Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Stabilisation and Association Agreement Between the European Communities and their Member States, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) Order 2002

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Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I am grateful that the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) have avoided any attempt to broaden the debate into a broader cultural one about football. I undertake not to ruin that on the basis that we hear no reference to the Faroe islands.

This is an important and serious moment in Europe's development. The Irish referendum at the weekend has removed one of the uncertainties that could have been a significant barrier to the immediate accession of two new countries to the European Union. Many countries have come a long way from their communist past, and all have been drawn to the EU for much the same reasons as its existing members. Those reasons are a combination of the desire to entrench democracy, and to enjoy the prosperity that the EU should create and the security that close co-operation with partners can allow. Those aspirations also drive the people of Macedonia, and for that reason among others I welcome the agreement.

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As other hon. Members have remarked, Macedonia's history has been turbulent. Its experiences since independence in 1991 have been difficult, and often bloody. There has been a dizzying series of developments during the past year from horrific intercommunal violence to the point where the UK and its European partners are ratifying a stabilisation and accession agreement.

Macedonia has taken some tough decisions en route to this moment, assisted by outside agencies such as the EU and NATO. The recent elections to which the Under-Secretary referred were judged a success and to be fair, free and peaceful. The agreement should mark a bold next step in the country's development, and will help to encourage democratic, administrative and other institutions. The prospect of EU membership is an attractive carrot for the further development of democratisation, market reform and regional co-operation.

I have a few questions to add to those put by the hon. Member for West Suffolk. Will the Under-Secretary share his assessment of the security situation in Macedonia, because NATO's Amber Fox programme is due to be completed by 26 October? Will he tell us whether there are plans for further involvement or whether that marks the end of NATO's responsibilities?

As the hon. Member for West Suffolk remarked, the framework agreement provides the basis for the SAA, and I should like to know which of its conditions remain unfulfilled. Will the Under-Secretary tell us about the monitoring arrangements that will be put in place? He made the point that Croatia's SAA is not being considered because it has been deemed to be inappropriate, and there are obligations that Croatia must fulfil before that process can move forward. Once such an agreement is in place, what arrangements will be made to monitor the maintenance of high standards, which are expected? I hope that he can resolve those points, as the order is an important development.

Will the Under-Secretary state whether other EU countries are at the start of the ratification process or well through it? On the related issue of Croatia, will he tell us how many countries, if any, have ratified the relevant agreement, and how many of them share the Government's concerns?

Some 18 months ago, there was ethnic violence and a civil war was looming. There were only short-term hopes for Macedonia because the situation looked bleak. We are now on the verge of something new and different, and we hope that, with international assistance, Macedonia can continue its progress towards membership of the European Union.

10.47 am

Angus Robertson (Moray): I am pleased to take part in today's proceedings, which reflect Macedonia's emergence—as the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) mentioned—not only on the football field but as a political entity.

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The Government and the rest of the European Union have recognised the importance of the emerging political entities in central and eastern Europe playing full and equal parts in the European Union as full member states with seats at the top table. Those states should be able to take part in the key decisions that affect the west, centre and east of our continent, which is an aspiration for many countries in central and eastern Europe as well as for stateless nations currently within the European Union.

I should like to reflect on the Under-Secretary's point about the important role that the European Union can play in promoting an inclusive, democratic and peaceful political system that aims for good governance and a non-ethnic approach to politics, which is especially important in a country such as Macedonia that has experienced ethnic strife.

I should like to put on the record my support for Government's position on the Croatian agreement. I should be interested to know whether the Under-Secretary has any information on whether the Croatian authorities are going to change their position on the extradition of suspected war criminals, which would allow Croatia to follow Macedonia in ratifying the agreement.

I have two specific questions on the Macedonian situation. From the perspective of wanting to help and support democratisation, especially in the important fields of justice and home affairs, I should be interested to know what consultations the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has held with the Scottish Executive on Scottish legal authorities playing a helpful role in establishing best practice in Macedonia. What role does the Under-Secretary see the Scottish legal system playing in that process?

10.49 am

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I shall not detain the Committee for long, Mr. O'Hara, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I believe that you have a longstanding interest in the area. I, too, have a longstanding interest, and I want to make a few points and to ask the Under-Secretary a few questions.

First, I want to say—not in a flippant way—that the reference to football could be an example of the patronising attitude that we sometimes take towards small, emerging nations. We thought that England would romp home against Macedonia; equally, we should be careful not to patronise such countries in relation to their institutions. We must be keen to ensure that they have the very best, but many are making advances on their own without help from elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said that the country is in central or eastern Europe. I take issue with that, because its citizens would regard themselves as being southern European. As he will know, it is important to ensure that geographical issues are kept in perspective.

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said, the recent elections gave a clear-cut result, and it is to be hoped that they will contribute even further to finding a way forward. The order represents an

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important aspect of the way in which Macedonia is increasingly becoming part of the European community in a general sense, as opposed to the European Union.

I hope that the order will alleviate the problems involved in the issuing of visas to Macedonian nationals coming here and that much of the ignorance about the country will be dispelled.

The name of Macedonia is a thorny question, because the term ''Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'' is a great bone of contention to the inhabitants of that land. That is understandable. Many people would be a little upset if Scotland were to be described as the former English colony known as Scotland. What is the current state of discussions on that issue, and what part are the Government playing in trying to resolve it?

The Under-Secretary mentioned the provision of funds, and it is very important that promises in that area are delivered on. In many countries in the area, there is a feeling that their support for the west, notably during the Kosovo campaign, has not been matched by full delivery in terms of promises of funds and aid.

The problems of last year have, in great part, been resolved, but the situation in the area remains difficult. There are still daily incidences of what we would call terrorism; indeed, Lord Robertson described many of the first incidents as such. We often hear about an al-Qaeda presence in Macedonia. Does the Foreign Office have any evidence of that? The problem of the abduction of nationals from the Tetovo region has still not been resolved. Have the Government been able to do anything to help in that regard?

I welcome the order entirely and look forward in particular to free trade being set up. Many years ago, on the border between Bitola and Florina, I was questioned about banana smuggling. That still rankles as one of the small incidents in my life where I came close to breaking the law.

10.55 am

Mr. MacShane: I am unclear as to which direction the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) was trying to pass the bananas or how many tonnes or lorry loads he was bringing in. He is right to draw attention to the need for trade, investment, economic growth and the material base for Macedonian society to be at the heart of what we are attempting to do. If there are more chances in future for young people in particular in the region to have jobs, many of the other difficulties that have been raised in questions today will fall into place.

I thank the hon. Member for Uxbridge for his visit to Macedonia last year and for the continuing interest that he expresses in the House in what is happening in that part of Europe. He is right; the first person to patronise the Balkans was Bismarck, with his silly remark about bones and a Pomeranian grenadier. We have learned to our cost what happens when we do not take seriously this beautiful, industrious and highly cultured part of Europe.

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I have been impressed by the commitment of people in the region to build a better tomorrow, but I have also been depressed, at times, by the lingering leftovers of old attitudes that need to be combated. With you as our distinguished Chairman, Mr. O'Hara, I do not wish to have a long disquisition on the name of the country. I am happy to refer to Macedonia in all my communications, but as a Hellenist I also believe that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. When in Athens, I try to do as the Greeks do.

I have not seen references to al-Qaeda. It is important not to brand anything that is happening with respect to communities with which one may have difficulties.

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