Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 99-119)

26 OCTOBER 2004


  Q99 Chairman: The Committee is continuing its inquiry into the Western Balkans. Today, for the first group of witnesses, we have Dr Othon Anastasakis, Head of the South East Europe Programme at St Antony's College, Oxford. We also have Mr Nicholas Whyte, who is Head of the Europe Programme in the International Crisis Group. Dr Whyte, we do draw frequently on the work of your group and find it very relevant indeed in a wide range of areas. Gentlemen, just to give a general setting of the scene, it would be helpful if both of you were to comment on the strategic significance of the Western Balkans, both in itself and as a source of international contention. It is a relatively small group of countries, containable. How would you put it its strategic significance?

  Dr Whyte: The two important factors about the Western Balkans both stem from the geography of the region. First, it is across a main transport route by land from Western Europe to the Middle East, and that is something we cannot get away from. All of the main roads, the famous Corridor X, of the pan-European corridors go through Belgrade, either south to Thessaloniki or south and east to Istanbul. That is just a plain fact of where it happens to be. The second point from the more political side is that the Western Balkans are right inside the enlarged European Union, once Bulgaria and Romania join, as they are programmed to do in 2007. Then you have an island of territory completely surrounded by EU Member States with which the EU is going to have to come to significant terms sooner rather than later, whose stability is crucial. It now becomes an internal rather than external issue for the European Union.

  Dr Anastasakis: Thank you for inviting me here. I am very glad that you are so interested in the Western Balkan region because, as it happens right now, international attention, especially EU attention, is diverting towards Bulgaria and Romania where there is a commitment for 2007. There is also a lot of discussion about Turkey now which is dominating the picture. There is a risk that the Western Balkans, which is becoming smaller and smaller as we see now it is minus Croatia, will become an island of instability. I think it is of great strategic significance to the European Union because, as we know from the 1990s, whatever happens in the region affects directly or indirectly the rest of Europe. In that sense, the EU has to learn some of the examples of the 1990s and its own failures and try to incorporate the region. I am happy that you are putting forward the question on the Western Balkans today and that you are showing interest in this region.

  Q100 Chairman: Gentlemen, in all the key hotspots of this small but significant area both the United States and the European Union are involved. We see it particularly dramatically when EUFor will take over in Bosnia in a couple of months' time. What differences of strategic perception are there, in your judgment, between the United States and Europe in this area?

  Dr Whyte: It is very simple. None of these countries in the Western Balkans is likely to become the 51st through 55th state of the United States—it is going to stay pretty much where it is at 50—whereas the European Union has actually made the promise of future membership to every single one of the territories in the Western Balkans. From that point of view, the quality of engagement is very different. For the United States, it can only ever be a security issue with a certain nod towards economic stabilisation, but that too is in the security context. For the European Union it is much more than a security issue. This is a question of ensuring the economic stability as well as the military stability of a territory that actually borders on the EU itself.

  Q101 Chairman: Given the long-term implications for Europe of stability or instability in that area, and perhaps the other pressures on the United States in terms of over-stretch, do you see, over time, the commitment of the US to the area diminishing and that of the European Union increasing?

  Dr Anastasakis: I think we are already seeing that. There has been a decreasing commitment since the beginning of this new century. We should also consider that during the 1990s there was very reluctant involvement by the United States, due to the inability of the European Union basically to deal with this kind of security question. We realise now that this is going to be a big issue for the European Union. The EU has to prove that it is able to bring about stability and security in that area and also economic prosperity. In that sense, I think this is the big gamble for the European Union. It has to prove to itself and to the region that it has commitment and that it can also stabilise the situation. As I write in the memorandum which I distributed yesterday, I think that the EU is the only game in town for them and in that sense it is particularly important.

  Q102 Chairman: But it is not the only game in town because the US is there and the US has a substantial commitment of troops. We are told, for example, that the US has far great clout in a key area like Kosovo. To what extent is it imperative for us as Europeans that the US commitment is maintained to that area and at what level?

  Dr Anastasakis: To follow up, I think it is important that those two co-operate as smoothly as possible in that region, and I think they have done so. In the Western Balkan area, the way the United States and the EU have worked together has proved that they can do it without any major problems. The region is very significant for the United States in terms of terrorism and also as a transit route for illegal traffic and organised crime. In that sense, I think it is of strategic significance for the United States, and it will continue to be, but there is commitment on the part of the United States elsewhere in other parts of the globe. In that sense, it is decreasing, and the fact that the EU is now becoming the major force in terms of a police mission and military mission, that proves it has to take the upper hand in that.

  Q103 Chairman: And why we should beware of the precipitated US withdrawal from the area?

  Dr Whyte: As Dr Anastasakis has already said, we are seeing that to a certain extent; but we will never see it happen completely. At one point the catch phrase of the trans-Atlanticists in this debate was "In together, out together". There is no out for the European Union in the Western Balkans. There potentially is for the United States, at least in military terms. However, it is impossible to see the United States as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as a member of the Six Nation Contact Group, disengage completely. The United States will remain politically engaged, I think, whatever happens on 2 November. Certainly it will remain sufficiently politically engaged to be playing the key role in the resolution of the Kosovo final status, which is going to be the big question that comes up in the next 12 months.

  Q104 Chairman: As we have seen in Bosnia, are we likely to see the US increasingly seeking to disengage?

  Dr Whyte: Absolutely, and that is my understanding from conversations in Washington, that the Pentagon basically has other priorities at the moment. We can see that by watching the news. There is no great desire in the United States to keep troops in the Balkans any longer than they feel is necessary. Who defines what is "necessary" is a different question.

  Q105 Mr Illsley: Following that theme, you mentioned that the European Union surrounds the Western Balkans. We are looking at Bulgaria and Romania in terms of accession countries. The European Union throughout the Nineties did not exactly give a united front towards the Western Balkans. What can be done to re-engage the European Union in this and take a more immediate and more urgent view of the area?

  Dr Whyte: The first thing that happened was the very failure of the EU in the 1990s caused a great deal of sober reflection among heads of government. It is often said that Slobodan Milosevic did more to build the European common foreign security policy than any other individual because he demonstrated the failures of the previous system. We do now have things we did not have in the EU. We do now have Javier Solana. We have a whole set of structures within the European Council Secretariat which simply did not exist before. Now the EU can actually put several thousand troops on the ground in Bosnia. That was unthinkable even two years ago, let alone 10. Things have progressed in the last 10 years.

  Dr Anastasakis: I agree that there has been, in the last four years, an increasing and growing engagement and commitment on the part of the European Union, but there is also a difficulty in that engagement has to be effective and successful. This is a real test area for the European Union because it is engaged in many ways in the Western Balkan region. It is engaged in military terms. It is engaged in reconstruction efforts, in co-operation and reconciliation efforts, and also in transition. This is the major difference with central and eastern European countries, and this is also the major innovation for the European Union that it has to deal in multiple ways in that particular part of Europe.

  Q106 Mr Illsley: Is the Stability and Association process model working effectively within the Balkans? Does that need to be altered? Does it need to be bolstered? Is there anything the British Government could do to try and encourage our European Union partners to improve the SAp process?

  Dr Whyte: The SAp process works well where you have well-functioning states on the other end to work with, and that clearly applies to Croatia, and I would argue that most of the time it applies to Macedonia as well. It has run into real problems in Albania, due really to the failure and unwillingness of the Albanian Government to undertake the necessary reforms. I think it has clearly had a beneficial effect in Bosnia along with all the rest of the international efforts. It has certainly increased the credibility of the Bosnian state. But I think it has shown almost no tangible results in the case of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo because that state is not really a state, it is three different states, which happen to be bunched together internationally, and the SAp has almost had a negative effect rather than a positive effect over the last three or four years there.

  Dr Anastasakis: To continue, and I agree with it, the EU has been used to dealing with the central authorities. In that way, that particular area of Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro is a new territory for it because of the unclear borders and the non legitimate authorities basically. The SAp process has been a good step in the right direction. It is just that the priorities have to be adjusted to the specificities and the needs of the particular countries. I think that has been acknowledged by the EU, especially lately, and they are trying to be as specific as possible, focusing on the particularities of each country. There is the wider discussion about how technical the understanding of the EU is and how technical it should be because there are other developmental needs in the region that are not adequately addressed by the European Union through the Stabilisation Association process in particular.

  Dr Whyte: Could I add two points? You asked for improvements that could be made and the two that I would suggest are, first of all, that the process needs to include a better perspective for economic development. At the moment, it is aimed very much towards institution-building. It is all very well to have a well-functioning parliament built in Sarajevo but it still takes three hours to drive there from anywhere else. If that corridor were to be improved, then Bosnia would be opened up much better to the world. The second thing, and I think this may be a bit more controversial, is the question of the visa policy. The mean spiritedness of Western Europe in its approach to the Western Balkans is exemplified best by the restrictive visa policy that exists. The current policy empowers people-traffickers and penalises honest travellers. If we want to send a real signal to these people that they are considered as Europeans, we have to allow them to travel here.

  Q107 Mr Illsley: Is there anything in the idea that maybe some countries within the region are looking at European Union accession and the SAp process as the be-all and end-all and that they are representing to their own countries that they have done enough because they have got within that process?

  Dr Whyte: You would have to bracket that also with NATO accession, which, as we know, on the ground is of less dramatic effect but symbolically is of equally dramatic effect. Certainly, in terms of national goals, I think one could do worse than have that.

  Q108 Chairman: On that, would it be fair to say that although all the countries want to join the Euro-Atlantic structures, NATO would just be seen by them as a first step on the route?

  Dr Anastasakis: I think we do tend to put those two together but they are very different. The aim of NATO is different from the aim of the EU. NATO is a security organisation and in that respect it is much easier for NATO to commit and to engage those countries within its own ranks. For the EU it is a much more complex organisation and it has its economic dimension and also it has a growing political dimension as well. In that respect, the process which brings those countries closer together is much more complicated. I think there is a differentiation between the two and how easily the countries can become members of the organisations.

  Q109 Mr Olner: On the EU accession point, and I can understand all the choreography of the dance to join the EU, I just wonder whether we are going to be faced with the same difficulty that we have with Cyprus joining the EU where there was a promise of an amalgamation and a joining and the reality, at the end of the day, is that they are not joining now. I would hope that the EU is not going to face the same problem in the Western Balkans.

  Dr Anastasakis: This is a very interesting comparison. I have been thinking a lot about Cyprus lately and why the EU, in the end, has not been so effective or maybe it has been effective in some ways that we do not see and we might see in the future in that it is now gradually engaging with the north of the island. That seems to be an unavoidable pathway for the north to be integrated into the EU. Maybe there are differences because the EU did make mistakes with Cyprus in that it never held out any stick to Cyprus. It only gave the carrot of membership without using its conditionality. It also left the Turkish Cypriots completely outside the process. In that respect, there was a different kind of situation there when we compare it with the Balkans where all the different parts are really engaged in the process, but in different ways.

  Q110 Mr Pope: I certainly agree with that analysis on Cyprus where the Committee is going in a couple of weeks. I wanted to ask, though, about the European Union's reconstruction and development funds. The EU has allocated over

4 billion to 2006. It struck me that that did not seem a great deal of money, given the scale of the problem. If economic stability and political stability go hand-in-hand, it seems to me that there is at least a case to be made for saying that the EU is trying to do this on the cheap and that it should allocate some more money. I wonder what your view is?

  Dr Whyte: I would agree with that in terms of development. As I said earlier, I think there is a lack of an economic development aspect to the SAp, indeed to the EU's whole approach to the region. On reconstruction, on the other hand, I would give the EU quite good marks for the last few years. The European Agency for Reconstruction has been a good model of how to do it—a decentralised agency accountable to Brussels eventually but set up very much based in the region. I think it has a very good rate of disbursement of funds. If you look at

4 billion as a reconstruction budget, that is probably about right, considering the absorptive capacity of the region, but, on development, you are quite right.

  Dr Anastasakis: I agree with you that there should be more money but there is one qualification: what do you do with this money? I come from a country, Greece namely, where there was too much money coming from the European Union and basically we did not know how to spend it. The issue about absorptive capacity is very significant in the Western Balkan countries. There definitely has to be money directed towards developmental aims but there is one problem, I understand, from the regional side in that where the money can be spent on projects is always decided by the European Union. There is very little consultation with local actors, those really involved in that business.

  Q111 Andrew Mackinlay: You mentioned the meanness of the European Union states with regard to the visa regime. Are you saying there should be a relaxation in the visas, and perhaps not a visa required, or are you saying there should be full mobility of labour extended to this region by the European Union before they come in?

  Dr Whyte: I think you could certainly look at the latter alternative. I would be very surprised if the costs outweighed the benefits. If that is considered too radical a move, as I suppose it probably would be, let us consider what the consequences of the current policies are. Currently, Croatia and Bulgaria both actually enjoy visa-free access to the EU. It is very easy for most Bosnian citizens also to get Croatian citizenship; this undermines Bosnian statehood. It is very easy for Macedonian citizens to   get Bulgarian citizenship; this undermines Macedonian statehood. The existing policy is actually making things worse.

  Q112 Andrew Mackinlay: As we know from experience, despite what the newspapers have said, the whole of central Europe did not move here on 2 May, did they?

  Dr Whyte: Certainly I did not see them coming.

  Q113 Mr Mackay: Can I move you on to the International Tribunal? We note and are perhaps slightly puzzled that the European Union and NATO seem to set slightly different standards in respect of the various Western Balkan states complying with the Tribunal. Would you like to comment on that and, in commenting, which end of the scale should we be on: the rather more relaxed view that the EU seems to take or the more stringent NATO view probably backed by American pressure?

  Dr Whyte: It is perhaps not fair to characterise it in precisely that way. First, I would say the view that should be taken is the hard line that is taken by the British Government inside both organisations, inside both NATO and the EU, and that tough line consisting of full compliance with the internationally mandated tribunal is the right one to take. What the EU has done is to promise a feasibility study on whether or not further integration is possible with the EU to Serbia and Montenegro. It seems, on present form, that that feasibility study will be negative because there is no co-operation from Serbia with the War Crimes Tribunal, apart from cosmetic things like the arrest of somebody from Srebrenica who nobody much had heard of. That simply is cosmetic. Until that happens, ultimately the answer from both is gong to be the same. Of course NATO's cut-off point comes a little bit sooner because of Partnership for Peace specifically dealing with the army of Serbia and Montenegro, and you cannot have a situation where you have indicted war criminals participating in joint exercises with NATO troops. Obviously, the wall has been hit a little bit sooner in that case but I think it is in the same place in both cases.

  Dr Anastasakis: I agree, and I think everybody agrees, that there has to be a hard line. One also has to be careful, especially in the case of Serbia because the people there really feel that they are discriminated against on that particular aspect, that there is a lot of punishment addressed to them, that everything revolves around that, and that their sensitivities are not taken so much into account. As far as linking feasibility studies, which is a technical process leading towards the start of the Stabilisation Association process, with whether they are sending a war criminal to the Hague or not does not tell us much about how able they are to adopt and implement standards. There is this kind of discrepancy. It is, of course, part of the political conditionality but there are other conditions that have to be looked as well here.

  Q114 Mr Mackay: Are they high profile alleged war criminals, and obviously there are Karadzic and Mladic? Are they just symbols and are they very important or should it run deeper? Presumably, Mr Whyte, when you are trying somebody fairly obscure, and this is Beara who was picked up recently, and this is a question for both of you: is this all just symbolic—let us get one or two big fish, and then all will be well—or should it run much deeper? What is realistic and practical?

  Dr Whyte: This is a part of the world where nothing is just symbolic, where symbols are of extreme importance, and there is an operational security issue as well in that as long as Karadzic and Mladic continue to be at liberty, then we cannot say that the security mission in Bosnia has been completed. That is an operational question but the symbolism is very important as well, the symbolism of coming to terms with what was done in the name of the Serbian people during the entire period of the 1990s. Does it matter? Yes, I think it does. Whether or not you then repatriate some of the war crimes trials to Serbia or not, that is a decision that is up to the Tribunal and it is fairly clear that the Tribunal will increasingly want to repatriate trials to Croatia, to Serbia and to Bosnia, but it must go through them first. I do not think there should be a short-cut to that.

  Dr Anastasakis: I think that apart from the issue of punishment, which is a fair thing to do, if done in the right way, the Serbian people have to come to terms with their own past and in fact during the 1990s many of them were really unaware of what was going on outside their own country. I think that process of bringing those people to justice will also help them in some ways to come to terms with the past and acknowledge mistakes.

  Q115 Mr Mackay: Finally, the repatriation of some of these trials is clearly, at least in theory, a good idea because the Hague is a very long way away and we have seen elsewhere in the world that it is often better to have such trials on site, so to speak. It seems to me that there might be very real difficulties about intimidating witnesses and putting pressure on witnesses actually in Serbia or Kosovo, Bosnia as well, that there would not be at the Hague. Can that be overcome? There is a balance I am trying to weigh, is there not, between keeping it local, which I am in favour of, and not pressurising and intimidating witnesses, which obviously I am against, and how should the balance sway?

  Dr Whyte: This of course is why the Tribunal was set up in the Hague in the first place because it was feared that local judicial structures were not up to it. I think it is a developing process and it should be the Tribunal's call as to whether or not local conditions have matured to the point where repatriation of such trials is possible.

  Q116 Chairman: Gentlemen, I am turning to Kosovo. We now have the result of the elections of last Saturday. It is very difficult to put any positive gloss or spin on them. So far as the Serbs are concerned, there was a massive boycott of those elections. Of the 108,000 possible Serb electors, both in Kosovo itself and the refugees in Serbia proper, only just over 500 actually voted. That seemed to be a response of the Serb community, as it were, denying the legitimacy of the institutions which are currently in Kosovo, and I suppose also responding to the appeal of Premier Kostunica, ignoring the appeal of the more moderate President, and really casting a question mark over the effectiveness of the work of the United Nations over the past four years or so in putting a massive block on any move towards a multi-ethnic community, which is the declared aim. Can you give me any glimmer of hope which arises from the elections last Saturday?

  Dr Anastasakis: The only glimmer of hope, because I do share your pessimism, is that they were done in a peaceful way; there were not any conflicts or riots, or worse than that. I do agree with you that that shows us how much Serbia proper is divided on the issue when different political factions advise on different directions. I would also add to what you have said the fact that there was a very low turnout from the Kosovo Albanian community as well.

  Q117 Chairman: It was 53% of the total, which is not disastrous in Western European terms. We only had 59% in our last general election in the UK.

  Dr Anastasakis: If you look at it that way, it is just over 50%. What I meant to say by that is that the legitimacy of those electors in the eyes of the Albanian community is something that has to be looked at, and not just the Kosovo people; this kind of political apathy is a general trend in the Western Balkans in general. There are regular elections everywhere, more elections than anyone can imagine basically, but people fail to go because they are not interested and there is a certain point of political apathy in that process.

  Q118 Chairman: Mr Whyte, does it signal a failure of the UN effort over the past four years, in spite of all the expenditure of money and a disastrous blow to prospects of a multiethnic community?

  Dr Whyte: You asked for a glimmer of hope, Mr Chairman. I think I would like to depress you still further just for a moment. I would say within the Albanian community, look at what happened to the one Albanian politician who had started from a very hard line position and had consistently tried to moderate his line, particularly by making overtures towards the Serb community. Hashim Thaçi, the leader of the PDK[1]saw some of his vote fragmenting off to the new party led by Veton Surroi; he saw other parts of his vote splintering off to the more hard line political realities of President Rugova. The Kosovo Albanian results were in fact even more depressing than you have portrayed them. My glimmer of hope is that I think this clarifies the issue. We have got two very hard line positions. Yes, the UN was unable, through five years of enlightened government, to persuade passions to cool and more moderate alternatives to emerge, but anybody who believed that was going to be the case in 1999 was engaging in very wishful thinking indeed, given the history of the region, and indeed given the history of UN interventions. If the UN was supposed to deliver liberal politicians in Kosovo, it obviously failed, but I do not think it was ever going to achieve that. I would say that we have now got a situation where the Kosovo Albanians have supported a very firm and robust line on independence and where the Kosovo Serbs have clearly placed their faith in Belgrade rather than in their local representatives. That is simply the situation we must deal with. It is going to require serious and sustained engagement by the international community to bring about a settlement. They cannot just get on with it on their own.

  Q119 Chairman: The policy of Belgrade is clear, that there was the vote in July in the Serbian Parliament in favour of this so-called decentralisation proposal, rather Bantustan like, of having a list or group of dots on the map grouping together the various Serb communities on an ethnic basis. Is this the end of the attempt to form a multiethnic society?

  Dr Anastasakis: Relating to what you are asking and on the previous comment, I was just wondering to what extent the involvement of the international community is really geared toward creating multiethnic, multicultural societies. This is a question that can be discussed both politically and practically.

1   Democratic Party of Kosovo. Back

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