Cardiff European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:20 pm on 11th June 1998.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary 5:20 pm, 11th June 1998

I am pleased to announce at the outset of this debate that, today, the House of Lords has not insisted on its amendment to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. The Bill's parliamentary stages are now complete. We hope that Royal Assent will be granted very shortly, opening the way for the United Kingdom to ratify the treaty of Amsterdam in the near future. We shall be among the first three countries in Europe to do so. Under the previous Administration, the United Kingdom was one of the last two countries to ratify the Maastricht treaty. That contrast underlines the new priority and commitment that this Administration have given to Europe, and provides an excellent basis on which, on Sunday, we can welcome to Cardiff the leaders of the 15 member states of the European Union.

The leaders' agenda will be wide ranging. On Monday, they will meet Finance Ministers to discuss economic reform. At lunchtime, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will lead a discussion on the future direction of Europe. On Monday afternoon, they will discuss progress on enlarging the European Union, and the Agenda 2000 issues, such as reforming the common agricultural policy, simplifying the structural funds and securing budget discipline.

On Tuesday morning, the leaders will debate the summit's conclusions, including proposals from Foreign Ministers on current issues in foreign policy. It is with those foreign policy issues that I wish to start my speech.

On Monday, I chaired the preparatory meeting for Cardiff of Foreign Ministers, at which our discussion on the crisis in Kosovo was the most grave and sombre of our presidency. At the start of last week, Serbian security forces mounted a major military operation, with support from the Yugoslav army. Heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons were used against villages and towns in Kosovo, particularly along the border area with Albania. The clear objective of the offensive was to empty those towns and villages of their civilian population. It is our belief that, last week, about 50,000 people were rendered homeless. Most of them were women and children; few could ever have been members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

Monday's meeting of Foreign Ministers strongly condemned the ratcheting up of military violence, and expressed our firm belief that these attacks are beginning to constitute a new wave of ethnic cleansing. In our statement, we specifically reaffirmed that the remit of the war crimes tribunal on Yugoslavia applies to all parts of the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. Those who carry out extra-judicial killings or crimes against humanitarian law should not do so in the hope that they will escape justice.

In the meantime, the urgent task is to halt the violence. At the United Nations, Britain has taken the lead in the Security Council to seek a resolution, under chapter VII, that will provide a mandate for all necessary action to halt the conflict. I am pleased to report to the House that, on Monday, the Foreign Ministers of European countries unanimously expressed their support for such a resolution. As we speak, NATO Defence Ministers are meeting to hear reports from their military advisers, who are considering all options that might be taken under that mandate.

Tomorrow, I shall host a meeting in London of the Group of Eight Foreign Ministers, which was originally called to discuss nuclear escalation in India and Pakistan. All members of the contact group on the former Yugoslavia are represented on the G8. We will, therefore, take the opportunity of our gathering tomorrow to hold a special meeting of the contact group, to send a clear signal of our resolve to Belgrade.

President Milosevic must bear personal responsibility for the crisis in Kosovo. Last week, he authorised violence on a scale that has not been seen in the former Yugoslavia since the truce in Bosnia three years ago. He should not make the heavy mistake of assuming that, this time, the international community will be as slow to react as it was in the early years of the crisis in Bosnia. Nor can he hope to find a place for his country in the modern Europe unless he starts to abide by the democratic standards of modern Europe.

In the past fortnight, President Milosevic has removed the broadcasting licences of 33 independent radio stations. At the same time, he has given separate broadcasting licences to his wife, to his son and to his daughter. No one can be fooled that that outcome reflects an impartial assessment of the respective merits of those applications.

Finally, before leaving the subject of Kosovo, I should emphasise that Europe condemns the use of violence for political ends by either side. The violent repression by President Milosevic has been totally counter-productive: it has strengthened the Kosovo Liberation Army. However, the Kosovo Liberation Army's activities will not liberate the people of Kosovo, but will only ensure the continuation of their suffering. Our support in Kosovo is for the elected leadership of the Kosovar people, who, to their credit, have consistently pursued a peaceful path towards their goal of autonomy.

For that reason, as we hold the presidency of the European Union, I shall this evening receive Dr. Rugova, the elected leader of the Kosovar people, to demonstrate our support for those among the Kosovars who seek a negotiated, not a violent, means of achieving their aspirations. I am confident that both sides of the House will wish me today to convey to Dr. Rugova our united respect for his support for peace, and our resolve to halt the violence.