Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. Who is it going to destabilise?
  (Mr Vaz) I do not know, Mr Rowlands, because I have not seen the evidence that has been given to you suggesting that such a move would not cause any difficulties.

  161. On the evidence you have got.
  (Mr Vaz) On the evidence I have got some of the states and regions in the Balkans are still very fragile and what we do not wish to see is a further disintegration and a further destabilisation leading to the kinds of scenarios that Mr Maples just discussed when he posed his question. We would rather look at the situation and evaluate what has happened. In a real sense, you have been to see the area and you have taken evidence—

Mr Mackinlay

  162. You have not.
  (Mr Vaz) No, I know, Mr Mackinlay, but I am going back and redesigning my grid to make sure that I will go as soon as I possibly can. I cannot ensure that it happens within weeks, but I will do so. I do want to go and so does the Foreign Secretary and we will make efforts to do so. What I do want to say is that if we do the wrong thing at the wrong time and it goes wrong—and you know how fragile it is, I do not have to tell you—the consequences are going to be severe.


  163. Surely it is not what we do. As Mr Rowlands has said clearly there will be an election in April in Montenegro, probably a referendum in June or July, it will be a decision of the people of Montenegro, nothing that we do will affect it, we will be faced with the reality of probably an independence vote.
  (Mr Vaz) Indeed, you are right. I must re-emphasise what I said earlier, that we are not there to dictate the outcome. We will obviously look at the outcome but our preference is that the future of Montenegro lies in a redesigned Yugoslav Federation. That is the preference that has been clearly stated by all the EU nations. You have been there and you have seen for yourself what is going on and you have taken your evidence and you will hear from the Minister tomorrow.

Mr Rowlands

  164. I do not know if I should put words in their mouths but we had a meeting this morning with the Macedonian Foreign Affairs Committee and I inferred from it that although obviously the preferable solution would not be either Kosovo or any other former state that they were not as horrified or as terrified about this problem, they felt the structures they had would work hard to make sure their own internal stability survived. The slightly doom filled scenarios we have been presented with that if Kosovo did this and Montenegro did that the whole region would fall apart again is not proven by the evidence today. I would like to know what additional quality evidence you have got to give us. I invite you to give us evidence to counter the evidence we have collected. Can you bolster your case by giving us a bit more evidence on the fragility point?
  (Mr Vaz) I have been found wanting in the provision of evidence to Mr Rowlands. I would invite the Committee to weigh a doubt against a certainty. The doubt is what might happen if a decision of that kind was taken. The certainty is the situation that we have at the moment. This is a fragile situation, we have fragile democracies and we have fragile regions and countries. We must do our best to make sure that the confidence is built within the communities and between communities and it is in the end, as you say, for the Montenegrin people to decide, we have stated our preference.

Mr Mackinlay

  165. In order that you can have quality advice, your finger on the pulse, do you not think you should have some diplomatic representation in Podgorica?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Charlton will tell you how the embassy in Belgrade ensures that this happens.

  166. I am not trying to split hairs with you. We know how it happens because we have got evidence of that but there is not a blighter in Podgorica, is there, who is listening and feeding back?
  (Mr Vaz) We cannot put our blighters everywhere, Mr Mackinlay. I think there is this view that there is a bottomless pit of resources which we can just—

  167. You have just been telling us how fragile the situation is in the last few minutes.
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, but, Mr Mackinlay, there is not a bottomless pit of resources to put blighters all over the place. We have to concentrate our resources in areas where we think we will do best for Her Majesty's Government.

  168. Perhaps I have used a word which has allowed us to divert and which looks flip. Surely there is a need for somebody there as a permanent representative, not only as eyes and ears and listening but to be an interlocutor with what is the de facto government of Montenegro. This afternoon Federal Yugoslavia's writ does not run in Montenegro, that is a matter of fact. There might perhaps be a surprise in the referendum which says "we want to stay in the Federal Republic", whether or not institutions can be built up and agreed to maintain something, that is a matter for the future, but this afternoon there is a place called Montenegro, it has a government, but we have no interface with it. It just seems to me to be crazy, foolhardy in the extreme.
  (Mr Vaz) We have constant interface with it and we meet Ministers and we discuss these matters and Mr Crawford involves us and informs us of all these matters. When I take up your offer and go and visit the area I will look and assess this matter for myself. I, of course, look forward to your report and any suggestions that you make, that is what the Select Committee is doing.

  169. How does Her Majesty's Government envisage if there was to be a sustained Federal Yugoslavia merging the two economies, one of which is now you could almost say an incubation buttressed by the German mark, which is their currency, and something which is quite different?
  (Mr Vaz) This happened, Mr Mackinlay.

  170. I know it happened but how do you see it?
  (Mr Vaz) We have to look at cause before we look at effect. It happened because of the situation that existed between Serbia and Montenegro. The situation has changed. We must look to create dialogue, we cannot dictate, we cannot tell people what to do. I believe that the international community has obligations, we must make sure that there is a way forward that will accommodate the desires and the concerns of the people of Montenegro.

Sir John Stanley

  171. Just on this point about representation, I am glad that you have assured the Committee that you are going to look at this when you do go to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Can I assure you that when you use emotive phrases like "bottomless pits", one is talking of a bottom of about one centimetre in depth in reality against the resources of the Foreign Office. Minister, we are talking about the establishment of a consulate general, which obviously is what would be required in Montenegro given the fact that it is already part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This Committee has already seen for itself in China and has, indeed, praised the Foreign Office for setting up consulate generals in places like Chongqing in China where with the utilisation of just two ex-patriot FCO diplomatic staff, taking rented accommodation in a hotel, it is possible to establish a very, very effective presence. I think I, and perhaps other Members of the Committee, would put it to you that given the huge sensitivity of Montenegro, given the very, very difficult period which it is now in, particularly with its relations with the Federal Republic, given the huge expenditure which the British Government and other governments have had to incur in the whole of the Balkans area, it is a fractional sum of money to make certain that the Foreign Office is fully and properly informed politically on a day-to-day basis as to developments inside Montenegro. I put it to you that it does require serious attention. Perhaps you would just reconsider the appropriateness or the inappropriateness of a phrase like "bottomless pit". It is a fractional amount of money in relation to the politics and conceivably the security issues and potential costs that are at stake.
  (Mr Vaz) Sir John, you are a former Defence Minister, you know exactly what I mean when I talk about "bottomless pits". You have had your own negotiations in the past with the Treasury. I do not think even I can resist the combination of Mr Mackinlay and Sir John on this issue. As I have promised to do, I will look at this issue very carefully in the light of what Sir John and Mr Mackinlay have said.

Sir David Madel

  172. If Montenegro proceeds towards a referendum on independence, would the Government state a view as to what it would regard as what the yes vote should be to accept it?
  (Mr Vaz) No, I do not think the Government should state a view. If there is going to be a referendum it is for the people of Montenegro—

  173. To work it out.
  (Mr Vaz) We do not have a veto on these things. We have stated our preference.

  174. Your preference is not, but if they go ahead and become independent they will immediately look for even more help from the European Union and we would welcome that, would we?
  (Mr Vaz) People asking us for help?

  175. Yes.
  (Mr Vaz) We will have to talk to the Chancellor about that. The issue is this: that is one of the problems that we foresee. It is a good point that you make. One of the difficulties since 5 October has been other countries in the region have said "you are giving X country so much support, what about us? If we go independent, will we get more support?" Then it becomes, in a sense, a bargaining counter for support based on what individual countries will do, that is the difficulty of the situation. I do not think that we can prejudge an event that has not been concluded. We have stated our preference very clearly and I have given the reasons why we think this would not be a good idea, but in the end whatever decision is taken we will look at it.


  176. Just for the record, Minister, could you confirm that in respect of Montenegro under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Montenegro has a right to secede?
  (Mr Vaz) As I do not have the constitution here, Chairman, I will ask Mr Charlton if he has read it recently and see if he can give a view. If he does not know we will certainly drop you a line about it.
  (Mr Charlton) I am not going to give an answer to that question. I think a lot of people would say "which constitution are you referring to?"

  Chairman: We shall have another letter.

Mr Rowlands

  177. I am sorry, I cannot let this go. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the constitution which was used and exercised which allowed Macedonia to secede, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro had exactly the same and in all your briefings to us you make the distinction between Kosovo and Vojvodina as autonomous and Montenegro as a republic. Surely it is a republic and, therefore, under the FRY constitution has the right to secede. Can you dispute that?
  (Mr Vaz) When I submit the answers to all the questions you have raised I will deal with this point so you will have a definitive view.

  Dr Starkey: Minister, can I press you on the issue of the Montenegro referendum. We got a variety of evidence when we were there and also since we have got back about the intricacies of the voting pattern within Montenegro itself. One point was that only 80 per cent of the population of Montenegro are actually orthodox Montenegrins or Serbs, therefore if you had a 51 per cent majority it probably would not be the majority of orthodox Montenegrins because the others would probably all go for independence. There was also a question that we rehearsed there about what the question would be because Montenegro at the moment are suggesting a question along the lines of "would you like to be independent but renegotiate an association with Serbia?" Essentially the Prime Minister of Serbia said "either they are independent or they are not, we are not interested in negotiating a new association". On that basis that would be a silly question and it is not a question that the Serbians would be in the slightest bit interested in coming to an agreement on. Given that, as others have said, we are likely to be funding this through the EU, whether it is independent or not, does the EU not have a perfectly legitimate interest in the referendum, the question asked and the decision on what majority is required—

  Chairman: Who participates.

Dr Starkey

  178.—to actually allow independence to go ahead? Indeed, as the Chairman has pointed out, who participates. Is it only Montenegrin citizens resident in Montenegro? What about the Montenegrins who actually live in Serbia or elsewhere? These are the sorts of questions which are very important for the democratic validity of the referendum. Does not the EU, or at least the OSCE, have a valid interest in involving itself in those questions before the referendum actually takes place?
  (Mr Vaz) Dr Starkey has raised some very important points concerning the referendum. It is not for the EU and the United Kingdom to dictate but I am absolutely certain that in the discussions that we will be having, and we continue to have on an ongoing basis, with the government of the FRY and individual parts of the FRY we will be discussing these issues. I can assure her that that is something we will do. She may be trying to press me for a further answer on this but that must be our position. There is no position that I can state here today on a referendum that has not been framed and has not been detailed.

  179. Just to press on this and then I will move on to Bosnia. Might not the UK Government or the EU at least very strenuously put forward markers as to what standard they would expect the referendum to live up to if it is to lead to stability afterwards?
  (Mr Vaz) Dr Starkey, I can assure you that we will have ongoing discussions about this matter. It remains something of concern to us, the area is of a high priority and we will make sure that these discussions reflect our views.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001