EU-Serbia Relations: Discussion

I am glad to welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia, Mr. Vuk Jeremic, Mr. Zdravko Ponos, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and the staff of the embassy in Dublin. They are always very helpful. As we know, the committee has repeatedly discussed the issues which affect the western Balkans in general and have asked for the opportunity to meet all of the representatives in the region in order to be better able to offer constructive assistance in a meaningful way to people who have, for various reasons, come through a difficult time in recent years. The delegates will address the committee for ten or 15 minutes, followed by a question and answer session and closing remarks.

Mr. Vuk Jeremic

I thank the Chairman and committee for finding some time for us on what is a very busy day to discuss the future of Serbia in the EU. I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee.

I come from Belgrade in Serbia and am the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The central strategic priority of the Government is to become a member of the EU. It was the central electoral promise in the last parliamentary elections in 2008 and they were won on that ticket. We are now in our third year of government and have made significant progress towards EU membership. They were probably the best three years in the process of the integration of Serbia into the EU since we installed democracy in our country in 2001.

2011 is of equal, if not more, importance in terms of making institutionalised progress, which means becoming an official candidate for membership of the EU. For this to take place we need to have our stabilisation and association agreement ratified in all 27 member states. Coming from a region which has gone through some difficult times in the past 20 years I am very happy to say since the war began in the early 1990s relations have never been better. Today is the peak of regional relations in the Balkans. I am very proud to say that my Government has made a contribution to this, especially in our bilateral relations in the region.

Bosnia is our nearest and most important neighbour. I am sure most members have heard of the massacre which took place in Srebrenica 15 years ago. Last year the Parliament passed an historic declaration on Srebrenica which contained an apology and on the 15th anniversary of Srebrenica the President travelled there to bow to the victims. It was the first parliament in the history of Europe to pass an act of apology. Europe is part of the world which has a history full of things which may require contrition.

There were great improvements in our relations with our other neighbours, most notably Croatia and Albania. Relations were difficult, especially in the 1990s when they reached boiling point and resulted in wars, but today the Balkans is a place where reconciliation is taking place and regional co-operation is flourishing, unlike some years ago. One of the most difficult challenges for Serbia, especially in the past few years, was Kosovo. Almost three years ago the ethnic Albanian authorities in Kosovo declared unilateral independence from Serbia.

The Serbian Government did not recognise the act of unilateral seccession and renounced the use of force as the way to resolve the matter. In my opinion this constituted a paradigm shift in favour of peace in the Balkans because this was the first time in 700 years of Balkan history when someone decided not to go to war over an issue of such significance. We are fiercely opposed to the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo but we will use exclusively peaceful, legal and diplomatic tools to arrive at a solution that will be acceptable to both Belgrade and Pristina. We hope that in 21st century Europe solutions will be found based on consensus and that pass the democratic legitimacy test. We hope to pass this test when it comes to Kosovo and the Serbian Government will work hard with the international community and with the authorities in Pristina to find such a solution.

The problems of the Balkans would be best addressed through a common vision of joining the European family of nations. The sooner we are in a process of integration, not just Serbia but every country of the western Balkans, the easier it will be for us to sustain momentum in regional relations, which have never been better in the last 20 years. We hope 2011 will not be a year of stagnation in the Balkans when it comes to the European process but a year of continuing progress, including strategic progress towards all of us becoming member states of the European Union. I thank the committee for Ireland's support over the past years as we head down the EU path.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, members of Fianna Fáil, the main Government party, are otherwise engaged. I thank them for being here at the start of the meeting and wish them well at their other meeting. I thank members of other committees and former members of this committee who have made themselves available for today's presentation. This issue engaged the committee on a number of occasions because of similarities between the Balkans and the situation that existed on this island. History is a difficult bedfellow.

I join the Chairman in welcoming the delegation. I congratulate the present Serbian Government for the progress it is making and the attempts it is making to heal the wounds of the past. I hope those countries in the western Balkans can develop to the standards we have here, although I do not wish upon them the problems we currently face. I sincerely hope Serbia's GDP continues to rise and that the country enjoys every success. Fine Gael fully supports Serbia's application for membership of the European Union.

Having said that, I make no secret of the fact that I personally have deep concerns about the continued failure to arrest Mladic and Hadžic and to deliver them to the international tribunal to face trial for the horrific crimes of which they are accused. I am deeply concerned that the failure to deliver them is continuing in light of the fact that the UN has decided to wind up the tribunal by 2014. Definite efforts must be made to deliver these two men to trial, and like everyone they are entitled to a fair trial, because not only do all EU states require cooperation in economic, political and legal matters but there are certain standards and principles to which we all wish to adhere. While I fully accept the present Serbian Government is trying to do things that were not possible in the past, I ask the Minister to brief us about this failure to deliver these two men to the international tribunal.

Mr. Brammertz stated in his recent report to the UN Security Council that Serbia's failure to capture the two remaining fugitives, Mladic and Hadžic, is one of the tribunal's foremost concerns. Serbia must bridge the gap he said between its stated commitment to the arrests and the effectiveness of its cooperation on the ground. These are the words of the Chief Prosecutor, they are not my words. This matter has been raised here on many occasions and I have stated that I will not support the stabilisation and association motion that must come before the Oireachtas unless I am completely satisfied that genuine attempts are being made to deliver these two men.

I am not in the business of making statements unless they are backed up by facts. Reading reputable reports from various sources would indicate that the present security forces in parts of Serbia are not serious about finding those two men. One criticism is that there has been a failure to reform the special security forces. These statements are being made publicly by eminent people and I would like to hear the Minister's answer to such charges. It would be very unfortunate that progress that is being made by Serbia towards EU membership would be affected by the failure to deal with this situation. If we are to present the case at the tribunal and to allow proper defence and perhaps an appeal, the period remaining is short and there is a growing suspicion that some people hope this might just disappear and we will forget about it. The people who appeared before this committee and the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, whose families were wiped out as a result of the actions of these men, and sat here with tears coming down their cheeks, depend on us to ensure every effort is made to bring them to justice. It is only right the Minister understands that members of the Bosnia community in Ireland, who were invited here during the war, feel very strongly about this issue. They look to the rest of the world for justice. As I said, I fully accept that the Minister's government is only in office since 2008 and I understand that it is making very rapid progress and is anxious to fulfil all the requirements. However, I am anxious to hear why these allegations about the special security forces continue to be made and about the failure to deliver. Perhaps I have said enough for now. The Minister might be able to respond. With the Chairman's permission, I may make a further intervention later.

I welcome the Minister and his group. I congratulate Serbia on its victory in the Davis Cup. It must have the best tennis players in the world. I have known of Serbia for years, although mainly for a different reason. I was in the food business for many years and I have always known of Serbia for its raspberry production. It must be the largest raspberry producer in the world. I gather that continues to be the case.

I will not follow through on the concerns about the two fugitives accused of war crimes because it has already been covered by Deputy Barrett. My query concerns Serbia's success in the arms industry in recent years and the controls it has in place. Serbia has been successfully supplying a substantial amount of arms to north Africa - from Kuwait to Libya to Algeria. Has Serbia any controls in place? A substantial amount of money is involved and it must be a very important export industry for Serbia but how can it ensure those arms do not reach the wrong people and that they only go to legitimate governments? Is there a system in place to ensure the arms are not being used by renegade governments or renegade rebels in that area? Another export is the development of hospitals in north Africa. Clearly, Serbia has considerable and successful involvement in north Africa. I would like to ensure there are controls in place so that arms do not get into the wrong hands.

Deputy Barrett summarised much of what I wanted to say. I welcome the Minister, the Assistant Minister and the support team. The Bosnian community in Ireland enjoys a particular status. The Bosnian people came here at a time of huge need. Their arrival was, in some ways, reminiscent of that of the Catholic community in the North of Ireland when it was under siege during a very different type of conflict but one which deeply affected us in the South, in particular along the Border.

Members of the Bosnia community continue to enjoy living in Ireland and have made it their home. Many of us have met members of the community in this House and in other fora and have been very struck by the degree of trauma they continue to experience. I have also been struck by the fact that what they seek for the two fugitives, about whom we have spoken, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, is a fair trial. They are not trying to pre-empt the outcome of that trial but they have said that it will provide huge relief for them, if not a complete conclusion to their suffering.

As Deputy Barrett said, the opportunity for that to happen is running out. There is a deadline on the tribunal and I am concerned that the failure to arrest these two men could drag on to a point where a trial is not feasible. I am very anxious to hear the Minister's thoughts on how he sees that proceeding and whether there is a conviction within the Serbian Government and in Serbia in general that this should be part of the conditions attaching to the stabilisation agreement which it wants and which we all hope can be achieved for Serbia.

There is no question but that Serbia's integration into the European Union will be a critical feature of Balkan stability in years to come and the region needs it. The Serbian commitment to the use of exclusively peaceful means in the Kosovo problem and the protection afforded the gay pride march last summer in Belgrade are strong indicators of Serbia's commitment to that agenda which so typifies EU membership and principles.

I thank the Minister and Assistant Minister and their team for their attendance. The Minister mentioned the declaration containing an apology. Have any further steps been taken, or are any planned, to try to reconcile with Bosnia?

I too have been asked to raise the issue of the two fugitives, Mladic and Hadzic. Will the Minister give a bit more information on what efforts have been made to capture the two fugitives and bring them to justice? Allegations have been made that a particular attempt to arrest Mladic was not serious, that it was sabotaged and that the efforts being made are not serious. How would the Minister respond to that?

A report is due to be brought to the UN Security Council and apparently an extract from it was published recently. I understand the report states that it has been said by the office of the prosecutor that there are a number of shortcomings in the way operations are conducted which need to be addressed urgently and that apparently Mr. Brammertz wants Serbia to explore more expeditiously fresh leads and avenues in the search for the fugitives. How would the Minister respond to that very specific request to improve Serbia's efforts?

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an toscaireacht anseo agus tá súil agam go mbeidh toradh torthach ar an turas. I welcome the delegation and hope it will be a fruitful visit and that we will have many more. I see from the briefing note that there might be an increase in trade. I think we are winning at the moment. Perhaps more of those raspberries will be exported.

On a serious note, the whole region has been in a state of flux for many years and very complicated issues have been dealt with by new nation states. As we in Ireland know, it is very difficult to deal with the consequences of war in a time of peace. Much needs to be done not only here but in the Minister's region to deal with the remnants of the conflicts. What steps have been taken to help to resolve old simmering conflicts and to build greater trust and co-operation between various groups which have vested interests or historic grievances in the region?

My next question is slightly related. From my knowledge of the region, there are quite substantial Serbian minorities in some of the neighbouring countries. How do they connect with Serbia? Ireland has quite large diasporas in many countries but, in many ways, they are not as close as some of the minorities to the Serbian boundaries.

The spectre of organised crime and the power and strength of that horrible creature in the region as a whole has been raised. We in Ireland also experience organised crime, in particular drugs and prostitution. Organised trafficking of people into the EU has been facilitated by some of these gangs in the region. What additional steps have been taken in the past year or so in regard to organised crime? Are criminal gangs in Serbia linked to criminal gangs in neighbouring countries? We in Ireland find that some of the drugs gangs here are linked to gangs in Britain and in continental Europe.

Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire agus a chomhghleacaithe. I welcome the Minister and the delegation. It was very good to hear the good news and, obviously, we want to encourage Serbia. We look forward to the day when Serbia is a member of the European Union. I fully understand when the Minister says this is a very important year as the European Commission considers matters.

To enable the international community to consider matters in an ongoing way, there must be a return to the issues raised by Deputy Barrett and others in regard to Mr. Mladic and Mr. Hadzic. What is the state of public opinion in Serbia in regard to the need to apprehend these men so that they can go before the tribunal? It is clear from what the Serbian Government is saying that it is taking a strong pro-European Union line and that it sees this as good for that country but to what extent is it held back by public opinion? Perhaps the Minister could bring us up to speed and give us a full picture on what people in his country think about the European Union. Is there unanimous, or near unanimous, support for membership of the European Union? Does the Minister have to contend with a significant body of opinion in his country which feels otherwise? Perhaps the Minister might also tell us about the state of public opinion in regard to the need to apprehend Mr. Mladic and Mr. Hadzic.

One of the issues under consideration at EU level in terms of Serbia's work in complying with the stabilisation and association agreement is the additional efforts required of it in regard to the rule of law and, in particular, judicial reform. Will the Minister comment on judicial reform in his country and what is happening there?

In regard to the apology, I think the Serbian President and the President of Croatia were in Bosnia for the commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre. The Minister mentioned the apology in his parliament and that it was a unique event. How was it received in Bosnia? What is the perception of it? The Minister feels Serbia is taking the necessary steps, and it is, but in a matter like this how the message is received is really the test of how worthwhile the gesture is. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on how he feels it was received in Bosnia.

I welcome the members of the delegation and compliment them on their frankness on the issues which others mentioned. We would all like to see a situation where we would have a stable western Balkans area. Obviously, Serbia would become part of that in the context of the western Balkans as a whole and of the wider European Union.

However, the question of ratification of the European Union-Serbia stabilisation and association agreement is a very serious matter and cannot be embarked on unless the actual criteria has been dealt with effectively. Deputy Barrett and others spoke very robustly about the failure of Serbia to pursue the remaining two serious war criminals. It was possible to arrest Karadzic and everything did not fall apart in Serbia or elsewhere when that happened. I do not see why it has not been possible to arrest the other two people about whom we spoke, Mladic and Hadzic.

What is the sentiment in the country in regard to those two war criminals? It really beggars belief that it has not been possible to locate two figures of such prominence through the various investigations taking place and bring them to justice. A question mark will remain over that until both men are brought to justice. It is very difficult to see how ratification of the stability and association agreement can take place until that has been achieved.

Putting the domestic criminal justice system and the judicial system on a proper basis has also been slow. There are serious question marks over the independence of the judiciary and investigative procedures. As somebody else said, there are questions about criminal activity which impacts on our country in terms of trafficking. These matters need to be rectified also.

I said at the outset that Serbia should be part of the European Union. What happened in Srebrenica was a crime against humanity and we must ensure every mechanism is put in place to ensure that cannot happen again and that those who are responsible are brought to justice.

As others said, we have seen the suffering of the Bosnian community. I would like the Minister to outline how he sees Bosnia and Montenegro, which have declared independence and in which there are still substantial Serbian populations, as well as the broader Serbian perception of a dismemberment of Yugoslavia and to indicate whether there a degree of anger and frustration and, if so, how it is reflected. How much does Serbia look towards European Union integration as opposed to moving towards the Russian Federation? What are the divisions in the country currently in respect of all of that?

I welcome the Minister and his colleagues and concur with the contribution made by Deputy Barrett. I have a question about the independence of Kosovo and the statement the Minister made about the intention of his country to pursue its priorities and views through peaceful means. He outlined that would be through democratic and legal channels. Will he explain what those plans are and what Serbia will seek to do? What are the ways in which it will progress its views in regard to Kosovan independence?

The Minister will have observed that committee members are all students of history. It is appropriate that should be the case because of our own history. Some time ago the committee met the chief EU negotiator with Serbia in Brussels and a discussion took place on this very subject. The concerns expressed by committee members were a repeat of those expressed by the committee when Bosnian representatives appeared before it. Naturally, it is an issue with which Irish people can readily identify, regardless of which side of a divide one is on.

I was interested to hear the Minister state that it is his ambition to proceed by way of negotiation as opposed to other means when dealing with issues that arise. One of our great patriots, Daniel O'Connell, was a great exponent of that view. Unfortunately, he did not always get the support he required but he held that view for a very long time in the 1820s, which was a long time ago. To remind us of that and to ponder on it is no harm. One must try to progress in the interests of fairness and in a way which has the support of the wider community, which is hugely important.

I also mention an issue which has engaged this committee many times in the past. The importance of the Balkans, as an area within the European Union, has been brought to the attention of the committee again and again from the point of view of generating peace and stability in that particular area.

We wish the Minister well. Any support from this committee will be constructive.

Mr. Vuk Jeremic

There were many questions, so I will try to cluster them. I apologise in advance if I miss any. I will start with the issue of co-operation with the Hague tribunal because I think it is of the greatest interest, especially when it comes to our co-operation in regard to the issues relating to the events during the Bosnian war.

I feel very special when I discuss this because my family is Bosnian. My mother and her side of the family is Bosnian and some of my distant relatives died in Srebrencia, so I feel very agitated when we discuss this particular issue at home and abroad.

I repeat that the political will of the Government of Serbia is unequivocal in this regard. We have demonstrated that time and again through political gestures which carry a far greater political cost than any particular apprehension. Trust me, it was much more difficult to pass a resolution of an apology, which made us the first parliament in Europe to apologise for anything, than arrest the 45th individual and the 46th individual for war crimes. So far, 44 out of 46 have been found, arrested and handed over to the Hague. Among them were bigger fish than Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic. Having said that, please do not interpret this as me asking "why give us a hard time?". We understand there are two more people to be found and we will not cease until they are found and apprehended.

I refer to a careful reading of Brammertz's report. We speak with Brammertz and work very closely with him. He has visited Serbia often. We have discussed with him the wording in his report because there is very close co-operation and mutual trust. One will not read in that report that Serbia is not making the utmost effort. From time to time, Mr. Brammertz is invited to meetings of European Union Foreign Ministers at which he is asked questions. When asked if he thought the Serbian Government could do more, he did not answer in the affirmative.

The agencies of Serbia are working on this. We have made this work international. International partners of Serbia are part of this search. Two governments are active in this search - the United States and the United Kingdom Governments. They are being briefed directly by their people about the current efforts. Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Secretary Hague are being briefed by their services and have said publicly that the position of the US Government and the UK Government is that Serbia is doing its utmost in operational terms. I cannot discuss the operational terms with the committee because they are issues for the services, although I am sure they could be made available to the committee through its government's international, in particular European, relations with other governments.

I am not an expert. If one asks me how one conducts a search, I would not be able to answer that question because I am not an expert on this. I assure the committee that politically we have crossed the Rubicon in terms of full co-operation with the Hague tribunal. We already paid the political price of full co-operation. There is no additional price to be paid.

I will come to the issue of opinion polls. Co-operation with the Hague tribunal is not popular in Serbia. It is very difficult to explain that, in most cases relating to war crimes against Serbs, the indictees have been able to walk free, mostly due to the lack of evidence or the disappearance of witnesses. That has happened on many occasions. This is the reason large sections of members of the public in Serbia are not greatly enthusiastic when it comes to co-operation with the Hague tribunal. We in the Government of Serbia were explicit and clear during our elections campaign. We said that if we win, we would finish this because we believe it is an essential element of full reconciliation in the Balkans. We are committed to completing this. We are currently doing the absolute maximum we can. I hope that eventually this will lead to the apprehension of the last two out of the 46. We are not alone in this. International partners of ours are not working in an auxiliary way but are at the heart of these efforts. As I understand this is causing such deep interest and with good reason, I recommend that the members ask their Government to provide them with this information; it can be got from the Government of the United States and that of the United Kingdom. I am not in a position to discuss the operational details in a public session but in this public session I can assure the members of the full and absolute commitment of the Government of Serbia to doing this.

When it comes to co-operation with Bosnia and additional matters, the President of Serbia attended the 10th and the 15th anniversaries of Srebrenica and bowed to the victims. An act of apology was passed in the Parliament of Serbia. No parliament in Europe has ever done anything similar. It is difficult to pass measures through parliament, as members will be aware. No parliament in any country has ever done that. We have done that and we hope this demonstrates the fact that we are serious and honest about our hope to reconcile with our neighbours.

We have established also a trilateral forum of co-operation between Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey. Today Turkey is a very close partner and friend of Bosnia. It, in terms of its Bosnian population, is the most influential country in Bosnia. Turkey is Bosnia's principal partner and together with Turkey we have established this forum of co-operation. We, in terms of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the Presidents, are engaged in a trilateral forum of working together on a number of projects, starting with reconciliation, going all the way to the economy and trying to diffuse the acid of 20 years of war and mutual slaughter.

This bilateral co-operation we have in Serbia and Bosnia is not the only co-operation we have. Things are working very well with Croatia, Albania, Macedonia. The people in these countries have started to reflect on these matters and this has seeped into public opinion. A member asked how the act of apology was perceived in Bosnia. There was only one Bosnian political party that did not come across as being very positive towards it and that party was eradicated in the last elections. This is the party of Mr. Silajdzic, the former President of Bosnia, who also ran for re-election and lost. He came in third and his party was eradicated from the Parliament. All the other Bosnian parties have warmly embraced and welcomed the act of apology. Mr. Silajdzic's opposition and his dissatisfaction with our gesture was visible at the time because he was the President at the time but he is no longer in office as of a few months ago.

With all the presidential visits, fora and regional co-operation, the atmosphere in the region is such that if one were to visit the Balkans, one could breathe a different air. We stand a very good chance with the respective elected governments in the region to be given a push forward to sustain the positive momentum of recent months. There will always be extremist groups but these extremists have been voted down into minorities in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and elsewhere in the world. From time to time these extremists are vociferous, as extremists, by definition, are forceful. However, the majority of citizens of the Western Balkan countries feel that things are going in the right direction and that this should be rewarded by the next stage in our EU accession process.

That is not to say we should waive or forget about concrete conditions, namely, the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the European Union. We are taking this very seriously. Judicial reform is one of the serious reforms every country aspiring to be a member of the European Union needs to undertake. We have made big progress in recent years and, admittedly, this is one of the most difficult areas we have inherited from the previous governments. Our war against organised crime, which proved to be very successful in the past 12 months, shows that judicial reform is slowly but steadily moving in the right direction.

The issue of organised crime is a big issue for the Balkans. It cuts across borders, even across EU borders in the Balkans. Countries work closely with us to squeeze out this scourge. Serbia has made great advances. The largest seizure of drugs in history was made through the co-operative effort of the US, Serbia and Uruguay six months ago on a ship on its way from Latin America to Montenegro. Things are moving in the right direction. When it comes to organised crime, the most problematic territory, as I am sure members will have read about, is that of Kosovo where organised crime is truly rampant and networks of not only drugs traffickers but arms traffickers, human traffickers and human organ traffickers are in operation. We will need the full support of the international community to make sure that allegations of human organ trafficking are checked and thoroughly investigated. I do not know if some members are members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe but there will be Irish representatives at meeting of it on 25 January at which a report of Senator Dick Marty of Switzerland dealing with the human organ trafficking in the Balkans will be debated. That is possibly the most horrible accusation levelled against anyone during the 20 years of conflict in the former Yugoslavia. I ask the joint committee to support the opening of a thorough criminal investigation that would elicit the truth in this case.

We are struggling against organised crime in the Balkans, but the current situation - compared to that of only a few years ago - is a vast improvement. The war on crime, not just in Serbia but in other countries as well, has brought some significant results.

There was a question concerning the independence of Kosovo. We consider the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo as an act that violated Serbia's constitution. We do not recognise the self-declared independence of the territory. Two thirds of the world's countries have not recognised the independence of Kosovo. Our opinion is that there can be no unilateral solutions to historical problems. Unilateral solutions do not work when it comes to solving such problems. The parties must agree on a solution to make it sustainable. The government of Serbia has renounced the use of force. We have openly said we shall never use force in this case, but we will continue to use peaceful and diplomatic efforts to arrive at a mutually agreed compromise solution for the future status of Kosovo.

We cannot afford to accept the unilateral declaration of independence of a part of our territory. If a precedent is made in this regard, then tomorrow some other part of Serbia - or, for that matter, some other part of another country - can use the template of the unilateral declaration of independence and try to go their own way by resolving things unilaterally. Unilateralism cannot be good for the Balkans, but we are ready to be part of a peace process dialogue leading to a solution.

In today's Europe, one reaches solutions by means of consensus. For the sake of the Balkan's future in Europe, Serbia's position is that all outstanding issues need to be resolved by means of consensus. When it comes to the territorial integrity of Serbia - but also the territorial integrity of Bosnia, Macedonia, or any other country in the world - we believe unilateral declarations of independence, if allowed to work in one case, could bring about serious consequences for the stability of the entire region and maybe the wider world.

There was also a question on the arms trade, which is a big part of our total exports. We are the inheritors of an even bigger arms exporter, which was Yugoslavia. These exports are now a part of regional co-operation involving companies from the former Yugoslavia. Serbia is a responsible member of the international community that respects all UN and other international conventions on the arms trade. It is fully compliant with all UN resolutions, as well as European resolutions, concerning the arms trade.

We have a serious system that deals with end-user certificates and we are co-operating closely with our partners from the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic Community in particular when it comes to this business. It is a very delicate matter but, so far, no complaints have been brought to our attention. I am talking about the current government of Serbia over the past two years. We intend to stay the course.

In the past 20 years, there has rarely been a better or more fruitful set-up in the Balkans, in which there is inter-governmental understanding on how outstanding issues need to be dealt with. It would be a great mistake to try to freeze thestatus quo because that would have political consequences, especially for those who have emerged as champions of a European future for the region. Every single Balkan capital has a government in power that is seen in their respective countries as the most pro-European in the entire political spectrum. I am not only talking about Serbia, but also about every other Balkan state. If this most pro-European administration is not capable of delivering the process of European accession, then nobody else can. That is the public perception.

The Balkans region is a bit like a bicycle - one must keep pedalling to move forward. If one tries to stop, one may fall off and once one falls off the bike one can get into all kinds of trouble. A decisive push in 2011 can get us away from the gravitational pull of the past. That goes for Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and all of us in the region. It also concerns Croatia but that country has really advanced compared to everybody else.

We are committed to fulfilling all the conditions for a European future and European values. Members of the current government in Belgrade risked their lives to overthrow the former dictatorship of the 1990s. We have no other way to go but towards Europe. Pardon my subjectivity, but it would be a great mistake to bring Serbia's European process, and that of everybody else, to a halt.

If anyone is interested in concrete information on the search for Mladic, we can make it available, but I cannot do so in a public session. The US Secretary of State and the UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs have publicly announced they are convinced the Serbian government is doing everything in its power to apprehend Mladic.

I thank Mr. Vuk Jeremic for his contribution. We will now have some brief comments from Deputy Seán Barrett and Senator Mark Deerey.

I thank the Minister for that complete reply, including his assurances. I want him to understand from where we are coming. There is a chief prosecutor, whose name is Mr. Brammertz, and when he makes a statement we assume that he is imparting information to those of us who are not in a position to be on the ground and to examine the matters for ourselves. I quote something Mr. Jeremic has probably read. On 6 December at the UN Security Council, in addition to what I quoted earlier, Mr. Brammertz stated:

Overall, Serbia needs to adopt a more pro-active approach to arresting the fugitives. At the heart of this more pro-active approach should be a comprehensive strategy that integrates all relevant actors and covers all possible angles for exerting positive pressure towards the arrests. For example, in addition to the search activities, there must be a rigorous approach to dealing with individuals or networks that support the fugitives in their efforts to evade justice. The Serbian authorities must clearly signal that those who harbour the fugitives will be punished.

While, of course, I accept the word of the Minister, that is not what Mr. Brammertz is saying.

Then I read - I would ask Mr.Jeremic to comment on this - that a Belgrade trial of ten accused of helping Mladic was delayed indefinitely last month. This is a report that was circulated throughout Europe. I did not read this myself; it is a report. When one sees that a Belgrade trial of ten accused of helping Mladic was delayed indefinitely last month and then one reads what Mr. Brammertz has state, it confirms his fears.

For those of us who are on the outside - as I stated, I welcome and support Serbia's application to join the European Union - if Serbs were in receipt of the same injustices as the Bosnians were, I would be saying the exact same in support of the Serbs. I do not tolerate any sort of injustice when it comes to persons I regard as monsters dealing with human beings. I just do not tolerate it. I want to assure Mr. Jeremic that this is not one way traffic.

There are principles for me involved in the standards that should apply in the European Union. When the chief prosecutor states in this report to the UN that he is not satisfied that every effort is being made and signals that there are those who harbour those fugitives who are being sought, and then one reads that a Belgrade trial of ten accused of helping Mladic has been delayed indefinitely, what would the outsider think?

It is matters such as this that make it difficult for us to answer questions posed to us by persons who are pursuing justice. While I very much welcome Mr. Vuk Jeremic's visit and I welcome the open exchanges, it is important from Serbia's point of view that all of these questions can be answered. I understand that Mr. Jeremic cannot do the impossible but as long as there are persons in serious positions making statements like that, he must accept that we must take notice.

I could spend a great deal of time quoting other documents, but Mr. Jeremic has probably seen them all. I only pay attention to those I think are acting in a fair way, and not just being one-sided and presenting a case to pursue some other side. Basically, I am going on what the chief prosecutor is saying. That is from where I am getting my information. We, at this committee or at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, suspended any views we might have until Mr Brammertz submitted his report to the UN on 6 December. Now we have got it, we must pay attention to what he is saying.

All I am saying to the Minister, Mr. Jeremic, is that I fully support Serbia's application but I must say that this will be a road block. Until these questions are answered and we no longer read such reports, we will have to keep asking the questions because people are depending on us to ask them. We do not often get the opportunity of meeting face to face and when we do, I would like Mr. Vuk Jeremic to go back with the clear understanding that there is goodwill here, certainly speaking from my party's point of view, towards Serbia and its Government. I accept that Serbia is making considerable progress and I congratulate Mr. Vuk Jeremic on it. However, it would be a shame that this outstanding issue would be allowed in any way to block progress.

As I stated, it is not a matter that can be left hanging because of the fact that there is a timescale involved, that the UN has decided that this trial period will cease in 2014. As I stated previously, one must allow time for defence and for appeals, etc., and that time will have expired. That is the reason there is suspicion.

In the most disturbing statements I read, which I do not know are accurate, there seems to be concern about an unreformed Serbian security services. There are statements that various Milosevic era figures in the security service have stymied the hunt for Mladic. I do not know whether that is the case, but these are quotes coming from various networks throughout Europe.

All of this leads up to a sense that there are some, perhaps operating not in accordance with Mr. Vuk Jeremic but within the security forces, who do not seem to be too fused about finding these two gentlemen. That is the feeling that is coming across.

I have made my case. I understand Mr. Vuk Jeremic's position and I fully accept that he personally and his colleagues will do what they can. It is important that these sort of reports should not continue and the day that they stop will be the day everybody would welcome Serbia's entry into the European Union.

I find Mr. Jeremic's responses compelling and fascinating. It is always inspiring to hear the story of moderate politics in a post-conflict situation taking root and really establishing. We sometimes take centrism for granted. Especially in the good times in this country, it tended to be looked at as slightly dull. It is a precious position to hold and democracy is a precious flower that needs to be looked after by persons of Mr. Jeremic's outlook. I thank him for all of that.

I asked Mr. Jeremic's view of the 2014 deadline and whether it is a deadline that is causing the Serbian Government to look at those internal security services issues that Deputy Barrett raised. I can understand how the services may still hark back to a different era when, perhaps, they enjoyed more freedom. No doubt cultures within organisations take time to change. However, that deadline is approaching and it is pressing. Mr. Jeremic spoke of how 2011 will provide a window of opportunity for his country. I hope it does. However, the window, in terms of this tribunal's ability to do what it needs to do and to remove that road block, is also approaching. I reiterate that this deadline should focus minds, particularly those of the people who run the organisations which are responsible for reform. Those organisations appear to be part of the problem in this instance.

I thank Mr. Jeremic for the insight he provided with regard to public opinion on co-operation with the tribunal. The picture he painted has helped me to understand that there are difficulties for the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

I remind members that there is other business with which the committee must deal before the end of this, its first meeting of the new year. We understand the position in which the Republic of Serbia finds itself. The opinions expressed by members reflect their concerns regarding what can occur in a post-conflict situation, particularly in the context of the difficulties that can arise if matters are not dealt with in what is seen to be an open and forthright way. It is difficult to operate in such a way but it must be done. We are well aware of the need to proceed in the way I have outlined.

Mr. Vuk Jeremic

We are going to stay the course in respect of this matter. We are going to keep working and every six months we will receive a report from the special prosecutor. I reiterate that Serbia has opened this work to all its partners and all its international friends. Members are very welcome to come and talk with us on a more operational level. Osama bin Laden has not been found yet but I am sure no one doubts the best intentions of the United States in making the maximum effort in that regard. Some of the techniques employed by the US are also being used in our case. However, for various reasons I cannot really discuss the details. The first of those reasons is the fact that I am not really an expert on police and investigation work.

I again wish to assure members in respect of our determination, which is not related to deadlines. If we are not successful in pursuing our European path, there will be far greater problems in the Balkans by 2014 than that which relates to the issue of closing the tribunal in the Hague. For our sake and for the sake of stability in the region, I hope we are going to be able to continue to move ahead. The big picture has never been brighter for the Balkans.

There are actions to be taken and matters to be resolved. Closing co-operation with tribunal in the Hague is one of these. It is our duty to try to consider matters from a wider perspective. I do not believe we have had a better opportunity to resolve the outstanding issues from the 1990s than that which has arisen as a result of our taking the road we have chosen. It would be a great pity, as Deputy Barrett stated, if we were to wake up one day and be faced with a big roadblock. It would be extremely unfortunate if we were to encounter such a roadblock. I am deeply convinced that we are on the right road and that the right group of people are driving the car. I refer not only to Serbia in this regard but to all other countries in the region. If the representatives of those countries to which I refer were asked whether they believe that the other governments should be rewarded, they would invariably say "Yes".

If members ask me, as a representative of the Government of Serbia, whether I believe that Bosnia, Croatia, Albania or another of the countries in the region deserve to take the next step - we are at various stages in our process of reintegration - I would say "Yes". I am prepared to take a bet and state that if they were asked whether we deserve to take that step, each and every one would invariably say "Yes". We know each other and have found ways to work together at long last. I am of the view that we should be rewarded for that.

I thank the Minister, Mr. Jeremic, for coming before us. We hope that the exchange of views in which we have engaged have been mutually beneficial and will be of assistance in the course of the negotiations that will take place from this date forward. I also extend my thanks to the Minister's colleagues. The committee will now go into private session.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned at 4.55 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 January 2011.