Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 234 - 239)




  234. Mr Patten, we are delighted to see you. You know this corridor as well as many of us I should think and you have been in that position not only as a Commissioner but as a Minister so that—
  (Mr Patten)—and as a Governor.

  235.—You will understand the position only too well. We therefore welcome you. We are concerned obviously with the role that the European Union is playing in Yugoslavia in Kosovo and I thought perhaps the best way we might start—we have obviously got a number of questions that we would like to put to you—is would you like to say anything to us about the way that you see the work of the European Union in Yugoslavia, particularly in Pristina, as a start?
  (Mr Patten) Thank you very much, Chairman. Perhaps I can just say a few words telegrammatically at the beginning and then take your questions? Clearly since your Committee produced its excellent report on Kosovo the situation in the region has improved enormously, largely of course because of the fall of Milosevic. That is not to say there are not still problems. The goal of a multi-ethnic community in Kosovo remains unachieved. There are problems in the Presevo Valley in Southern Serbia, as the Committee knows, there are problems in the relationship between Montenegro and Serbia. So there are still problems but the situation we are in today is incomparably better than it was even a few months ago. Until the fall of Milosevic we had seen our policy, as I think I said to the Committee before, largely as a question of girdling Milosevic's Serbia with a ring of reasonably stable and, we hoped, prospering democracies, both as an indication to the people of Serbia as to what it would mean if they were to be rejoining the European family and, in addition, as part of the most important element of Europe's external policy, the projection of stability around our periphery. Serbia remained a black hole in the region, it was extremely difficult to see how one would animate the economies of the region while Serbia was still stuck in the Milosevic years. Well, we are now through that. What we offer the whole of the region is what we call—it does not trip easily off the tongue—a part in the Stabilisation and Association Process. What that means is that we offer countries contractual agreements under which they enjoy a good deal of assistance; they enjoy pretty well free access to Europe's market and they enjoy political cooperation in return for committing themselves to a process of economic and political reform. Serbia is now part of that process as well, as I have said. We have already negotiated a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It is easier to call it Macedonia. We should have completed negotiations of an agreement like that with Croatia by the summer. Of course the Croatians have done extraordinarily well since their own return to the democratic family in January of last year. We hope that we will be able by the second half of the year to begin negotiations with Albania. Bosnia-Herzegovina has been more of a problem, but at least now it has a government which is dominated by moderates rather than extreme nationalists. We hope that Serbia will in due course join this process as well. During the Milosevic years we were able to provide humanitarian assistance in Serbia. We also provided assistance to some of the democratic municipalities, our Energy for Democracy programme and the Schools for Democracy programme, both of which were difficult to run, but they were important in order to sustain the democratic opposition. We also spent quite a bit of money during the Milosevic period helping to sustain the independent media in Serbia, and we are still providing assistance to the independent press today. Very briefly, Kosovo has been a real challenge, which I hope we have risen to. We established the Economic Reconstruction Agency in Kosovo, whose work you will have seen, it works very closely with the European pillar of UNMIK, which is run by the admirable Andy Bearpark, who worked for me when I was a minister in the Overseas Development Administration.

  236. We met him when we were in Pristina.
  (Mr Patten) He did a wonderful job in Bosnia dealing with refugee returns and he is doing an excellent job with Pillar in UNMIK. Our Reconstruction Agency is an example of how we want to run external assistance around the world, with much more de-concentration from Brussels, with much more ability to make decisions on the ground and with much more flexibility in operating procedures. So far we have committed about 800 million in Kosovo towards reconstruction. We have contracted about 70 per cent of that and spent about 40 per cent, which are good figures for any development agency.

  237. Is that in ecu?
  (Mr Patten) That is in euros, yes. When I began this job it was about the same as the dollar, it has varied a little since then and it is now slightly below. We have concentrated on the energy sector and, in particular, on the rehabilitation of one of the almost medieval power stations which has been serving Kosovo. I do not know whether you have seen them on any of your visits, but they have posed some appalling technical problems for the engineers who have been trying to rehabilitate them. We have also been working in the agriculture sector, in re-housing, in local employment schemes and in the restoration of clean water supplies. Kosovo had been desperately disadvantaged for years. There has been no public investment there to speak of. We are not only dealing with war damage, we are also dealing with the fact that Kosovo had been ignored for so long. As part of all of those schemes we are trying to make sure that a decent proportion of the money goes to the minority communities, to the Serbs and the Roma, that is particularly relevant with re-housing projects and our village and municipal improvement programmes. In Serbia we made it clear during the Milosevic period that if Milosevic was to go, if democracy was to return to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia then we would welcome Serbia back into the European family, we would provide substantial assistance and we would drop sanctions, and so on. The only sanctions that remain are those that are targeted on about 13 individuals, Milosevic and his cronies, and one or two of the indictees. Within weeks of Milosevic's departure we started to disburse a 200 million package of emergency assistance, focused primarily on energy, both the delivery of oil and the purchase of electricity imports, the provision of pharmaceuticals, of drugs for the publicly owned pharmacies, a food programme, principally for the purchase of flour and cooking oil, which were in short supply, which are provided to poorer members of the community and then the money that is raised in that way is channelled back into the social programmes. We have also been continuing the municipal programmes with particular councils, schools and municipal services in general, and we have done some work in agriculture. We have been spending money, I think, through the winter extremely effectively, not least to try to ensure that the Government survived these early, difficult months. I think it has been recognised that we provided assistance as rapidly as anyone, probably more rapidly than most. We are now moving into the reconstruction phase in Serbia. We will be spending about 240 million during the course of the rest of this year. We have just been discussing with the authorities in Belgrade how to disburse the first 150 million of that. I am particularly keen that a good chunk of that should go in the summer to the rehabilitation of the electricity network, so that there are not as many brownouts and blackouts next winter as there have been this. Briefly, in Montenegro, on which I think the Committee in its last report said that we should provide political and economic assistance for what was a democratic part of Milosevic's Federal Republic, I visited Podgorica three times and last year we provided about 60 million euro in assistance, which I think was probably more than anyone. We will continue to have a reasonable development relationship with Montenegro. We have certain views, which we can go into in questioning, about President Djukanovic's present political objectives, but we recognise that what is important at the end of the day is that Montenegro should remain democratic. Our preferred outcome would be a democratic Montenegro in a democratic and reformed Federal Republic but that will ultimately be an issue which has to be decided by the people of Montenegro. I hope when they do so that the process is fair and transparent, that President Djukanovic recognises that to make constitutional change you need substantial public support and I very much hope that the media in reporting any campaign before a referendum will be a little more balanced than it is at the moment. One final word about the Presevo Valley, which I think has rightly caused a good deal of concern recently. I was in Macedonia last Friday and obviously there was a good deal of concern there about the leakage of extremist violence over the border into Macedonia from Southern Serbia and Southern Kosovo. We recognise in the Commission that the principal issues are ones concerning security. They are principally issues for NATO but we think there is also an important role for us in supporting the economic and social aspects of the plan put forward by the Deputy Premier of Serbia, Mr Covic. The Presevo Valley has been very disadvantaged over the years. The public services are bad or non existent and people are extremely poor. We have already put about a million euro in humanitarian assistance into what is quite a small area, mostly for the provision of heating oil and the rehabilitation of a number of village primary schools. We have doubled that assistance so that we are now spending nearly £2 million in that area. We have said to President Kostunica and to Mr Djindjic and Mr Covic and others that we are quite prepared as part of our 240 million assistance programme for the long term reconstruction of Serbia to put a certain amount of it into social and economic programmes in the southern municipalities of Serbia, into the Presevo Valley and the surrounding area. So I think that what is happening in South East Europe is the most important test of our ability in Europe to manage any sort of common, not single common foreign and security, policy. I think we are doing much better today than we were in the mid 1990s in dealing with the problems of South East Europe but, nobody should kid themselves, there are some difficulties and problems ahead. I think my main task is to ensure that the political and financial commitment to the strategy that we have put in place and which is by and large working is sustained.

  Chairman: Thank you. That is a quite considerable tour d'horizon. I know there are some questions. Sir David Madel.

Sir David Madel

  238. We found in Belgrade considerable appreciation and recognition of what the European Union had done to get Serbia through the winter. In a sense it was almost Marshall-type aid in that they felt as though they needed to find a Ludwig Erhardt next to start to move towards a boom. What I want to ask is, is there conditionality attached to EU aid in the region and how is this enforced? One worry is the degree of criminality there still is. Can you say a bit about that?
  (Mr Patten) Yes. Yes, there is conditionality though I do not think it is quite as mechanistic or as precisely calibrated as the conditionality which, for example, the US applies, for reasons of getting assistance packages through Congress, for example. I do not think that it would be right for us, for instance, to tie the achievement of certain political goals to the provision of support for electricity imports or the provision of oil for schools or hospitals. I think that would be too exact a conditionality. By and large, throughout the region, what we insist on is that in order to make these contractual agreements with the Stabilisation and Association Agreements or in order to receive our aid, countries should meet the so-called Copenhagen Criteria, should demonstrate that they are democratic societies operating openly under the rule of law with a free and independent press. We insist that they should demonstrate good neighbourliness, for example that they should accept the Dayton Agreements and abide by the Dayton Agreements. We insist that they should accept the remit of the International Tribunal at The Hague. We insist that if they are to have open access to the European market, which they do for pretty well all products, a few agricultural products are exempt but they do for most agricultural and industrial products, then they should lower their barriers to trade among themselves. So there is a broad conditionality and that has been specified in the financial regulations. It has been specified in the agreements in quite a precise form since 1997. Now the Croatians, for example, at the moment, are clearly taking some tough political decisions in order to demonstrate that they believe that international crimes should receive international justice. The President of Croatia has said, I think wholly correctly, that you can only absolve a whole country from guilt if you assign guilt to the individuals who have actually been responsible for appalling crimes. We cannot at one and the same time insist on that sort of behaviour in Croatia and say that elsewhere in the region it does not matter whether people meet the sorts of requirements that I have been suggesting. We are insistent with Belgrade that they have in due course to meet the same criteria regarding The Hague as the Croatians or as anybody else in the region. It is not just a question of the Hague, though that is what the media, perhaps understandably, focus on most of all. The criteria are those that you would expect to be a good definition of an open and decent society. What we are saying in the Stabilisation and Association Process is if you come through this then you can be a potential member of the European Union. I think that is a huge magnet for them but it does involve them in making changes and we have, from time to time, reduced or stopped assistance where a country has plainly been in defiance of those sorts of criteria. For example, we stopped assistance in the Republika Srpska because of behaviour by the governing authorities there. Now you mentioned crime and criminality, that is a very serious problem and the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, has rightly focused, for instance, on the extent to which South East Europe has been used for transit of illegal immigrants into this country. There are problems with smuggling, there are problems with organised crime of all sorts. We are trying to put into place, as part of our regional programmes, under the Stability Pact, which has a very important role to play in underpinning regional projects, energy, transport and so on, programmes which help with police training, help in establishing decent border management, help in establishing an independent judiciary, help in promoting co-operation between the policing authorities in different South East European countries. We recognise that crime is a big problem, and to be fair to them, so do a number of governments in South East Europe themselves but it is a real problem. It is a real problem in Montenegro, it is a real problem in Bosnia, it is a real problem in other countries. The last time I was in Bosnia in Sarajevo I noticed what seemed to me to be surprisingly large numbers of Chinese moving around the streets who I do not think were all working in the restaurant business.

Dr Starkey

  239. Mr Patten, you have the responsibility for the work of the European Commission in the Balkans, Mr Solana is responsible for the foreign policies and Mr Hombach for the Stability Pact, how do your responsibilities overlap and how are you co-ordinating your activity?
  (Mr Patten) The former Taoiseach in the Republic of Ireland, Garrett Fitzgerald, I am told was once presented with the policy options and he said, "I can see that it works in practice, but does it work in theory?" I think that whatever may seem to be the institutional confusion in responsibilities in the Balkans, or more generally, in practice things have worked out pretty well. Dr Solana as High Representative and Secretary General of the Council is responsible for putting in place the policies which are agreed by Europe's foreign ministers. We, without being, I hope, too unglamorous, in the Commission run the back office. Your effectiveness in running the back office, of course, considerably affects how much people listen to you in the front office. We are responsible for the trade, for the economic reconstruction, for the development assistance, for the political cooperation, and all of those policies, I think, support the general policy which is agreed by the General Affairs Council, by Europe's foreign ministers and by the European Council. It was the European Council which asked Javier Solana and I to devise the strategy on the Balkans, which is now in place and which we are now pursuing. We were both at NATO the other afternoon discussing different aspects of the problems of the Presevo Valley. He was obviously very concerned about the role of the EU monitoring mission, he was obviously concerned about Member States' individual views about security in the GSZ. I was concerned about what we could contribute in terms of development assistance in the Presevo Valley. I am responsible for negotiating the Stabilisation and Association Agreements with individual countries, so I do not think that in practice there has been any difficulty between Dr Solana and I. What is interesting is that even though we have been working together for 18 months nobody has yet been able to find a single occasion when we have been in disagreement about a policy issue. The role of Bodo Hombach is different. It is not an institutional role within the European Union, it represents an attempt to coordinate the activities, not of European donors solely but of all donors to the Balkans, including, of course the Americans and the Japanese. Bodo Hombach's stability pact focuses on regional projects, for example, as I said earlier, in the energy and transport sectors, but it has also focused on projects in the field of governance, the field of human rights and in the field of justice and home affairs. I think there has been a very successful impact in raising additional funds, which might not otherwise have gone into the region. We are the biggest contributor in the European Union and the European Commission to Stability Pact programmes and projects. Having said all that, I do not think it would be a wildly good idea to have any other initiatives in the South East of Europe. On the whole one of the problems that we faced has been the "Balkanisation" of Balkan strategies. I think the one thing we have managed to do over the last year or 18 months is to focus things much more effectively. There are not as many institutions or organisations with a finger in the pie. It was only when I saw the number of organisations involved in policy around the Baltic that I realised that "Balkanisation" affected other parts of the world as well as South East Europe. I think it has worked pretty well. As I said, the strategy that we are implementing is the strategy which Javier Solana and I put to the European Council at Feira just under a year ago and together we have been implementing it, I think, reasonably successfully.

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