Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. And the Zagreb Summit for the region as a whole?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed, that as well. His presence was better than an empty chair, clearly.

Mr Mackinlay

  101. Mr Vaz, you have partly answered the first question I wanted to ask because I was going to ask you when you had visited the Federal Republic. Although I understood you to say you had not visited the region, I suppose you mean since October. Can I then put the question bouncing off you. I am really genuinely surprised that whoever has the ministerial portfolio for this has not been there. I find it breathtaking. It might be the fact your workload is too much, which it might well be but actually I am surprised as Minister of Europe, I thought European Union, I have to put it to you that I find it breathtaking you have not been there because anybody visiting there comes back with an entirely different concept of the issues and the dynamics there. Also the next question which I want to lead into is the question of resources of our Embassy there. Why have you not been there?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Mackinlay, I am surprised you find it breathtaking because in the House over successive periods you have been urging me to go to countries like Poland. My ministerial responsibilities—

  102. It is too much.
  (Mr Vaz) It is kind of you to say so. I am still in the job. I have responsibility for the EU, wider Europe, Russia, the Southern Caucasus including the Balkans as well as NATO and other matters. Of course I would like to go there. The Foreign Secretary has been very keen to go there in recent months. It is a question of scheduling. It certainly is our intention to go. You are absolutely right, you are in a better position than I am and in a sense perhaps you should be giving evidence to me because you will have just been there and you will have assessed for yourself the situation. It is in the travel plan and I hope to get there but the priority for us at the moment is the EU and enlargement. We were very keen to visit all the EU countries, urged on by yourself to visit countries like Poland and Gibraltar.

  103. Truly for clarification, I mean no criticism of the Minister personally—I think it is a side issue which you might look at—the number of Foreign Office Ministers is inadequate.
  (Mr Vaz) Are you pitching for a job, Mr Mackinlay?

  104. I think the Prime Minister has really got to address himself to this but we will debate it later. You should have been there. The next question is our Embassy. We suddenly find this window of opportunity after October and then furthered by the December 23 Serbian elections but, it seems, an incapacity of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to inflate its diplomatic staff in order to respond to this sudden window of opportunity which opens. We are tardy in getting people engaged there in sufficient and comparable numbers with other players such as the United States and other leading members of the European Union. What say you to that?
  (Mr Vaz) I think you are right in the sense that things have changed and the machinery of government should be able to move swiftly in order to achieve our objectives. We cannot do so, as a result, we cannot suddenly increase spending in a particular area just because a situation has arisen. Let me tell you this, Mr Mackinlay, I can assure you that in Charles Crawford I believe we have an outstanding Ambassador.

  Mr Mackinlay: We agree.


  105. You say we cannot increase resources in an area because of a particular situation, that is a fundamental change.
  (Mr Vaz) Chairman, you are right, and I will leave to Mr Charlton, who is expert in matters of how the vote operates and how resources are divided between the various embassies in Europe to explain how this is done. There is now a will to do this. With Charles Crawford's arrival we have the full Ambassador there. You have met him, you know what he is like. He has an enormous amount of talent. He knows a lot of people. We will give him the resources he needs in order to achieve this. We are looking at this monitoring situation in order to make sure this happens. In addition to that I shall tell you, Mr Mackinlay, although I have not been there, we had a major conference last year when we looked at the Balkans and any visiting Minister is seen by myself or the Foreign Secretary, indeed the Yugoslav Foreign Minister will be having lunch with the Foreign Secretary after he gives evidence to you. So that process and that dialogue continues. You are right it is in the grid and we will be going but I am sorry that we have not been able to go so far. Can I turn to ask Mr Charlton to deal with the point of resources in the embassy because it is an important point.
  (Mr Charlton) Yes. You have put your finger on a very important point. The embassy does need to be reinforced and Charles Crawford, as you know, went out very early in January, ahead of his support, one could say. In fact there is quite a lot in the pipeline. We have had a military advisor who has been supporting him temporarily. We will have a full defence attache who will be there from April. We will have a political councillor who will be going out next month. We have a couple of second secretaries who will be going out in the coming months. We have recently agreed a first secretary commercial and a first secretary aid, all of these will be coming in the next months. I think by the end of the year you have actually—

Mr Mackinlay

  106. End of the year, why can you not make interim arrangements?
  (Mr Charlton) Most of these will arrive well before that, I must say. There are one or two where there needs to be language training and so on but he will have in the next few weeks substantial reinforcement. I might just add, because some of you may have met him before, David Slinn who was the head of our office in Pristina last year is now out in the FRY helping Charles Crawford temporarily.

Sir John Stanley

  107. Minister, the Committee during its recent visit had the instructive experience of being able to see at first hand the still partially wrecked Chinese Embassy in Belgrade following the US cruise missile strike on it during the war. The Committee in its earlier Kosovo Report referred to the statement which the Foreign Secretary made in the House on 10 May 1999 in which the Foreign Secretary said "It appears that the missiles hit the building on which they had been targeted but the building had been wrongly identified in the targeting plans as the Federal Directorate of Supply and Procurement for the Yugoslav Army". The Committee recommended in its report that "The Foreign Secretary informs the House as to the outcome of the review", that is the review being undertaken by the American government, "and as to whether or not his statement on 10 May 1999 remains wholly correct in the light of any new information, including information from the US administration and from NATO that has become available to him since that date". The Government in its response to the Committee on that point said "The Government has seen nothing to suggest that the attack was anything other than a tragic error". Given the fact that the Chinese Embassy stands out as a highly individualistic building, given the fact that it bears no remote resemblance to a Ministry of Defence Procurement and Supply building—and the Minister will understand I have seen quite a number in my time—and given the fact that certainly when we saw it it had a very large Chinese People's Republic Red Flag fluttering outside it, can I ask is it still the view of the British Government that the US cruise missile strike on the embassy in the Kosovo war was a tragic error?
  (Mr Vaz) It was and I have no doubt that the statement made by the Foreign Secretary was the right statement. I have no information that is within my knowledge or the knowledge of the Foreign Office that changes that. Sir John, you are a very distinguished former defence minister, you have seen these buildings and you know all about these matters. I cannot tell you today that when this matter occurred, when this particular event occurred, that the things that you saw were there. I do not know because that is not within my knowledge. What I do know is that it is very regrettable what has happened for the reasons that the Foreign Secretary has made clear to the House. If I have any further information I will certainly let the Committee have it but as of today I have no further information and I stand by the statement made by the Foreign Secretary.

Sir David Madel

  108. Minister, the European Union, to a great extent helped Serbia through the winter. Now, of course, it is vital that the pace and extent of economic reform really does gather pace but there is also the question of the two levels of Government in Belgrade. Do you foresee a power struggle between them?
  (Mr Vaz) I have noted the points both of yourself, Sir David, and the Chairman concerning the judgments that you have made as a result of your visit. Clearly there are different power centres, as I said to the Chairman in answer to his question. I think what we want to do is to make it quite clear to the President and to all others, and this is certainly something that we shall make clear to the Foreign Minister tomorrow, that we want to work with the Government in an open and transparent way and the best way that we can deliver the goods as far as economic assistance is concerned, as far as for example bringing in the private sector into the area is concerned, is if they work together with us in order to achieve this. This is something that cannot be ordered by the United Kingdom or the European Union, it is something that has to be explained, you have to work with the various people and organisations in order to achieve this. You know from your visit, Sir David, how difficult that is going to be but we will continue to do this. I still believe that the best way forward is to work with the Government at whatever levels are required to try and ensure that we set out broadly a framework. The framework must be to bring the countries of the Balkans into the European mainstream, to let them have as a vision for the future real first class status within Europe. This can only be done by a painstaking process of building confidence within the communities; you know this for yourself.

Dr Starkey

  109. Minister, I want to turn to economic considerations. When we were there we met a great many people who were genuinely very excited about the notion of bringing the Yugoslav economy more into line with the rest of Europe and felt that they had ten or 12 years to make up. But a major problem is that the prices of basic goods that ordinary people rely on are at present extremely low as are people's salaries.
  (Mr Vaz) Yes.

  110. There clearly is a danger in modernising the economy that what happens is what happened in the countries of the former Soviet Union, that a substantial proportion of the population become impoverished.
  (Mr Vaz) Yes.

  111. I want to ask whether the UK or ourselves as part of the European Union have given serious thought as to whether we might not provide some bridging funds for purely social funding, so to speak, to cushion those sections of the population against the difficulties they would otherwise experience so that the transition can occur relatively quickly but without the downside effects on the population, particulary since obviously the current government relies on the democratic mandate and that democratic mandate is likely to be undermanned if a substantial number of people see that their lives get worse under the new regime and not better.
  (Mr Vaz) Dr Starkey raises a very important point. You will see from the memorandum I have put forward the extent of aid that we have given. As well as the support that we have given so far, we have also provided £10 million of humanitarian assistance, 3.4 million to pay arrears to family income support. I think what we need to do is to realise that it is not easy just to make a statement in London or Brussels about global figures, what really needs to be looked at is the way in which this affects people on the ground, local communities. You cannot rebuild the Balkans without ordinary people being involved, they have to feel the confidence that they wish to be involved and they have to feel the confidence and the attachment to democracy, that is the most important thing. We are well aware of the need to move quickly, that is why the suggestion of an EU/Balkans Task Force which will enable us to channel support from the private sector is so important. It is a question of rebuilding, rebuilding the communities, rebuilding the confidence within the communities but you are right, at the bottom level, right on the grass roots level, you need to be able to support families in order to achieve that. I think we have started to do this. Of course it is never enough. It is not always a question of the resources, it is how you use those resources effectively to help achieve your objectives.

  112. Would you be prepared, Minister, to look again at the EU programme and check that actually it is taking adequate notice of the need to protect those disadvantaged parts of the population against this transition?
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed, we would and that is why we await with interest the Select Committee's report. I have wanted to establish a UK/Balkans Task Force for the last six months or so but before I decide on the personnel, before I decide who is to chair such a group, I want to be informed by the Committee of its report. I think what we need to do, without delaying things any longer, is to make sure we move swiftly to involve the private sector, to involve a number of local authorities that have their own links between Serbia and the United Kingdom or Montenegro. There is a lot going on at a local authority level in the United Kingdom which can serve a purpose in building up these links, links between schools and communities.

Mr Maples

  113. Minister, I wanted to follow up with the EU's responsibilities, supposing they took on responsibility for the stability pact. In the early months of the Kosovo operation there seemed to be some evidence that ambitious plans of spending targets had precious little money getting disbursed there. Obviously there has been the opportunity in the more recent periods in Serbia. I would be interested if you could tell us where the EU is in relation to that plan? How much of its money that it planned to invest and make available for economic reconstruction in these areas has been actually spent? If you would also care to comment on stories that there are too many EU directorates involved in this, too many commissioners, perhaps even people in the high representative department as well? One can see how the fact that there are just too many directorates might have some responsibility for that. Can that be resolved or has it been resolved by making one commissioner responsible for it and perhaps keeping the high representative out? I would just be interested in how you feel the EU is discharging its functions in terms of the amount of aid that is going through for the reconstruction and the manner of its own internal organisation?
  (Mr Vaz) I am going to ask Mr Marshall to number crunch for us as to how much has been spent and how much has been given but Mr Maples raises a very important point. I think a lot of people want to help, a lot of agencies want to help. A lot of Member States want to do things on their own and nobody wants to say to them "Do not get involved" because everyone has a role to play. I think the difficulty, and perhaps you found this on your visit, is if you have a multiplicity of organisations and agencies, there is always one saying the other one is doing it, especially in a very complicated situation of this kind where ethnicity is an important element in what you are trying to achieve. I think that we need to look at it and that is why I will particularly want to see the section that deals with this question of the number of agencies. I think that there is a unity of purpose on the part of the EU that we should act in a particular way but what happens when you make a decision is does it actually reach the ends once you get to the country concerned? I think we do need to look at it and we do need to see how that can be achieved.


  114. Mr Marshall?
  (Mr Marshall) The first major package of European Union assistance following the changes in Belgrade was initially announced at the Biarritz summit in October. That was 200 million euro in emergency humanitarian assistance focusing I think on food, medicines, energy imports. That was designed to tide Yugoslavia over the winter and we think it has been successful in doing so.

Mr Maples

  115. Has it all been disbursed?
  (Mr Marshall) I think almost all of it has been now. It is now being replaced by a further tranche of 240 million euro which will go through the European agency for reconstruction which has now opened an office in Belgrade and when Commissioner Patten and High Representative Solana visited it as part of the Troika visit to Belgrade they made the initial agreement on that package. Furthermore, the European Commission with the World Bank are preparing a needs assessment for Yugoslavia. This will be presented we think in May or June and at that point the European Union and the international community will be able to judge which projects to support and how best to take that forward in co-ordination.

  116. In relation to Kosovo and other parts of the Balkans but in particular Kosovo, how about the disbursement of money there? It is now well over a year since the Kosovo conflict ended and the stability pact has been up and running for most of that time. How much money has been spent and disbursed in Kosovo?
  (Mr Marshall) I am not actually a personal expert on the Kosovo situation, I cover Serbia and Montenegro. I do not know if Mr Charlton can comment on that.
  (Mr Charlton) I have not the figure in my head but perhaps I can help by saying I was in Kosovo myself and indeed met a couple of Members of the Committee there on a visit recently. I did have an opportunity to speak to the people dealing with the economy there, the EU people. As you may know, there is, in fact, a Briton who is in charge of that, Mr Andy Bearpark, who used to be an official of the Department for International Development. I believe, from what I was told, that the operation is now much better organised and there are clear lines of responsibility. He is able to make decisions and indeed he is taking those decisions. They are now moving forward to a more strategic view of how to get the economy up and running. I think they have got through the emergency aid stage although that continues with some particular help, obviously, in areas where there is a lot of destruction. They are moving forward now to look at how they can make the Kosovo economy self-sustaining in the longer term. I think it would be fair to say that the operation is perhaps more coherent than it was in early stages.

  117. One more question on the European Union's arrangements, the European Union voluntarily took on the responsibility for the stability pact. This is the sort of task it ought to be able to perform collectively, it seems to me. If we cannot get more by doing these things collectively through the European Union for Serbia and Kosovo, then one really has to ask oneself what can we do. You said yourself there are individual countries who want to do things and I think you implied in your earlier answer that there were too many cooks in the Commission, and of course the high representatives office as well. You talked about joint visits. I do not think Mr Patten is the only commissioner who has some status in this. Are we as a Government, not encouraging but trying to make the European Union get a grip on this issue and run this policy in as efficient and coherent a way as possible to try to stop it getting in its way? It does seem to me that it needs one person. I would be perfectly happy if it was Solana, I would be even happier I think if it was Mr Patten but I think we need to know there is one person responsible for delivering the stability programme and trying to either stop people getting in the way or at least co-ordinate their activity. Are we pressing that? Do you see that as a realistic goal?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Charlton is just telling me that you are in fact seeing Mr Patten tomorrow, is that right, to give evidence.

  118. Thursday.
  (Mr Vaz) I think what would be helpful, I do not know the timescale of the Committee's report, Chairman, but I think this is an interesting point raised by Mr Maples, and what would be helpful I think for you—and you tell me if you think this is a bad idea—is if we gave you a breakdown for each of the countries of the area and how much assistance is going there.


  119. That would be helpful.
  (Mr Vaz) Together with something which I would find quite interesting which is a breakdown of the agencies involved, if we can do that. I will not promise that Mr Charlton will do this by tomorrow lunchtime because he is just writing it down for the first time but if we could liaise with the clerks we will let you have a little memorandum on that, a sort of table, not anything in lots of words, just tables.

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