Previous Section Index Home Page

27 Jun 2007 : Column 440

There is still time for the UK Government to adopt a “candid friend” approach, but time is running out. I reiterate that there are great dangers in trying to force through a plan without consensus. If consensus cannot be achieved, we should try to make progress, with fewer areas of disagreement; there is a distinction between the two. The Minister for the Middle East will know that peace—true peace that lasts—is not written on scrolls and treaties, but on the hearts and minds of peoples and populations.

That brings me on to Russia. As the record suggests, I have been critical of Russia on many occasions, but on the issue of Kosovo I think that Russia is right in saying that there needs to be a negotiated solution, rather than an imposed solution. Notwithstanding that, Russia should not wittingly or unwittingly allow its view on the status settlement to be entangled by wider fears about European expansion. It is not just in Europe’s interests, but in Russia’s own strategic interest, for there to be peace in the Balkans.

What can be done to make progress? First, there should be full implementation of Security Council resolution 1244, as regards the conditions in which Kosovo’s Serbs live. Secondly, Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Mr. Çeku, needs fully to recognise how far Serbia has come, and he should not make unreasonable demands of President Tadic. He also needs to ensure that Kosovo’s expectations are managed appropriately internally. That, of course, should be done through peaceful means. Mr. Çeku’s Government need to agree on multi-ethnic symbols for the future of the Kosovo state. They should also ensure that more robust measures, and not just measures for the protection of Serbian religious sites, are put in place to protect the Serb minority.

The United States Administration should allow some modifications to the Ahtisaari plan, such as the creation of the post of special envoy for minorities, and the setting of a five-year moratorium—I am flexible about the length of the moratorium—before Kosovo can apply for UN membership. Washington, London, Berlin and Pristina need to avoid using the pretext of pro-Kosovo independence violence on the streets of Pristina to try to rush through a settlement. Such a policy could fuel further genuine and/or orchestrated violent protests in Pristina, and further such protests in response in Belgrade.

I should like to ask the Minister why the UK Government dismissed so quickly the proposal to split the Ahtisaari plan. First, we could consider ensuring that Kosovo’s Government improved the lives of the 100,000 Serbs still living in Kosovo, as I said earlier, but robust measures should be taken. Perhaps it could be implicit that after that, there would be a process leading towards statehood at a later agreed date. Perhaps the Government need to revisit that possibility. Does the Minister agree that both the letter and spirit of resolution 1244 on the protection of minority rights should remain a precondition of the status issue? Sustainable social, economic and political equilibrium is clearly needed if peace is to be maintained in the region.

I am conscious of Kosovo’s status post-settlement, and I hope that in trying to ensure a peaceful future for the Balkans—perhaps intervention through NATO should only have ever been a temporary military
27 Jun 2007 : Column 441
measure, not a long-term political intervention—the United States, the UK and their partners should ensure they do all they can to make sure that Kosovo does not become, over time, a base camp for the radicalisation of the Balkans.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. May I take him back to his comments about NATO and invite him to join me in congratulating the NATO and British troops who helped to secure the peace in Kosovo? We would not be able to discuss peace and Kosovo’s future were it not for the brave personnel in our armed forces, especially the British armed forces.

Mark Pritchard: Absolutely. My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a pertinent and well put point, and I pay tribute to all the members of Her Majesty’s armed services who served, or are serving, in the Balkans. He will know that more than 200 members of the intelligence corps and signal regiment are serving in Kosovo today, and the former Prime Minister was right to refer to that in the House today.

May I touch on common foreign policy? In his recent European Council statement to the House, former Prime Minister Blair said that it was

I fundamentally disagree with the breadth of the statement. In the same reply, Mr. Blair unwittingly underlined the very reason why such a policy is unworkable. He said that

Perhaps the Minister can remind the new Prime Minister that there is no common European position on Kosovo. Slovakia, Romania and Greece all have major reservations about taking the Ahtisaari plan en bloc. If Europe cannot agree a common foreign policy position in its own backyard, how can it agree a common position on the many global challenges that will face us and unravel over the coming years and decades?

In conclusion, if the American Administration make a unilateral declaration on Kosovo’s independence, that could precipitate exactly the same action from the Assembly of Kosovo and Prime Minister Çeku. That would be a huge and dangerous step backwards, which is why a new timetable for a new settlement agreement would be helpful to everyone involved. Negotiations cannot continue in perpetuity—I accept that eight years working towards a settlement is long enough—and the limbo should end. Further clarity and reassurance are needed, not alarm and threats. There is a great deal of difference between a timetable towards a new consensus resolution and the imposition of a resolution. Yes, progress needs to be made, but it must be proportionate to the extant good will within the process, not disproportionate. I hope that our new Prime Minister will start his premiership by encouraging the United States to listen more and first rather than after the damage is done. Diplomatic short
27 Jun 2007 : Column 442
cuts seldom provide long-term solutions for peace, and the price of getting a Kosovo settlement wrong would be very costly indeed.

6.49 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): First, may I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who initiated the debate, on his sensible, prudent assessment of where we are in relation to Kosovo? I thank him, too, for allowing me to trespass on his debate. I wholeheartedly agree with almost everything that he said, but I should like to complement his speech with my own examination, having visited Kosovo and having worked on the issue as a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

I believe that each and every one of us in the House supports the notion of people having self-determination. I take that principle into consideration when examining the future of Kosovo, Serbia and the former Yugoslav region. I am conscious of the fact that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, can justifiably take pride—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I appreciate that there have been many changes today— [Interruption.] I am sorry. I am told that Mr. Blair has resigned.

Andrew Mackinlay: Not at all, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that Tony Blair had resigned from the House and gone.

Tony Blair is entitled to take pride in the intervention that occurred a number of years ago to put some arms around the people of Kosovo and protect them from a potential genocide and ethnic cleansing exercise. Nevertheless, the present situation in Kosovo is fragile. I say with unusual respect and courtesy to Ministers and, through them, to the Foreign Office that I think they are still reading the tea leaves slightly wrong.

If one goes to other parts of Europe and speaks to members of other diplomatic services and international agencies that have some involvement in Kosovo, one will find that a number of them will say spontaneously that the Ahtisaari plan is dead. That might be wrong, but I am reflecting in the House what they say. There is always a danger of the Foreign Office thinking that it can still pursue the plan. I have heard members of the Foreign Office and administrators say, “Eventually Russia will come round.” That is a big mistake.

One always hopes that one can persuade, but sometimes one has to recognise people’s red lines. On Kosovo, Russia made it clear that it is not prepared to sign up to Kosovan independence along the lines of the Ahtisaari plan. However, it is prepared to negotiate some way of moving forward in that fragile region. Russia is entitled to be listened to. Like the hon. Member for The Wrekin, I was concerned about George Bush going to the region and almost bouncing the international community into saying that the Ahtisaari plan and Kosovan independence were as good as delivered. That is extremely dangerous. I hope the Government will use their best offices to counsel restraint on the part of the United States, and that they will pause and reflect whether there is a way round the differences that exist.

27 Jun 2007 : Column 443

Ever since tsarist times, Russia has seen itself as having some responsibility towards the other Slavonic nations. That was reflected during the time of the monarchy, during the communist period and in the Russian Federation today. That is imbued in Russians, and they inevitably have a desire to support the Serbian Government. Russia says that it has adhered to the Helsinki Final Act of the late 1970s, which provided that there should be no arbitrary alteration of the boundaries of the states of Europe. Of course there have been alterations, but the Russians say that they have never fostered or encouraged that. That is true, and they say it with some common sense and prudence.

The Russians argue that if we arbitrarily alter the boundaries of Europe and create an independent Kosovo because of the views of the people in that area, there are other parts of Europe, much more fragile, where the same principle could be applied.

It could apply to Transnistria, which wishes to break away from Moldova. There are parts of Georgia where there are Russian enclaves that would like to join the Russian Federation. There are parts of Armenia and Azerbaijan where such minorities exist, and the principles that Ahtisaari is advocating for Kosovo could also apply there. That is an extremely dangerous position, but one need not go to those areas to support the notion that this could be a dangerous precedent. The Basques in Spain and France could have argued this. There are Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania who would probably argue along those lines. So we must tread cautiously and not be dismissive of the logical, prudent and well-rehearsed case of Russia, which says, “Hang on a moment. Let’s be cautious about breaching the principles of the Helsinki Final Act.”

Mark Pritchard: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although there is a lot of good in the Ahtisaari plan, it should be seen not as a table-d’hôte menu but as an la carte menu, and that we need to work around that?

Andrew Mackinlay: I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I want to come on to what I think is the way forward. I am not dismissing Ahtisaari, I am simply saying that Ahtisaari with Kosovan independence, a seat at the United Nations and an internationally recognised personality as a sovereign independent state would at this stage be foolhardy. But there is a way forward, and I notice that the hon. Gentleman pleaded with the British Government to consider splitting the Ahtisaari plan, using it as a basis for negotiations, which I wholeheartedly support.

A phrase is being used in the international community that I would like the Minister to examine and consider, both during this debate and subsequently, and that phrase is Hong Kong-plus. Basically, it means that just as Hong Kong, which is de jure part of the People’s Republic of China, is not a state of the United Nations, yet has its own currency, its own offices in the big cities of the world, and in essence its own foreign service—although it cannot deal with matters relating to defence and wide foreign policy—and in so many respects, such as commerce, is a separate political unit, technically part of China, but with this independence, so Hong Kong-plus seems to
27 Jun 2007 : Column 444
be the way forward to overcome the difficulty of Kosovo and Serbia, with their two quite legitimate positions.

One can have sympathy for both sides, but one could create a situation where, at least for a score of years, or perhaps 25, Kosovo remained de jure part of Serbia. That would satisfy many moderate Serbians, who see it as a principle that Kosovo should not be separated from Serbia. It would satisfy the moderate mainstream people of Serbia who see Kosovo in the context of all its attachments to their religious and cultural background, with its many critical religious and cultural sites. Kosovo would stay de jure part of that country, and its title could be negotiated—Serbia-Kosovo, or perhaps a new title. Although that would not satisfy people in Kosovo who demand independence, it could avoid conflict. They would live with it if they knew that the business and running of Kosovo was to be done by a democratically elected Government based in Pristina. That is the way forward, and could avoid conflict, and it would give some assurance.

Things do not stand still. I hesitate to use the term “buy more time” because it seems rather clumsy, but if the international community had another score of years to spend on this matter, things would not stand still. One would hope that the other constituent parts of the former Yugoslavia would have acceded to the European Union, and one would hope that Serbia and Kosovo, as a unit, would have come into the EU. That is the way forward in terms of conflict resolution. After all, we would have reconstituted within Europe the states that made up Yugoslavia. People would be able to feel comfortable, living in the areas where their communities and their religious and ethnic friends and relations were. They could commute and work in Belgrade, or vice versa, and they could visit the religious orthodox sites in what is currently the area of Kosovo. Those within Europe have free mobility of labour, and this is possibly a way forward.

Mark Pritchard: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has been very generous in my debate.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .—[Mr. Watts.]

Mark Pritchard: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Albania has a major role in ensuring that its dialogue with Kosovo is restrained and measured, certainly in the context of its wanting to accede to the EU? It needs to be a responsible player in the region.

Andrew Mackinlay: Yes, and Tirana is doing that. Sometimes—out of either ignorance or malevolence—some people exaggerate the desire of Albania and try to imply that there is strong irredentist movement there. That is not proven; in fact, a resolution of this matter will probably guarantee that that does not happen. Albania is on board for the kind of scenario and solution that, rather inadequately, I fear, I am outlining. Albania aspires to EU membership and has no desire to take Kosovo into its territory.

We must advance the carrot of EU membership simultaneously for Kosovo-Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the other states of the former
27 Jun 2007 : Column 445
Yugoslavia that are outside the EU. If we can bring them in more or less simultaneously, many of the ingredients that create anxieties, jealousies and problems involving property rights will be minimised. I would have thought that the Hong Kong-plus scenario is the way in which Her Majesty’s Government should proceed. They could say, “We broadly accept the Ahtisaari plan, but we don’t think that we should be talking at present, or in the foreseeable future, about a seat at the United Nations or a single legal personality as a sovereign independent state. Let’s proceed according to the precedent of what happened with Hong Kong and China.”

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reflect on that and will take my word that, outside the UK, there is a view that the Ahtisaari plan, which provides independence fairly immediately, will not succeed and will not get through the UN Security Council. The great danger of President Bush’s action is that if the plan is vetoed at the Security Council—that would be disastrous, so I would prefer it not to be put there—there will be people in the United States who will encourage a unilateral declaration of independence in Pristina. That would be catastrophic, in my view.

The United States would then probably recognise Kosovo unilaterally, and there would be a major split in the EU which, whatever our views of the EU, none of us wants. It would send all the wrong signals around the world about the solidarity of Europe. Countries such as Spain, Hungary, Slovakia and others would be very unhappy about breaking the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, given all the ethnic minorities in their countries. It would be disastrous if a unilateral declaration of independence were to be coaxed or encouraged by the United States, or by the clumsy handling of other European states.

We tend to think, wrongly, that Kosovo is a territory where overwhelmingly there are Kosovan Albanians. Of course, even today there are in the territory significant numbers of Serbs in enclaves, who are feeling quite frightened. There are precious cultural and, mainly Orthodox, religious sites in Kosovo, which are very important to people and are guarded by troops from NATO, the European Union and other countries who have contributed, very helpfully, over the years. There are also people who have fled their homes in Kosovo and are living on the north bank of the city of Mitrovica.

It would be careless to grant independence to Kosovo without recognising those people, who have a moral right of return to their properties and their cultural and religious sites. If they were ignored, some people would find that unacceptable and could resort to guerrilla warfare. There are extreme nationalists in Serbian politics who would exploit that situation. We would hang out to dry the sensible and brave people in Serbian political life who want to bring their country and the other countries of the former Yugoslavia into the wider European family. We have an obligation to those brave people, who have come a long way, particularly over the past two or three years. There is a fragile parliamentary-based Government in Belgrade to whom we need to give as much support as we can. I counsel the Minister—I hope that he will continue in office next week, but this might
27 Jun 2007 : Column 446
have to be in his final hours as a Minister—to do what he can, or to leave on the file his desire at least to reflect on the idea of Hong Kong-plus.

Next Section Index Home Page