Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (10)

Richard Bruton


8 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Macedonia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4249/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

My most recent meeting with the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ms Ilinka Mitreva, was in Brussels on 9 December last. She informed me of the Macedonian Government's intention to present an application for EU membership in February of this year. We discussed progress in the wide-ranging reform process and the improvement in the overall level of stability in Macedonia. The coalition Government in power is led by the pan-Slav party, the SDSM, in partnership with the largest Albanian political party, the DUI. It remains fully committed to the implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which is essential for progress in the development of closer relations between the European Union and Macedonia.

The Ohrid Framework Agreement, which was brokered by the European Union, brought an end to the violent conflict in the country in 2001. Its objective is the creation of a truly multi-ethnic Macedonia. It provides for a series of constitutional amendments to safeguard minority rights, strengthen local government and secure equitable representation for the two main ethnic communities at all levels of state administration. Important progress has been made over the past year. A census has been conducted successfully and its results released. A dozen more laws required under the agreement have been adopted. Key draft laws on decentralisation are before parliament. The main political challenges in the period ahead are to ensure effective progress on the difficult but essential issues of decentralisation and equitable representation.

The EU continues to play a central role in support of the reform process in the country — politically, economically and in terms of security. This close co-operation is being maintained during Ireland's Presidency of the EU. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Macedonia, which was concluded in 2001, has now been ratified by all 15 member states of the European Union. It will formally enter into force this spring and will be the first of these agreements with countries of the western Balkans to be ratified by the EU.

In co-operation with the Macedonian Government, the EU is also helping to address the continuing security challenges in Macedonia, through the EU police mission, Proxima, which has been in place since 15 December 2003. The EU-western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki last June agreed that the future of the countries of the region lies in their eventual integration into EU structures. Progress towards this goal will be made through implementation of the reforms required under the stabilisation and association process. On 26 February, the Prime Minister of Macedonia, Mr. Branko Crvenkovski, will lead a high level multi-ethnic delegation which will visit Ireland for the presentation of the country's formal application for membership of the European Union.

Does the Minister agree that, between February and July 2003, there was a real danger that Macedonia would descend into the same chaos that happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina in recent years but, thanks to the efforts of the OSCE, NATO and the European Union, that did not happen? Does he also agree that, following the withdrawal of NATO, all the EU member states, excluding Ireland — I am not sure about Denmark — and the applicant states were prepared to participate in the peacekeeping force which went into Macedonia? Will he inform the House why, in those circumstances, Ireland did not alter its domestic law to participate in that force? Do we not owe it to those people? Are we not ashamed that we have allowed the Chinese, because of the Macedonian recognition of Taiwan, to block our sovereign right to send troops with other EU and applicant states to keep the peace on our doorstep in Macedonia, a country which on 26 February will apply for membership of the European Union? Is that not nonsense?

When will we see a proactive foreign policy in this House that takes on those who use NATO as a four letter word and anti-Americanism as a policy? When will we have the courage of our convictions to repeal the triple lock and give this House the right to decide on a case by case basis if we should participate in peacekeeping and peace enforcement when they are in keeping with the principles and priorities of the United Nations charter?

The European Union, through its diplomatic and political efforts, has been instrumental in ensuring that the violence in Macedonia did not erupt into civil war. We have been able to confirm the usefulness and importance of the EU through the Ohrid framework agreement. This is our backyard and it is important that Europe faces its responsibilities in this region.

This is perhaps a matter best addressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but I understand that the question of non-participation by Garda personnel in Operation Proxima was for operational reasons based on the recommendations of the Commissioner and nothing else. Operational reasons were given as to why it would not be possible for our police to be involved in that effort.

Operation Proxima will contribute to the efforts of the Macedonian Government to fight organised crime and uphold the rule of law in the territory of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with a particular focus on the former crisis areas. EU police experts are monitoring, mentoring and advising Macedonian police, and members of Operation Proxima are not involved in executive policing tasks. The mission was launched on 15 December and will run for an initial period of 12 months with a possibility of extension by agreement with the Macedonian authorities. It comprises 180 international police officers located at the Ministry of the Interior as well as at selected police headquarters.

On the participation by our Defence Forces in operations outside the State, it is important to point out the declaration we obtained and submitted as part of the second referendum on the Nice treaty that confirmed the Seville declaration setting out the triple lock. That is the basis upon which we would be involved. It is a matter for Parliaments to revisit the legislative framework domestically at any time and I am aware of Fine Gael's views on the matter. That is the position at the moment.

I find it difficult to see how the best interests of Ireland or our Defence Forces are served by sending troops to a relatively dangerous theatre such as Liberia, where, the Minister for Defence told the House, there is a medium risk militarily and a high risk in terms of Health while we cannot send them to the relatively safer theatre in Macedonia as part of an EU force because of our domestic law. I find that appalling. Will the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Defence, revisit the issue? The UN Charter allows for regional action once that action is in keeping with the principles and purposes of the charter. Clearly Macedonia met those terms, although it did not have a mandate for UN forces and that is why we could not participate. Will the Minister revisit the legislation?

This matter, as with all issues, is available for consideration at any time by any Government. As I understand it, apart from legal interpretations of our domestic legislation, there were also operational issues which influenced the decision.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.