Croatia: EU Accession Negotiations

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 22nd March 2005.

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Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 2:59 pm, 22nd March 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there will be any delay to the start of negotiations for Croatia's entry to the European Union once the condition of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has been met.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, on 16 March, European Union Foreign Ministers adopted the mandate for Croatia's EU accession negotiations, but postponed the opening of negotiations themselves because of concerns about the lack of full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. That followed confirmation by the ICTY chief prosecutor that the negative assessment in her November 2004 report to the United Nations Security Council remained unchanged. Foreign Ministers made it clear that the EU stood ready to open negotiations with Croatia as soon as co-operation with the ICTY was full.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on Croatia. As that country has been judged ready in other respects, does she accept that EU negotiations should begin as soon as full co-operation with the ICTY is deemed to have occurred? Does she also agree that a timely decision on that beginning date will very much assist confidence and stability within Croatia and elsewhere, including the former Yugoslavia?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the Government's position is that, as soon as that full co-operation can be demonstrated, those negotiations should begin. I agree with the noble Earl's point concerning the example that that will be to other candidates. Croatia's progress towards EU membership certainly sets an example for other Balkan countries to follow. It shows others in the region that the EU will fulfil its commitments when they meet the conditions to which they have agreed. However, it is enormously important that the EU's policy on Croatia shows that there is a level playing field, and that full co-operation with the ICTY is a non-negotiable prerequisite.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

My Lords, all of us agree with the Government's position. However, we also feel that Croatia's accession to the EU is a matter of some importance, provided that the conditions are met. Could we be any help to the Croatian Government in enabling them to catch the war criminal, so that they can be in compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, of course the United Kingdom fully supports the accession negotiations with Croatia once the conditions have been met. When Carla del Ponti made her report to the UN Security Council, and in her subsequent updates to the EU Foreign Ministers, she said that Mr Gotovina continued to benefit from well organised support networks in Croatia. It is very important that the Croatian authorities themselves take the initiative on the issue. She went on to say that the Croatian authorities could deliver Mr Gotovina if the necessary political will and resources were brought to bear. It is a question not of what we can do from the outside, but of the political will in Croatia.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Shadow Minister, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the importance of conditionality applies not only to Croatia, but to all the members; and that, in the Copenhagen conditions, the quality and integrity of a country's judiciary, police and public administration is key?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I agree. I told the noble Earl a moment ago that full co-operation was a non-negotiable prerequisite. It is absolutely essential that the countries that wish to join us in the European Union understand that they must do everything in their power to comply with the ICTY. It is important that they have the internal infrastructure to do that but—as Carla del Ponti made clear, certainly in Croatia's case—it is not that they have not got that, but that they are not putting the resources in and demonstrating the real political will.

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am secretary of the All-Party Group on Croatia and I have recently been in Zagreb. Must full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal be the delivery of General Gotovina to The Hague or, as some have suggested, should it be a demonstration on the part of the Croatian Government that they are doing everything within their power to do so and are simply physically unable to do it?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, what has been said is that the Croatian Government must demonstrate full co-operation. However, I would not want to mislead the noble Lord. It is clearly the view of Carla del Ponti that, if the political will were there, it would be possible to send Mr Gotovina to the ICTY. She was clear when she has talked about the ability to use the resources of the country, and says that she believes that he is in reach of the authorities and relies on the networks within the country to protect him.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, given that there is widespread belief in the good faith of the Croatians in seeking membership of the European Union, would it not be valuable to have on record the exact objections of the International Criminal Tribunal, so that we can see precisely the weight that should be borne on them and the response of the Croatian Government to them?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, on 8 June 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal cited crimes against humanity and violations of the laws against Mr Gotovina. He was commander for Operation Storm—the retaking of Croat forces in the Krajina region—which drove away 150,000 Serbs, plundered and destroyed property, and killed 150 individuals. A list is available from the ICTY of indictees still at large, from which the noble Lord will be able to see the main charges that the International Criminal Court wishes to pursue against the individuals, not only in Croatia but elsewhere.