Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for the Explanatory Memorandum dated 8 February 2006 which Sub-Committee C considered at its meeting on 16 February. The Sub-Committee agreed to clear the document from scrutiny.

  We are pleased to see that the Commission is continuing its work on ensuring the smooth progress of the Western Balkans towards eventual accession of the EU. We believe that the prospect of future accession is essential to the stability of the region.

  We welcome this Communication and ask to be kept updated as further new developments arise.

16 February 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP to the Chairman

  I thought you would welcome an update on developments within the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in the Western Balkans.

  Following the review carried out by SG/HR Solana in September 2005, PSC has agreed that the presence in Albania will be reduced to two monitors, based in the capital Tirana, by 21 May 2006. These monitors will concentrate on issues relating to Kosovo. The presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina will remain unchanged at least until the elections later this year.

  Overall, the number of monitors has decreased by 14 since September 2005—a reduction which we welcome. Further plans will reduce the number of monitors to 68 by the end of 2006 (that figure was 88 in September 2005). These reductions will reflect cuts made in the HQ and in Albania. As in previous years, there will be an annual review towards the end of 2006 which will consider further reductions as part of an exit strategy and in light of the situation in the Western Balkans at that time.

28 March 2006

Letter from Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP to the Chairman

  I wrote to you on 8 February enclosing the Commission Communication, "The Western Balkans on the road to the EU: consolidating stability and raising prosperity." You subsequently cleared the document, but the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee requested further information on the discussions and conclusions of the Gymnich Informal EU-Western Balkans Ministerial meeting which took place on 11 March. I am copying this update to you too.

  The Informal Ministerial was a useful exchange of views and the UK was pleased that the meeting reaffirmed the EU's full support for the agenda set out at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003. The meeting provided an opportunity for the countries of the Western Balkans to report on the progress they have made since. Thessaloniki, and for the EU to reiterate that more needs to be done for the Western Balkans to fully meet EU conditions, particularly co-operation with the ICTY. The EU also expressed its intention to take forward the package of hearts and minds incentives set out in the recent Commission Communication, "The Western Balkans on the road to the EU: consolidating stability and raising prosperity." These include concluding free trade agreements, conditions based visa facilitation, increasing the number of scholarships for students and researchers, and twining programmes to support institution building.

24 April 2006

Annex A


  1.  The Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the European Union, the acceding states, the candidate states, the potential candidate countries of the Western Balkans, the Secretary General of the Council/High Representative, and the European Commissioner for Enlargement met in Salzburg at the occasion of the informal Foreign Ministers' meeting. The High Representative/EU Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the SRSG for Kosovo, and the Special Co-ordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe were also present.

  2.  The participants reaffirmed their full support for the agenda set out at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003, as well as for the Stabilisation and Association Process which will remain the framework for the European course of the Western Balkan countries. In this respect, the EU confirms that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. The EU recalled that a debate on the enlargement strategy is due in 2006 as set out by the Council conclusions of 12 December 2005. The EU also notes that its absorption capacity has to be taken into account. The participants agreed that each country's progress towards the EU continues to depend on individual merits in meeting the conditions and requirements set forth in the Copenhagen criteria and in the Stabilisation and Association Process, including full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

  3.  The Western Balkan countries have achieved considerable progress in the areas of stability, democracy and economic recovery. All have in the last year made significant steps along their road towards the EU, with EU membership as ultimate goal in conformity with the Thessaloniki Declaration. They must now increasingly focus in adopting and implementing European standards and in fostering conditions for sustainable stability and prosperity throughout the region. The countries of the region committed themselves to continue and accelerate the reforms furthering these objectives. All participants agreed on the importance of good neighbourly relations and on the need for finding mutually acceptable solutions on outstanding issues with neighbouring countries.

  4.  Preserving peace, and enhancing stability and security in the Western Balkans remains a common European interest. The participants agreed that every effort should be made to achieve a negotiated settlement of the status of Kosovo, mutually acceptable to the parties concerned, and expressed their full support for the work of the UN Special Envoy and his team. They recalled the importance of continued and effective standards implementation.

  The EU strongly urged both Belgrade and Pristina to work towards a lasting Kosovo Status Agreement that promotes a multi-ethnic and democratic society and good neighbourly relations within the region.

  5.  The participants welcomed the Commission's Communication "The Western Balkans on the road to the EU: consolidating stability and raising prosperity", and expressed their intention to take forward its implementation. The EU will continue assisting the Western Balkan countries through practical measures to make the European perspective more tangible. In this context, the participants encourage regional cooperation, including a free trade area building on CEFTA, and look forward to the Commission's proposals on people to people contacts, including visa facilitation in line with the common approach, as well as on adequate financial assistance. In order to master the challenges that the region faces in 2006 and beyond, the EU is determined to fully implement the commitments given in the Thessaloniki agenda.

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