Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2001
VAZ MP, MR
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
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 wrongand
you know how fragile it is, I do not have to tell youthe
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.
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.
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
(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
(Mr Vaz) People asking us for help?
(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.
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
(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
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
Chairman: Who participates.
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
(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.