Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2001
VAZ MP, MR
100. And the Zagreb Summit for the region as
(Mr Vaz) Indeed, that as well. His presence was better
than an empty chair, clearly.
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
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 personallyI think it is a side issue which
you might look atthe number of Foreign Office Ministers
(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
(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
(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
106. End of the year, why can you not make interim
(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
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 buildingand the Minister
will understand I have seen quite a number in my timeand
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
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
(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.
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
(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.
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.
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.
(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 youand you tell me if you think
this is a bad ideais if we gave you a breakdown for each
of the countries of the area and how much assistance is going
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.