Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
European Committee Debates


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Charles Walker 

Bradley, Karen (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con) 

Bruce, Fiona (Congleton) (Con) 

Connarty, Michael (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab) 

David, Mr Wayne (Caerphilly) (Lab) 

Dodds, Mr Nigel (Belfast North) (DUP) 

Duddridge, James (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Goggins, Paul (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab) 

Holloway, Mr Adam (Gravesham) (Con) 

Lewis, Brandon (Great Yarmouth) (Con) 

Lidington, Mr David (Minister for Europe)  

Swinson, Jo (East Dunbartonshire) (LD) 

Watts, Mr Dave (St Helens North) (Lab) 

Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab) 

Sarah Davies, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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European Committee B 

Monday 15 November 2010  

[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair] 


4.30 pm 

The Chair:  I understand that Mr Connarty wishes to make a statement on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee about why it has referred the matter to this Committee. 

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):  Thank you, Mr Walker. In fact, it would appear that I have been delegated to carry out that duty. It might help the Committee if I explain the background to the two Council decisions and why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended them for debate. 

The European Union has had a central role in post-conflict Kosovo, first as part of the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo, or UNMIK—in which the UN led on police and justice and civil administration; the Organisation for Security and Co- operation in Europe led on democratisation and institution building; and the EU led on reconstruction and economic development—and, latterly, through the combined international civilian representative and EU special representative, and the civilian European security and defence policy mission known as EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo. 

The role of EUSR has been combined with that of the international civilian representative, who was appointed by an international steering committee, of which the UK is a member. As the ultimate supervisory authority over the implementation of the UN special envoy’s comprehensive settlement proposal—as we know, Kosovo committed itself to that proposal as part of its declaration of independence—the ICR does not have a direct role in the administration of Kosovo, but retains strong corrective powers to ensure the successful implementation of the settlement. The ICR’s mandate will continue until the international steering group determines that Kosovo has implemented the terms of the settlement. 

The ICR/EUSR, Pieter Feith, has a long track record of crisis management in both NATO and the EU, and has been closely involved with Kosovo for 10 years. With 2,200 international civilians, EULEX was to be the largest civilian ESDP mission to date, with a focus on local ownership and capacity building through mentoring, monitoring and advice, and an aim of advancing the goal of a stable, viable, peaceful, democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo contributing to regional co-operation and stability, and committed to the rule of law and the protection of minorities. 

On 8 September, the European Scrutiny Committee considered a Council decision, which had already been adopted by the Council in June, to extend the EULEX mandate for a further two years. The Committee agreed that improving the rule of law in Kosovo is central to stability in the western Balkans and that, following the conclusion of UNMIK, EULEX is now the “only show

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in town” when it comes to helping Kosovo to achieve reform in that field. However, though implicit, there were a number of disturbing features in what the Minister said about the changes to the EULEX operational plan. It was not that the changes were in any obvious sense misguided, but that only now were they being brought into being. The Committee found it difficult to avoid wondering about the effectiveness of its leadership thus far, and thus how effectively it would be run over the next two years. Given that the changes have been adopted, the Committee thought that the new Minister for Europe should have an opportunity to respond, and that interested hon. Members should have the opportunity of raising with him any concerns about Kosovo and the EU’s role there. 

Before that debate could be arranged, the ESC considered a second Council decision on the first year’s funding on 13 October. Given that the new mandate was to begin on 14 October, it had to be adopted before a debate, which is always regrettable. The Committee raised no concerns per se, but the Minister had plainly faced an uphill struggle to get most other member states to focus on the need for economy and financial discipline. He none the less secured some savings, and continued to argue strongly that the mission must deliver value for money, particularly as the largest civilian common security and defence policy mission. The importance of effective budget management and accurate forecasting to mitigate the risk of another underspend was stressed, and the Committee endorsed that. 

In the interim, Serbia has been persuaded to sponsor, along with all 27 EU member states, a non-binding UN resolution, which was adopted on 9 September. It acknowledges the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence did not violate international law, which was not what Serbia had hoped for when it sought a decision. The resolution also calls for EU-backed dialogue to promote co-operation between Belgrade and Pristina, and, more generally, 

“to promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people.” 

The European Scrutiny Committee felt that there was thus all the more reason for the House to be given an opportunity to hear from the Minister and to discuss with him the next phase of EULEX, which will begin at what appears to be a particularly promising moment, and thus in many ways a more challenging moment than hitherto. 

I had the pleasure of going to Kosovo in uniform as part of the UK armed forces parliamentary scheme. I was with our troops there, who do a wonderful job, as is recognised by the EU authorities. 

The Chair:  I call the Minister of State to make his opening statement. 

4.35 pm 

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington):  Thank you, Mr Walker. 

I am genuinely pleased that the European Scrutiny Committee is taking a close interest in this country’s involvement in EULEX. When I visited Kosovo in June, it became clear to me how important EULEX is for the stability and future development of Kosovo, and

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for both European Union and United Kingdom interests in the Balkans region. The mission’s role in building effective and transparent rule of law institutions is a cornerstone of the British policy of working for a stable, prosperous and multi-ethnic Kosovo. 

The UK has clear interests at stake. We have an overall strategic political interest in securing political stability throughout the western Balkans, which the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk alluded to in his remarks. Significant numbers of British troops have had to be deployed to the western Balkans in the past decade or so, and it is profoundly in our interests that the region develops peacefully and in accordance with democratic principles. More specifically, effective rule of law in the Balkans is directly in this country’s interests because organised crime and corruption in the region has an impact here and throughout the EU. For Kosovo itself, progress on its EU perspective will be possible only if it develops properly functioning rule of law institutions: courts, an effective and impartial police service, a prosecutorial service, and effective customs services. That, in turn, is essential for long-term stability in Kosovo and the wider region. The work of the EU rule of law mission in Kosovo—EULEX—which is the largest deployed civilian common security and defence policy mission that the EU has launched so far, is integral to that effort. 

EULEX is the principal international actor working to improve the rule of law in Kosovo. Its work to monitor, mentor and advise the Kosovan rule of law institutions complements that of the other international actors in the region. It is a good example of how all EU member states, whether or not they have recognised Kosovo’s independence, have been able to work together in support of Kosovo’s European perspective. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that all 27 member states—recognisers and non-recognisers alike—are clear in their support for the work of EULEX. Other countries that also want Kosovo’s democratic development to accelerate—the United States of America and Turkey, for example—also support EULEX and contribute significant numbers of personnel to its mission. 

The deployment of EULEX in itself was a significant step forward for British policy towards Kosovo, as getting an agreement among 27 member states on deployment was an important signal of unity. By taking over certain rule of law functions from UNMIK in December 2008, the mission successfully established itself as a fact on the ground that was accepted by all parties. In a political environment as tense and charged as that which pertains in Kosovo, that in itself was a significant achievement, and so too is EULEX’s continued work to maintain public order, including, crucially, in Mitrovica and the north of Kosovo. The mission has also played a role in securing improved regional co-operation by liaising closely with Belgrade. 

On a technical level, the mission has made significant contributions to building up the Kosovan rule of law institutions. Inevitably, the nature of EULEX’s work makes it difficult to put quantifiable statistics behind its successes. We often try to judge EULEX’s achievement in terms of its qualitative success in enabling Kosovan personnel and Kosovan authorities to take over responsibility from the international actors in their country. However, there has been progress in all key areas, including on the challenging issue of customs. In

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particular, I highlight the mission’s investigations into, and its prosecution of, war crimes cases, and the transitioning of executive powers to the Kosovo border police. Most importantly, the ability of Kosovo staff to do their jobs more successfully and with a greater degree of autonomy is improving. 

As the European Scrutiny Committee’s reports have pointed out, even taking into account the difficult environment in which EULEX operates, it is still not delivering fully on its potential. The mission took some time to establish itself on the ground and it has been hampered by understaffing, especially in its judicial component. As the largest civilian CSDP mission, with arguably the most complex mandate of any, a lack of coherence among the different elements of the mission has occasionally undermined its ability to deliver. The EU itself has also had to get to grips with how to handle a mission that has an executive mandate. Finally, the mission has not always taken sufficiently into account the complex political environment in which it operates. 

The UK is at the forefront of the push for continued improvements in EULEX. By seconding Her Majesty’s ambassador to Pristina to be deputy head of the mission, we have signalled our intent to ensure that it delivers. The present Government have been working since May to improve the delivery and impact of all civilian CSDP missions, which is already starting to change the culture in Brussels and to improve the extent to which missions are held to account for delivery. For all CSDP missions—not only in Kosovo—we have insisted on clearer mandates with focused tasks, supported by clear benchmarks and measures of success. It is true that the EU is learning from the experience of and flaws in EULEX’s early operations. 

One overarching and relevant point to today’s debate is that the Government are committed to ensuring that EULEX delivers value for money. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk said, in the most recent budget negotiations we pushed hard for—and succeeded in getting—a €3 million reduction in the proposed budget and further reviews of core items of expenditure. We also secured a cap on overall spending for the next two-year period to limit cost escalation. 

Now that the mission has had time to establish itself on the ground and with a new leadership team, we will look for more visible and concrete results from its activities. Such results are essential for its credibility with the Kosovan people and Government. In particular, we have made it clear that the UK expects EULEX to increase its presence and visibility in the north, and to tackle organised crime and corruption with vigour, because that remains a serious problem throughout Kosovo. The new head of mission has made both points priorities for EULEX. In order to achieve them, the mission must improve its internal processes, which will include more effective working between the judicial, customs and police components. It also needs to take full account of the impact of its activities on a complex political environment. It will have to continue to co-ordinate closely with the EU and other international actors in theatre. 

Before I take questions, I will touch briefly on the scrutiny process for the Council decisions. I agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that it is regrettable that decisions had to be taken at EU level before a debate could take place in the House. On the agreement

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of the Council decision extending the mission for two years, unfortunately the new scrutiny Committees had not been formed following the general election, so it was not possible for the decision to clear scrutiny before the mission mandate expired on 14 June. In my explanatory memorandum of 2 June and my letters of 23 July and 9 September, I set out that funding for the next period of the mission’s mandate would need to be agreed before 14 October. To carve out some additional time for the European Scrutiny Committee, we pushed hard in Brussels against considerable opposition from some other EU member states to delay the date of the decision reaching Council. 

As the largest civilian CSDP mission operating in a region of key interest to the EU, EULEX must deliver. Kosovo is a country where the European Union should make its collective weight count using all the levers at its disposal. Following the recent resolution in the United Nations General Assembly, Kosovo is now preparing for dialogue with Serbia. As it does so, and as it undertakes its first national elections since independence, EULEX and measures to ensure the effective rule of law throughout Kosovo will be of ever-greater importance. I am happy to be setting out the important contribution that the EU rule of law mission can make, and is making, to our wider national goal of improving the rule of law in Kosovo, which is essential for the stability of that country and its ambitions for a European perspective. 

The Chair:  We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. These questions should be brief. However, it is open to a Member, subject to my discretion, to ask related supplementary questions. 

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab):  I thank the Minister for his statement. I would like to begin by asking him about Britain’s contribution to EULEX. I notice that in his letter to Lord Roper, the Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Union in the other place, he refers to the gender imbalance. He says that only six female members of staff are seconded, but six out of how many? 

Mr Lidington:  We have a very limited number now working for EULEX: about 38 is the most recent figure that I have available, of whom 21 are civilians and 17 are police officers. We are certainly making efforts to secure a greater gender balance, as the hon. Gentleman would wish. He will appreciate that the somewhat hazardous operating environment in Kosovo still is a deterrent to certain people agreeing to work there, but we will continue those efforts. 

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):  I note the paragraph in the European Scrutiny Committee’s report that refers to the context within which EULEX operates in Kosovo in terms of recognition. Obviously, progress has been made on that front, but many countries, including some of our EU counterparts, have still not yet recognised Kosovo. What are the Government doing to improve the ability of EULEX to operate through Kosovo and increase the number of recognitions? I appreciate that the fact that all EU states support EULEX is very positive. 

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Mr Lidington:  We certainly are encouraging other countries not just in the European Union, where five member states refuse to recognise Kosovo, as the hon. Lady knows, but more generally around the world to recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state. We have had some success with our allies in seeing Kosovo’s independent status recognised. It is now recognised by 71 members of the United Nations. It is accepted fully by the International Monetary Fund as a participant there. As she says, more work needs to be done, and we will continue to pursue that. We must see the work of EULEX as something that is important and worth while in its own right. It should not be conditional upon countries like Spain or Romania, which do not recognise Kosovo at the moment, changing their policy. 

Michael Connarty:  The Minister is obviously discussing two documents. The bundle includes the explanatory memorandum from 2 June and the European Scrutiny Committee’s comments on that. We stated in paragraph 4.38 that, given the massive underspend, we could not help wondering about the leadership’s effectiveness so far. We noted the appointee’s history of 10 years in Kosovo. Will the Minister respond to the European Scrutiny Committee’s concern about the leadership’s effectiveness? 

Mr Lidington:  The European Scrutiny Committee’s criticism is fair. In my introductory remarks, I tried to make it clear that the Government acknowledged that things had not gone as well as they might have done in the early months and for the first year of EULEX’s existence. 

Several reasons exist for those failures, and we do not want to point the finger at any one individual or cause. The sheer size and complexity of the mission did not help. It was a learning experience for the EU. EULEX was also taking over from the United Nations the responsibility for customs, police, judiciary and prosecution that previously UNMIK had exercised as part of its own remit in Kosovo. The handover did not go as smoothly as hoped, which created some teething troubles. 

Some of the underlying political tensions made the task of EULEX more difficult. The gap between the recognisers and the non-recognisers in the EU required some delicate diplomacy in giving EULEX its remit. Given the division between the accountability of EULEX in policy terms, which has been to the Council of Ministers, and the accountability for its budget, which has been to the Commission, there have been two different chains of accountability. One aspect that we hope to make work much better, following the establishment of the External Action Service, is properly to fuse those two lines of accountability, so that we do not have any administrative hiccups of the sort that we have seen in the past. 

The continuing tension between Belgrade and Pristina inevitably has an impact on how effective EULEX can be on the ground. To give the hon. Gentleman an illustration, EULEX engaged in some productive negotiations with Serbia and agreed a protocol on police with the Serbian authorities. That upset the Government of Kosovo, who felt that they had been excluded and insufficiently consulted, and there was a bit of a blow-back from that. Equally, the Serbian authorities are resistant to EULEX’s seeking to extend

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its authority in Mitrovica and the north of Kosovo. The Serbian-appointed authorities still continue to function to a great extent in that part of Kosovan territory. 

Such genuine difficulties exist on the ground. I do not want to take up too much of the Committee’s time, but it is worth saying that although we have had those problems in the past, we have now seen—as I described in my explanatory memorandum of 2 June—that the agreement to establish a mission analytical capability and the setting up of a much stronger strategic and planning facility within EULEX will improve matters in the future. 

Michael Connarty:  Similarly, I do not want to prolong the Committee too much, but that has been an old sore in the European Scrutiny Committee. There have even been differences about whether Kosovo should or should not have been legally recognised. I am on the side of the angels on that, in that I think we should have intervened and recognised it very quickly. 

One obvious concern to the European Scrutiny Committee is that what started as a projected budget of €145 million grew to €265 million. I commend the efforts of the Minister and the Government for getting €3 million taken out of that, but I wonder whether he ever got closer to the truth than our Committee did. Why did the budget grow exponentially in that year? 

Mr Lidington:  This is complicated. The one-sentence answer is that the €145 million and the €265 million represent budgets over different periods of time—one for a 12-month period, and the larger sum for an 18-month period. Any discussion of budgetary issues affecting EULEX is something of a nightmare because, while we are used to a financial year that runs from the beginning of April to the end of March, the EU financial year follows the calendar year. The way in which EULEX and other CSDP missions have been funded is that the EU agrees on a funding period running from the time that the mandate is established or is renewed. The EU may set a budget for periods that do not coincide precisely with the EU’s own 12-month accounting year. 

The budget from November 2009 to October 2010 was €145 million. That amount of funding was originally allocated for the period from November 2009 to June 2010, the point when the mission’s first mandate was due to expire. There was an underspend, so that budget of €145 million was extended to cover the full 12 months to October 2010, which was when the new head of mission was due to start work. The mission budget for October 2010 to October 2011 is set at €165 million. That is the overall budget cap. However, for the 24-month period between November 2009 and October 2011, the United Kingdom negotiated a cap on the total budget of €290 million. That is an average of €145 million for each year. 

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk might well ask how we can calculate a cap of €290 million over two years, if the spend last year was €145 million and the budget for next year is €165 million. This is where we come to the difference between the budgeted figure and the actual expenditure. The actual spend for the period November 2009 to October 2010 was €122 million, because capital expenditure worth €23 million was delayed, owing to procurement problems.

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That €23 million underspend was rolled into the next budgetary period up to November 2011, but was then subjected to the €3 million savings that we obtained and to the spending cap of €290 million over the two years. So that is how we get to the average expenditure of €145 million in each of those two years. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman or any other member of the Committee to make that clear. 

Jo Swinson:  I am interested in what the Minister said about the importance of EULEX improving its credibility among the Kosovan people. When I visited the country in 2008, I was struck by the fact that talking about the Kosovan people as one whole was sadly not necessarily the most relevant way to refer to them, because there was such a difference between the Kosovan Serbs and those who would still sometimes refer to themselves as Kosovan Albanians. What will EULEX do, on top of the progress that has been made, to ensure that it can, as he said, extend its role into the north and Mitrovica. Is he confident that that is achievable for this mission? 

Mr Lidington:  It is something that EULEX probably cannot achieve unaided. The task of reconciliation is important. The United Kingdom, quite separate from its contribution to EULEX, is seeking to help with that cause by, for example, funding return programmes for displaced Kosovan Serbs to return to villages in the south of Kosovo from which they fled during the armed conflict. 

We will be looking to EULEX to show some vigour and courage in asserting the role of its customs, police and judicial authorities in Mitrovica and the north of Kosovo more generally. It is clear that progress there will require some effective and delicate diplomacy from EULEX, but it will also be assisted if we see progress in the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade that all sides have committed themselves to, following the United Nations General Assembly session. That sort of confidence building, working from lower levels to further up the chain, is the best way forward politically. 

Michael Connarty:  Has the Minister yet made any assessment as to why it has taken so long to establish what has been stated in the new EULEX role as 

“to enhance cross-component cooperation and the strategic direction of EULEX, particularly relating to organised crime”? 

When I visited with UK troops and others—slightly under the radar and in uniform—it was clear that the criminal fellowship or, some would say, mafia, which is endemic in some of the criminal activities, is very violent. Just before we arrived in 2005, a British soldier was stabbed when socialising, so there is a restriction on people, even from the armed forces, being allowed out. It has taken a long time to get focused on that, despite it being quite clear that there is an undercurrent in society of deeply entrenched criminal groupings, possibly coming out of Albania. 

Mr Lidington:  There are certainly well-entrenched organised criminal groups in the country. It is alleged that some of them have quite powerful connections, which have given them protection in the past. Part of my answer to the hon. Gentleman is to go back to what

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I was saying earlier about the difficulties that were encountered in getting EULEX to function effectively. While we are right to be ambitious for EULEX, we have to recognise that, given the scale of the task facing it and the fractured and, frankly, ungoverned nature of parts of Kosovo, re-establishing civilian authority and, as is key to EULEX’s task, training and mentoring Kosovans to take over those responsibilities was a massive challenge. 

An additional problem, which I should draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to, is that it is not always easy to get staff of the right calibre and experience attached to EULEX to do the best possible job. To take a judge—somebody who is established in this country—and persuade them to go out to Kosovo for a couple of years to help with EULEX is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. Similarly, people who are making an established career as prosecutors, in any EU member state, might not necessarily find service in Kosovo as attractive as we would like. That is something, in respect of our own country, that we are looking to improve, but it is not always easy. The leaders of EULEX and the apparatus of the EU have, however, learned from the experience of the past three years and are determined that we must do a great deal better in the future. 

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con):  I am interested to know more about the measures to stabilise the effective rule of law, and, in particular, how EULEX practice is balancing the competing requirements of immediate demands and succession planning, including, for example, training the lawyers of the future. 

Mr Lidington:  I could run through a very long list. I am happy, if my hon. Friend wants more information, to write to her with details. I would also suggest that when the explanatory memorandum comes to the European Scrutiny Committee, she might to look at the Kosovo section of the Commission’s recent report on a number of different countries, including Kosovo, which are seeking EU membership, because that report from Commissioner Füle’s team goes into quite a lot of detail. 

If I may give a couple of illustrations: EULEX managed to broker an agreement under which more than 300 Kosovan Serb police officers, who had been suspended and unable to work since the declaration of independence in February 2008, could go back to work. EULEX not only did that, but monitored their, so far, successful integration into a single Kosovan police force. 

EULEX customs now get advanced information on goods being transported into northern Kosovo from Serbia by train. That is happening despite the fact that Serbia still claims sovereignty and jurisdiction over northern Kosovo. EULEX has been key in giving support and policy-making capacity to help the Kosovan police draw up their own five-year strategic plan for policing in Kosovo. On the judicial front, EULEX helped to establish and strengthen the capability of Kosovo’s judicial council, which appoints judges and prosecutors, and administers the judicial code of discipline within Kosovo. Those are some of the examples I would cite. 

Mr David:  I wonder whether it would be possible to ask a number of questions together. 

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The Chair:  I see no reason why not. I think we are going to have plenty of time. 

Mr David:  May I begin by thanking the European Scrutiny Committee for coming forward with this document? It is timely that we should have an in-depth discussion on an important issue, not just for Kosovo and the European Union but, as the Minister has indicated, for the United Kingdom. 

The Minister referred to the Commission’s enlargement package of 2010. That consists of a strategy paper, opinions on the EU membership applications of Montenegro and of Albania—which are not too favourable, as I understand—and also seven progress reports on other actual and potential candidate countries, including Kosovo. I understand that the European Commission is committed to launching a visa liberalisation dialogue shortly. Will the Minister say something about that? What will be the process and its implications? 

The Minister also referred to the UN General Assembly recently adopting a joint resolution tabled by Serbia and co-sponsored by other EU member states. As a follow-up to the International Court of Justice opinion, that resolution is significant because it opens the way for real and positive dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. I know the EU wants to help that dialogue, as does the British Government. Will the Minister elaborate on what he has already said about how specifically the British Government might facilitate that process? There is no doubt about the British Government’s commitment: it is good what he said about the British ambassador’s role. Britain in particular has a unique experience—if only because of what happened in Northern Ireland and our role over there—to equip it to play a central role in what is happening in Kosovo in the near future. 

Going back to the 2010 enlargement package, it is true to say that the Commission indicated that things have improved in Kosovo in a number of important areas, and the role of EULEX has been central to that. Nevertheless, a lot remains to be done. The report says that the capacity of public administration remains weak, the judiciary is not functioning effectively, the rule of law remains an area of serious concern, and efforts to tackle corruption, organised crime and money laundering all need to be strengthened—as a matter of urgency, if possible. 

I note from the Minister’s explanatory memorandum of 29 September, that in the next period of its mandate, EULEX aims to increase activity in the north of Kosovo, and, indeed, the Minister has already touched on that. Could I press him a little on that? As we know, in Kosovo there is a significant minority of Serbs, some 130,000. They are concentrated in enclaves in the south of the country, the middle and the northern border areas near Serbia. I was struck on 3 June by a very interesting article in The Economist, which stated that some individuals in the western Balkans are drawn to the idea of reopening the issue of the boundaries between Kosovo and Serbia. 

The Chair:  Order. Shadow Minister, could you perhaps ask questions and not give so much of a speech? 

Mr David:  This is an important issue, so can I get to the point? 

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The Chair:  Yes, but be quick. 

Mr David:  Absolutely. What is the British Government’s position on the possible scenario in which there is an exchange of areas whereby there might be a majority of Serbs in one particular province, and a majority of Albanians in another? That is a very important and topical issue. 

Mr Lidington:  The hon. Gentleman invites me to lead a fairly extensive seminar on various issues. All the matters that he raised are, indeed, important and interesting, so let me respond briefly. Obviously, hon. Members will then have time if they wish either to question me further or comment during the subsequent debate. 

The Chair:  There will be plenty of opportunity for speeches later. 

Mr Lidington:  On visa liberalisation, we think that that dialogue will assist Kosovo to meet the required standards in, for example, border control and the issuing of passports. The hon. Member for Caerphilly will understand that it will be for Schengen members to use that work to judge whether Kosovo has met the standards that will allow them to lift the visa requirements for Kosovan citizens when travelling elsewhere in Europe. 

The hon. Gentleman also asked about dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina following the United Nations General Assembly resolution, and he asked what role the United Kingdom will play. We certainly intend to play an active role in that diplomacy. I agree with him that our experience in Northern Ireland gives us some knowledge and some examples that Serbia and Kosovo might find it helpful to draw upon. I would encourage politicians from Northern Ireland who have been involved with the peace process and with reconciliation there to offer their services, not just to Kosovo and Serbia, but to other countries in the Balkans, where there has been such communal strife in the recent past. 

I think sometimes that initiatives that come from Parliaments, or from civil society, are more effective than initiatives that appear to come with a Government badge on them the whole time. The UK will be active, but that activity will always be a matter of making a particular representation to either Serbia or Kosovo. Sometimes we will be most effective when we try to work through others or in very close partnership with others. We have worked very closely, for example, with Germany in the run-up to the General Assembly resolution, and that close partnership with Germany will continue. We are also in very close touch with Baroness Ashton as she takes on the full responsibilities of High Representative. 

Finally, on the question of the north, on which the hon. Gentleman tempted me with the idea of partition, in effect, or the exchange of territory, no, I do not think that that is a good idea for two reasons. One is intrinsic to Kosovo. When I visited Kosovo, I was shown a map of Kosovo and Serbia, and the ethnic make-up of the border area. What became apparent is that there is no simple land swap that would satisfy everyone. The areas in southern Serbia which, in this hypothetical scenario, would be transferred to Kosovo are not overwhelmingly Albanian Kosovar. Similarly, if we look at Kosovan territory, while it is true that a large proportion of

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people of Serb ethnicity and culture are concentrated in Mitrovica and north of the River Ibar, something like 60% actually live south of the river, in various enclaves which, in the event of partition, would be geographically completely separated from Serbia. 

That is one reason. The other is that the partition of Kosovo, or an agreement on land swaps, would send a pretty dire message elsewhere in the Balkans, where we are supporting countries that are seeking intercommunal reconciliation and to build a sense of a common statehood in a multi-ethnic political entity. We remain resolute in our support for vigorous efforts to bring about intercommunal reconciliation in Kosovo. We believe that there are some important indications that that is starting to work. We are against partition. 

The Chair:  Would the shadow Minister like to make a brief supplementary comment? 

Mr David:  I certainly agree that clarification has been provided. I refer in particular to The Economist article—I agree with the Minister that it was simplistic. It has caused some confusion and, indeed, mischief in some quarters. 

We must recognise that we are not just talking about Kosovo, important as it is. What happens there can have a knock-on effect elsewhere. The whole question of reopening the boundaries is a very difficult issue. Although there is apparent stability in the Balkans at the moment, that stability can sometimes be more apparent than real, which we must take into account. 

Mr Lidington:  I would say that when we look at Kosovo, we are acutely aware of all the difficulties and challenges that still face us—but there is some good news. When I was in Pristina, I was told about recent municipal elections in some of the Serb municipalities that are enclaves in a predominantly Albanian southern Kosovo: the turn-out had been as high as 65%. Frankly, if we achieved a turn-out of 65% in local government elections here, we would regard it as a cause for celebration. 

The Chair:  That brings questions to an end. We have more time, but I do not see anyone trying to catch my eye. 

Motion made, and Question proposed, 

That the Committee takes note of the unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda, dated 2 June 2010 and 29 September 2010, from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on two Council Decisions amending and extending Joint Action 2008/124/CFSP on the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX); and agrees with the Government that the mission is making an important contribution to improving the rule of law in Kosovo.— (Mr Lidington.)  

5.18 pm 

Michael Connarty:  If new Members look back at the history of the European Scrutiny Committee’s interest in progress—or otherwise—in Kosovo, they will find a mixed series of opinions, but a constant referral of issues for debate, partly because some members still sit, unfortunately, with Russia, China, India and five other EU states in not wishing to recognise that Kosovo should be legally independent. Thank goodness that 69 other countries have joined those of us—the band of

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angels—who saw the need to recognise Kosovo as an independent country and to bring about some stabilisation in a clearly war-torn and fractured society. 

We sent the documents to this Committee because we had some concern. However, that concern was not necessarily focused in any way on the Minister, but on the continuing Foreign Office briefings that we received on the question of the budget. In fact, a previous Minister for Europe said in June 2009 that the €145 million figure would be for then until the expiry of the mission in June 2010—regardless of whether it was April to April, April to November, or whatever other combination. However, the figure then grew to €265 million by the time the mission was going to come to an end. 

Such a thing always concerns the European Scrutiny Committee. We scrutinise our Government rather than the EU—a number of us, although perhaps not all, are more Government-sceptic than Eurosceptic—and we want them to look for both an effective use of EU resources and an adequate return on their contribution. That is one reason why we referred the documents, and when our members read the record of this Committee, I think that they will be satisfied by the Minister’s answers. 

Another issue was the effectiveness of the EULEX format. The old ESDP—European security and defence policy—combined with UNMIK, has now moved on to the more overarching concept of the common security and defence policy. The previous Government approved of that approach as, it would appear, do the present one. The EU is trying to do more within its remit, and has, in this case, committed itself to its largest CSDP initiative. There is probably no better place than the Committee to continue to follow this—hopefully Back Benchers will do so—because Kosovo, whether or not people see it as I understand it, is part of Europe. Unfortunately, due to the then Yugoslavian Government, it is locked in history in the eastern bloc—the Soviet Union-influenced bloc. Kosovo came out of that very much fractured, and those of us who sat in the House—I have been here for 18 years—and heard about the atrocities that took place there were appalled. Thank goodness our Government intervened in that conflict, which I believe saved many hundreds of thousands of lives. Clearly, it is important for Parliament, rather than just the European Scrutiny Committee, to have a chance to discuss and debate the issues. 

I went to Kosovo slightly under the radar because I went not as member of a parliamentary delegation but attached to the British Army. When I talked to people on the ground, they told terrible stories of how people of all ethnic and religious persuasions had been living happily together on the same street, but suddenly found that someone was perpetrating atrocities against a community while others were urging retaliation. We know how the situation spiralled out of control. The difficultly facing EULEX is clearly great, and I hope that the confidence in the format that the Minister has expressed proves to be correct. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly talked about the difficulty of the fragmentation within the country. Some 130,000 Kosovo Serbs live in the south and central enclaves, and more than half of them are in what has been described as a sliver of land north of the Ibar river, which is still considered to be southern

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territory for Serbia. All that has to be worked out. That will probably happen at a higher level than EULEX, but as the situation is worked out, EULEX will be fundamental in trying to bring about a transitional position in which organised crime is challenged and in which people feel that the rule of law is for everyone in the country and that the administration is fair to all sections of the community. That is very difficult when there are so many grievances and so much heartache. 

[Official Report, 24 November 2010, Vol. 519, c. 3MC.]

I am glad that the European Scrutiny Committee referred the matter and that we have had a debate. I hope that Members of this Parliament, regardless of their party, will give a continued commitment to whatever the EU can do—and whatever we can do as an individual nation—to bring about a peaceful transition to a settlement within Kosovo, not only among its communities, but also between Kosovo and its Serbian neighbour, which is probably the greatest and most difficult part of the Yugoslav puzzle at the moment. 

The Chair:  Shadow Minister, would you like to say anything? 

Mr David:  Thank you, Mr Walker; I have had my say. 

5.25 pm 

Mr Lidington:  I genuinely welcome the European Scrutiny Committee’s decision to refer these papers for debate in this Committee. One problem we have as a Parliament when taking decisions about the allocation of time is that we are often not able to allow sufficient time to debate issues—particularly, I would say, foreign policy issues—that are genuinely important to this country’s interests. A lot of British diplomatic work has gone and continues to go into trying to secure a peaceful solution in Kosovo. 

To respond to what the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk said, I am confident in the determination of EULEX and its heads to work energetically and much more cohesively than in the past to build reconciliation and effective rule of law institutions in Kosovo. I am not in the least complacent, however. When I visited Mitrovica earlier this year, I became very conscious of the fact that I was in a European city that was still prey to some very tense adversarial feelings that simmered only just below the surface. In some senses, it was reminiscent of the most difficult parts of Northern Ireland. 

Against that, we have seen in recent weeks the ceremony in the south of Kosovo to enthrone the newly elected Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch and a very large number of worshippers went from northern Kosovo and from Serbia itself into southern Kosovo to attend the ceremony. That ceremony passed off peacefully, without serious incident, and people returned home. That was a step forward, as was the transfer of responsibility for policing three of the chief places of religious and cultural importance to the Serbian population of Kosovo from EULEX to the Kosovan police themselves. We want more of that to happen. 

I think that the most important single driver of both economic and democratic reform, not just in Kosovo but in Serbia and throughout the Balkans, is the aspiration for full membership of the European Union. Over the years, I have had my grumbles about the EU, and I

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continue to be ready to identify the problems and flaws that I see in the way in which it operates and organises itself. However, it is important that we realise that political leaders in those parts of Europe that have been the victims of the most appalling civil strife in recent years see the EU, and membership of the EU, as a beacon—as something that will guarantee and entrench democracy, the rule of law and human rights of a kind to which we in this country have become so accustomed that we do not really question the stability of those traditions. Therefore, the ambition of the Kosovan and Serbian leaderships for eventual membership of the EU is key to persuading them both to embark on a course of confidence building and reconciliation. That process will not take place overnight, but it is essential if either is to achieve its stated European ambitions. 

The CSDP initiatives are worth having because they enable the EU to bring together a number of different levers for political action. The EULEX mission is dedicated to judicial, police and customs reform, but it works alongside the reality of EU enlargement policy, acting as a tasty carrot for political progress in the region. Alongside that is the carrot and stick of European Union development funding, which is available for Balkans countries that are making the necessary reforms. The EU special representative is on the ground inside Kosovo, with a direct link to the High Representative and her top team in Brussels, and can talk at a senior level to people from the 27 member states. 

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CSDP is worth having. The Government’s approach is that we will be prepared to support CSDP missions if they are in the United Kingdom’s interests, if they provide good value for money, and if they do not duplicate work that NATO is doing or intends to do. We apply those principles when judging whether to support a particular proposal for a common security and defence policy mission. 

What is also important—this was brought home clearly by the European Scrutiny Committee’s reports—is that any such mission, however valuable it might be in itself, must demonstrate the utmost rigour and consistency in seeking both operational effectiveness and the best possible value for money. From the point of view of the United Kingdom Government, when we rightly demand budgetary discipline and rigorous economy in every institution of the European Union, it is important for us to be able to demonstrate that we apply those principles even to those European Union initiatives that we support and to whose success we are committed. I thank members of the Committee for their comments and commend the motion to them. 

The Chair:  I, too, thank the Committee for conducting an informative and wide-ranging debate. 

Question put and agreed to.  

5.32 pm 

Committee rose.