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30 Jan 2008 : Column 135WH—continued

30 Jan 2008 : Column 136WH

Mr. Randall: Does the Minister agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) that this moment, as the final status of Kosovo is being decided, is as crucial a period for the Balkans as any in the past 20 or 30 years? Trying to say that the job has been done is a gross mistake.

Meg Munn: I am not saying that the job of the UK in engaging with the region has been done. I am saying that the view was taken some time ago, given the opening up of those societies and the different ways in which people can engage, that that was not the appropriate way to continue. I repeat that we must continually review and decide to which organisations we should give financial support. Now that our relationships with countries in the region have been normalised, we can talk to them openly and frankly in a spirit of friendship, and our embassies can work directly to support and promote stability and democracy.

We accept that there is still a need for project work, but the UK Government, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and universities are able to work directly with those countries, often with local non-governmental organisations as partners. Our embassies can represent interests directly. In Serbia, for example, we work directly with a local NGO, Transparency Serbia, on a project to improve public contracting. In Romania, we work with the ministry of justice and local civil society to improve management of the justice sector. The UK continues to fund projects through a variety of bilateral and EU programmes—including “Reuniting Europe”, the global conflict prevention pool, the instrument for pre-accession assistance and the European neighbourhood and partnership instrument—as well as through twinning. There are some snappy titles in there. We continue to work on these issues, so I am not saying that we are not going to engage or to work on projects.

As my hon. Friend outlined, BACEE has decided to perpetuate its name and the valuable work that it has done in its lifetime through an annual lecture on a theme appropriate to its work, under the auspices of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. That is not only a fitting tribute to the organisation’s past, but a useful way in which it can continue to affect the future of central and eastern Europe. Given its formidable contacts in the UK and in the region, I am sure that its annual lecture will have authority and resonance with policy makers across the region. As my hon. Friend said, BACEE’s first event will be in October, and the Foreign Office has already offered the use of one of its Fine Rooms for that inaugural lecture.

It is rare for a Minister to get away from a debate of this kind without having to respond to some specific points. My hon. Friend asked about continuing Government financial support for the organisation in several ways, but I am unable to give her an answer on that today. We support several organisations in a very different way from the way in which we supported BACEE, but we will seriously consider her requests and whether we have any scope to provide it with financial support.

I repeat our thanks to BACEE for all that it has done in the past 40 years. The greatest tribute to it lies in the unprecedented security and prosperity in Europe today.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Five o’clock.

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