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House of Commons

Tuesday 19 July 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Crossrail Bill


Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): what recent assessment he has made of levels of political violence in Algeria. [12878]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Political violence in Algeria has decreased significantly since the 1990s, and few incidents have been reported in major cities, including Algiers, within the past two to three years. However, incidents continue to occur in mainly rural areas. The United Kingdom Government are continuing to monitor the situation. We advise British citizens to consult our travel advice before going overseas, regardless of the country that they are planning to visit.

Ian Lucas: In the past three years, a company in my constituency, Conren Ltd, has taken extensive steps to trade in Algeria, where it has successfully promoted the sale of its flooring products. In its opinion, violence has decreased in recent years. Does the Minister think that Algeria is now a safe place for British industry to do business?

Mr. Alexander: I am delighted to hear about that successful business in my hon. Friend's constituency. A number of British businesses are now trading successfully in Algeria. The larger businesses include BP, GlaxoSmithKline and Unilever, and UK Trade and Investment reports that other British businesses are increasingly taking an interest. I encourage the business
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in question to take forward its initiatives in Algeria. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, who is not present today, recently visited Algiers, and perhaps it would be helpful if he were to contact my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham to confirm the importance of such commercial links, which we are determined to strengthen.

EU Enlargement (Balkans)

2. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): if he will make a statement on prospects for EU enlargement in the Balkans. [12879]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Thessaloniki summit in 2003 offered western Balkan countries the prospect of eventual membership of the EU, if they fulfilled certain political and economic conditions, including co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The June 2005 European Council reaffirmed that position. The future of the western Balkans lies in the European Union, which is the best guarantee of a peaceful and democratic future for the region, by contrast with its history of ethnic bloodshed and conflict.

Mike Gapes: Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the Croatian Government that no progress will be made on Croatia's application to join the European Union until Croatia makes progress on indicted war criminals in former Yugoslavia?

Mr. Straw: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election by the Foreign Affairs Committee as its Chair for this Parliament. I look forward to an interrogation by the Foreign Affairs Committee that is equally intense as those that I have experienced in the past.

We all want to see negotiations with Croatia that lead to full membership of the European Union, beginning as soon as possible. As the European Council has clearly stated, however, that process must take place on the basis of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. So far, sadly, such co-operation has not been adequate.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I have been impressed by the Serbian Government's attempts to comply with the requirements to enter the European Union, but I am disappointed that there is no timetable for entry. Will the Secretary of State indicate when Serbia might be allowed to join the European Union?

Mr. Straw: The same point applies to Serbia and Montenegro, and to all the territories that were formerly part of the Republic of Yugoslavia. We see their future inside the European Union, but that must be on the basis of full co-operation with the tribunal in The Hague and on other matters. Serbia and Montenegro is at an earlier stage than Croatia. It is looking forward to agreeing a stabilisation and assistance arrangement with the EU, but that, too, depends on full co-operation and, in particular, on the delivery of Mladic and Karadzic.
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Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Does the situation not also depend on the final status of Kosovo? Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to explain Her Majesty's Government's view on the final status of Kosovo, which must be addressed before we can discuss the entry of Serbia and Montenegro into the EU?

Mr. Straw: Special Representative Kai Eide is conducting his inquiry and will produce a report later this year; I think that it is due in September. On the basis of that review of whether Kosovo has sufficiently met the standards required of it by the international community, we will all be able to make judgments about Kosovo's final status.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Irrespective of the other obstacles that face countries such as Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, I was in Montenegro on the day the French referendum result came through, and there was a feeling that it would be an enormous setback for all the Balkan countries in acceding to the European Union. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that he will work with his European Union counterparts to ensure that that, at least, will not be an obstacle to their accession?

Mr. Straw: I never thought that I would hear such sentiments expressed in this House. I know the hon. Gentleman very well; he has the next-door constituency to mine and fills up the local newspaper, as well as the House, with endless attacks on the European Union and all its works, particularly the constitutional treaty. Now we hear that he is in favour not only of the European Union but of the constitutional treaty. There is always time for sinners to repent, and in his case he has a lot more time.

It is interesting that there is particularly intense support for the European Union—and, I may say, for the constitutional treaty—in the countries that are desperate to come into it, because they have seen what an engine it has been for peace, stability, prosperity and democracy across the whole of eastern and southern Europe.

On the hon. Gentleman's specific point, we cannot allow the failure so far of the constitutional treaty to be a block on enlargement, nor is it a precondition for enlargement.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend's words, particularly in respect of Serbia, are very important. It is absolutely clear that Serbia's long-term destination is within the European Union. Will he make it clear to the population of Serbia that the people who betray the Serbs and, indeed, the Montenegrins, are not western European politicians, who do not have it in for that country, but those in Serbia who will protect Karadzic and Mladic and want to keep Serbia isolated for their own narrow and corrupt purposes?

Mr. Straw: I will indeed. When I was in Srebrenica last Monday for the most moving of ceremonies to commemorate the slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims
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within sight of where we were, at the battery factory, one of the most courageous and impressive acts was the visit by the President of Serbia and Montenegro almost as an act of atonement on behalf of his people. Sentiment is changing in Serbia and Montenegro, and we should give all those who are standing up for democracy and human rights in that country every support.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): What progress is being made during Britain's presidency of the EU with regard to getting the name of the Republic of Macedonia recognised, as opposed to the current anomaly of calling it the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?

Mr. Straw: In our bilateral relations, the name that we recognise is the Republic of Macedonia. The difficulty in international forums is that because of a longstanding historical dispute between Macedonia and Greece the name that is recognised is that of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Discussions are taking place between Macedonia and Greece, and once those are resolved, the name issue will be resolved. This is a further indication of the tortured past that haunts the present in the Balkans.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab) rose—

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. MacShane: My right hon. Friend's friendly support and encouragement for the Balkan states' road to Europe, plus his firmness on their meeting the conditions, is well known, respected and admired there and in the rest of the European Union. In that regard, will he write to the French Government in respect of a report in yesterday's edition of The Guardian stating that in 2001 the French authorities gave a French—that is, a European Union—passport to the indicted war criminal, Ante Gotovina, who is, after Mladic and Karadzic, the most notorious war criminal in the region? When he gets a reply from the French Government, will he, as well as writing to me, be so kind as to put a copy in the Library?

Mr. Straw: May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has done and will continue to do in helping to encourage Balkan countries into the European Union, as well as much else? I did not see the piece in The Guardian yesterday. I apologise to the editor for not reading his newspaper from cover to cover yesterday—[Interruption.] I am reminded that I was in Brussels.

It is my understanding that the indicted war criminal General Gotovina served in the French Foreign Legion and is a French citizen as well as a citizen of Croatia. However, I shall take up the matter with my counterpart in France and ensure that my right hon. Friend and the House are fully informed. The French Government have fully supported the efforts that are being made more widely in the European Union to ensure that consistent standards apply to all applicant countries from the western Balkans.
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