drag their feet again. Provided that the Serbs now, at long last, honour their undertakings and begin a verifiable withdrawal of their forces, NATO bombing can be suspended and the Security Council resolution passed, and the international force can start to be deployed in Kosovo before the end of this week.

It is time, however, that Milosevic realised that the longer he tries to draw this out, the longer and harder his forces will be hit. We have achieved this agreement only by showing total resolve and determination; we shall need to be as resolved and as determined now in implementing it. We are close to having all the elements in place, but until we are certain that Milosevic has embarked on the withdrawal of all his forces, NATO's military action will continue.

We can also now start planning in earnest for the reconstruction of the Balkans to give the peoples of the region the security and prosperity that they need to avoid future wars. The future of these front-line states, many of which I have visited in the past few weeks, should be one of peace and prosperity, not ethnic conflict. The people of a democratic Serbia can also benefit from reconstruction and integration into the mainstream of Europe, but let me be clear: that cannot happen while there is a nationalist dictator in power in Belgrade. Until Milosevic goes, Serbia cannot take its true place in the family of world nations.

Events in Kosovo overshadowed other issues at the European Council, but other important work was done too. The European Council appointed Javier Solana to the new post of Secretary-General of the Council and High Representative for the common foreign and security policy. Mr. Solana is a friend of Britain, and a highly capable operator, as we have seen during the Kosovo crisis. His new appointment will boost the effectiveness and credibility of the common foreign and security policy, and I warmly welcome it.

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There was a full discussion of economic policy.The European Council unanimously reaffirmed that sustainable, non-inflationary growth and increased employment required comprehensive structural reforms at European Union and national levels. The message is clear in the broad economic guidelines, which the European Council approved, and in the new European employment pact.

As for the future development of the Union, the European Council took a number of important steps. It heard a strong statement from the President elect of the Commission about his plans for reform of that institution, and the Council pledged its full support for Mr. Prodi's approach to reform. The Council welcomed the new European anti-fraud office, whose establishment was agreed at the ECOFIN Council on 25 May, and which will permit the Union to step up the fight against fraud, corruption and mismanagement. Agreement was reached on the further development of a common European security and defence policy, building on the ideas that we outlined last year, which were warmly endorsed by NATO at its Washington summit in April.

The European Council confirmed that an intergovernmental conference would be called early next year to resolve the issues that were left open at the Amsterdam European Council, which need to be settled before enlargement. The Council also endorsed an initiative by Prime Minister Guterres of Portugal to convene next March, under the Portuguese presidency, a special meeting of the European Council, which will be entirely devoted to economic reform and employment. The initiative is very welcome, and follows the call for such an event at the Anglo-Spanish summit on 10 April. We are making real headway in promoting economic reform in Europe, which--as I have repeatedly said in this House--is essential to ensure sustained growth and the unqualified success of the single currency.

The Council rejected the notion of ending tax competition or of the harmonisation of business and income taxes. Instead, the Council decided, sensibly, that merely harmful tax competition should be avoided; and it actually advocated lower business and labour costs. Unfortunately, although we had the support of 13 of the 14 other member states, we could not reverse the duty free decision taken in 1991 by the previous Government, as they had agreed to its being reversible only if there were unanimity.

At the Council as a whole, therefore, substantial progress was made on economic reform, but, as I said at the outset, it was rightly and understandably dominated by Kosovo. Let us hope that the process begun at this Council and taken forward today at the G8 will come swiftly to a secure and just conclusion, ending the obscenity of ethnic cleansing and obtaining justice at last for the people of Kosovo.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): I concur with the Prime Minister that the outline agreement on Kosovo reached last week is very encouraging, as indeed is some of the further news that he has announced about today's agreement of the G8, and that we must now ensure, through all the difficulties that are bound to arise, that those agreements are implemented in full.

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We agree with the Prime Minister that the air campaign must not stop until there is a verifiable withdrawal of Serb forces. On that, the Government have the support of the Opposition, as they do on the announcement of the additional deployment of British troops to the region.

The key test of any agreement is whether all the refugees can return in safety to their homes. That raises a number of questions. First, does the Prime Minister agree that the ground force will have to be effectively NATO led, and that the unified command structure to which he has referred will have to run throughout the whole of Kosovo, to avoid any de facto partition of Kosovo? Will the United Nations resolution achieve that?

Secondly, is the Prime Minister confident that the Kosovo Liberation Army will demilitarise as set out in the agreement? What exactly does demilitarisation mean in that context, and how will it be achieved?

Thirdly, the Rambouillet accords provided for an international meeting, three years after the agreement entered force, to determine the mechanism for a final settlement based at least partly on the will of the people. The provision was excluded from last week's outline agreement. In what way will the views of the Kosovar Albanians be reflected in the determination of the final status of Kosovo?

Both sides of the House agree that there is still an enormous amount to do. We must oversee the refugees' return, and of course we must ensure that the events in Kosovo are not repeated there or elsewhere. Will the Prime Minister elaborate on plans to bring greater stability and peace to the region in the longer term, so that people may enjoy, as he has said, peace and prosperity, instead of ethnic conflict, in the future?

Kosovo was the most pressing issue at Cologne, but many other decisions taken there were important to Britain. Why did the Prime Minister not make the case for the type of Europe that the British public want--a Europe that does less and does it better, and that cleans up its act? When will he stop saying one thing in Britain, and then caving in during negotiations?

Two years ago, the Prime Minister vetoed a proposal on European defence on the grounds that it would weaken the United States's commitment to Europe, and that it was an "ill-judged transplant operation". Why has he now supported a proposal that is effectively the same? Is it not a mistake to create a second defence alliance in Europe, which will overlap with NATO and threaten to undermine the United States commitment to NATO? What is the EU doing proposing an army when it cannot even run an audit system properly?

The Prime Minister has always claimed--he claimed it again today--that he will resist tax harmonisation. However, the communique says that

on proposals

    "on the taxation of investment income";

that agreement on

    "proposals for a Directive on the taxation of savings"

will be reached this year; that work on

    "a framework for the taxation of energy"

will continue; and that a further report on "reinforced tax policy co-operation" is being prepared. Why did the Prime Minister agree in Cologne to the most comprehensive plan

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yet for tax harmonisation? Why, when people in this country want to maintain the veto, did he agree to a communique that calls for the extension of qualified majority voting--in other words, a further erosion of the veto?

Finally, can the Prime Minister explain the lamentable summit shenanigans over the single currency? The Prime Minister of Luxembourg said memorably that the

Instead, the summit opted for a spot of carefully controlled panic. Statements were issued and then withdrawn. As The Times said:

    "European leaders . . . bungled an attempt to bolster the ailing euro",


    "confusion through the foreign exchanges, sending the euro tumbling towards fresh record lows".

We read that, from now on, only two people in Europe will be allowed to speak about the single currency--judging from the Prime Minister's European election campaign, he is not privileged to be one of them.

Is it not time that the Government's position at such meetings reflected the views of the people of this country? Is it not time that the Government's priority was to act in the interests of Britain, rather than seeking at every opportunity to go with the flow in Europe? Does the Prime Minister not recognise that most people in this country do not want any more powers transferred from Britain to European institutions? They want their taxes decided in this House, and oppose his plans to scrap the pound. They want to be in Europe, not run by Europe.

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