Berlin European Council and Kosovo

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th March 1999.

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Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 12:00 am, 29th March 1999

On the European Union summit, I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that we have swept all the issues under the carpet. It is worth pointing out that the EU 15 are in agreement about the enlargement process—the five plus one coming into the European Union. In one sense, as I said earlier, we would have preferred more fundamental reform of areas such as the CAP. However, we have agreed a basis on which structural funds are hugely reduced for the 15. Countries throughout Europe are prepared to give up some of their European Union money to allow enlargement to happen. Taken together, the structural and cohesion funds are less than the European Commission was looking at. There are elements of CAP reform in the cuts in the price of beef, cereal, milk and other products, which are very important for the future. We now have an agreed basis for enlargement to happen, and there is no reason for the process to slow down.

Although people can always say that perhaps we should have gone further and done better—I would say that myself in relation to some of the areas of reform—it is worth underlining what we did agree. One of the great pluses for Britain was that we were not the people who were proving difficult in this negotiation. We secured every single objective that we wanted—[Interruption.] For the benefit of those Opposition Members who are shouting, we did it without the absurd and often counterproductive posturing that has characterised their relationship with Europe over the past few years.

In respect of Kosovo, I agree with the first three points that the right hon. Gentleman made about the Kosovar Albanians. He is absolutely right: if people ask their representatives, of course they will say that what is happening on the ground is terrible, but it is absurd to imply that before the NATO action began those people were living an untroubled and stress-free life. This has been building up for months and months.

On the humanitarian crisis, I agree that we must do all that we can to ensure that people can go back in safety at a later date. What the right hon. Gentleman says about Montenegro and other areas is absolutely correct. We cannot do enough in pointing out to our own people, particularly when we have people reporting from Belgrade, that we are dealing with a state-run media. People there are shown what they are allowed to be shown, and nothing else—[HON. MEMBERS: "Like here."] No, as a matter of fact, it is not like here. People should know the difference.

As for troops on the ground, we have made it clear that we favour ground troops in pursuit of a viable settlement. We have said all the way through, however, what the problems are with putting in ground troops to fight their way through. In respect of the international protectorate, I believe that, de facto, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, Rambouillet offers a proper protectorate. Obviously, the purpose of the ground troops would be to go in in support of that.