House of Commons - London
Tuesday 8 june 1999



With your permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on two subjects: Kosovo, and the European Council in Cologne which I attended on 3-4 June, accompanied by my rhF, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The conclusions of the Council are being placed in the Library of the House.

A large part of the European Council was taken up with the crisis in Kosovo. President Ahtisaari came straight from his mission to Belgrade to brief the Council.

The peace plan which President Ahtisaari and the Russian Special Envoy, Mr Chernomyrdin, presented to Milosevic was accepted by the Serb Parliament and the Federal Yugoslav Government on 3 June. The plan incorporated all of NATO's demands. It provided for :

• the immediate and verifiable end to violence in Kosovo;

• the withdrawal of all military, police and paramilitary forces according to a rapid timetable;

• the deployment of an effective international security presence and a civil administration. The document specified that, in any such Force, the substantial participation would be that of NATO, and there would be a unified command and control;

• the force would be authorised to establish a safe environment for all the people in Kosovo and to facilitate the safe return of all displaced people and refugees.

So the document presented by President Ahtisaari embodied all the conditions set out by the international community: all Serb forces come out; an international force with NATO at its core goes in; the refugees go home in peace and safety.

But we did not and do not take Milosevic's assurances on trust. The Balkans are littered with his broken promises.

That is why NATO has insisted all along that the bombing will not stop until a full and verifiable withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo bas begun.

To give us the certainty we need about Serb withdrawal, the Commander of NATO's forces in Macedonia, General Sir Mike Jackson, met representatives of the Federal Yugoslav military on the border at Blace on 5 and 6 June.

Those talks ended early on 7 June after the Yugoslav side repeatedly failed to accept the document put forward by NATO. Instead, they tried among other things, to insist on large numbers of Serb troops remaining. This was, and is, unacceptable.

However, this morning, the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues from the G8 group of countries completed their work on the text of a Security Council Resolution. I can confirm to the House that agreement has now been reached in the G8 on a text which enshrines the Ahtisaari/Chernomyrdin plan and its detailed terms. The text is strong and clear, and meets our requirements. It will now go forward to the Security Council. It comes under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which means that the resolution will be legally binding on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and authorises, through its detailed provisions, the use of force to ensure its implementation. It requires in particular the withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo, and authorises the deployment of our Forces, as part of a substantial NATO component in the international security presence which will have a unified chain of command. The members of the G8 which are also on the Security Council - the US, Russia, Britain, France, and Canada - have agreed that they will co-sponsor the draft.

If we need any reminder of the regime we're dealing with, let me give the House one account, delivered by a refugee when the UK Government's War Crimes Co-ordinator, David Gowan, visited Albanian and Macedonian refugee camps last week.

A professional in his late 30s/early 40s, said that he was one of more than 2,000 men picked up by Serb forces in early May, in villages south of Pristina. They were separated from their families, beaten, and transferred to the prison at Mittrovica. The prisoners were forced into cells and made to stand, shoulder to shoulder, for 24 hours without food, water or access to a lavatory. They were then beaten again, systematically, in the prison.

Yet still he said that he was among the lucky ones. He had witnessed himself summary executions when he was detained at the village of Vushtria, and had heard reports of a mass execution of 103 men at a nearby village of Studime.

So when the refugees say they want to be sure that the Serb troops will go out, and our troops will go in to guarantee their safety, it is not hard to understand why.

The next step therefore will be further military talks to put in place the necessary technical agreement and they are taking place today at Blace. Given the progress on a Security Council Resolution, there is no excuse for the FRY authorities to drag their feet again. Provided the Serbs now, at long last, honour their undertakings and begin a verifiable withdrawal of their forces, NATO bombing can be suspended, the Security Council Resolution passed and the international force can start to deploy into Kosovo before the end of this week.

It is time, however, Milosevic realised that the longer he tries to draw this out, the longer and harder his forces will be hit. We have only achieved this agreement by showing total resolve and determination. We shall need to be as resolved and determined now in implementing it.

We are close to having all the elements in place. But until we are certain that Milosevic has embarked on the withdrawal of all his forces, NATO's military action will continue.

We can also now start planning in earnest for the reconstruction of the Balkans to give the peoples of the region the security and prosperity they need to avoid future wars. The future of these front line states, many of which I have visited in the past few weeks, should be one of peace and prosperity, not ethnic conflict. The people of a democratic Serbia can also benefit from reconstruction and integration into the mainstream of Europe. But let me be clear: that cannot happen while there is a nationalist dictator in power in Belgrade. Until Milosevic goes, Serbia cannot take its true place in the family of world nations.

Events in Kosovo overshadowed other issues at the European Council. But other important work was done too.

The European Council appointed Javier Solana to the new post of Secretary-General of Council and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Councils. Mr Solana is a friend of Britain and a highly capable operator as we have seen during the Kosovo crisis. His new appointment will boost the effectiveness and credibility of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and I warmly welcome it.

There was a full discussion of economic policy. The European Council unanimously reaffirmed that sustainable, non-inflationary growth and increased employment required comprehensive structural reforms at EU and national levels. The message is clear in the broad economic guidelines, which the European Council approved; and in the new European Employment Pact.

So far as the future development of the Union is concerned, the European Council took a number of important steps :

• it heard a strong statement from the President elect of the Commission, about his plans for reform of that institution. The Council pledged its full support for Mr Prodi's approach to reform;

• the European Council welcomed the new European Anti Fraud Office, agreed upon at the ECOFIN Council on 25 May and which will permit the Union to step up the fight against fraud, corruption and mismanagement;

• agreement was reached on the further development of a common European security and defence policy, building on the ideas which we outlined last year and which were warmly endorsed by NATO at its Washington Summit in April;

• the European Council confirmed that an Intergovernmental Conference will be called early next year to resolve the issues which were left open at the Amsterdam European Council and which need to be settled before enlargement;

• the European Council also endorsed an initiative by Prime Minister Guterres of Portugal to convene next March, under the Portuguese Presidency, a Special Meeting of the European Council. This will be entirely devoted to economic reform and employment. This initiative is very welcome and follows the call for such an event at the Anglo-Spanish Summit on 10 April. We are making real headway in promoting economic reform in Europe, which as I have repeatedly said in this House, is essential to ensure sustained growth and the unqualified success of the single currency.

• the Council also rejected the notion of ending tax competition or of the harmonisation of business and income taxes. Instead, it decided sensibly, merely, that harmful tax competition should be avoided; and it actually advocated lower business and labour costs. Unfortunately, though we had the support of 13 out of the 14 other Member States, we could not reverse the duty free decision taken by the previous government in 1991, since they had agreed to it being reversible only if there was unanimity.

So, Madam Speaker, at the Council as a whole, substantial progress was made on economic reform; but it was as I said at the outset, rightly and understandably dominated by Kosovo. Let us hope the process begun at this Council and taken forward today at the G8 is going to come swiftly to a secure and just conclusion ending the obscenity of ethnic cleansing and obtaining justice at last for the people of Kosovo.