Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ceisteanna (4)

Seán Barrett


4 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the EU is facilitating dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and if so, if he will report on the up to date position regarding these talks. [43401/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Ceist ar Minister for Foreign)

On 22 July the International Court of Justice, ICJ, delivered its advisory opinion on the unilateral declaration of independence in respect of Kosovo. The court's advisory ruling held, by a majority of ten to four, that the declaration of independence did not violate international law, Security Council Resolution 1244 or the Constitutional Framework for Provisional Self Government of Kosovo. However, the court did not rule on the legal consequences of the declaration or the existence of a right to secession as such, as the General Assembly, in seeking its opinion, did not ask it to deal with these issues. Serbia subsequently put forward a draft UN General Assembly resolution on the issue, the text of which would not have been acceptable to most EU members, including Ireland.

Despite differences within the EU on Kosovo's independence, agreement was reached on a common EU compromise UN resolution text. Ireland was prominent within the EU in arguing for a common position and in efforts to convince Serbia to support the draft resolution. Following discussions between President Tadic and High Representative Ashton, Serbia accepted the EU text. On 9 September, the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution co-sponsored by the EU27 and Serbia by consensus. The substantive paragraph in the resolution dealt with the EU's facilitation of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade to promote co-operation and achieve progress on their paths to the European Union. The successful outcome of the negotiations with Serbia on the text of the resolution represented a significant advance. Despite initial signals that Belgrade would stick to its own text, the Serbian Government ultimately demonstrated willingness to compromise on this issue, in spite of considerable domestic political opposition.

Preliminary confidential discussions have been taking place in Brussels on the parameters and format of the EU-facilitated dialogue. While both sides have expressed their commitment to the process, careful preparatory work needs to be undertaken given the sensitive nature of the issues involved. It is also possible that the unforeseen general election in Kosovo on 12 December may have some impact on the timing of the process.

The EU is continuing to work with the parties with a view to early commencement of the dialogue between both sides. Acceptance by both parties of the need to engage in a dialogue was significant. As we know from our own experience, a willingness to engage in dialogue is an essential first step to moving any such process forward. We will continue to support the EU-facilitated dialogue, which can be a catalyst for peace, security and stability in the region.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he happy that procedures are in place whereby the EU will be seen actively to pursue the course for a peaceful resolution? Has a timescale been set in light of Serbia's application to join the Union? What effects could this have on the future membership of Kosovo? Has an effort been made to speed up these discussions?

We are clearly at an early stage in the process and, therefore, a specific timeframe has not been set. The very fact that both parties have indicated a willingness to engage represents significant progress, which is positive. We must not lose sight of the fact that there is still tension, particularly in the predominantly Serb areas of northern Kosovo. Dialogue is extremely important to prevent that tension from escalating into conflict. Careful preparatory work has to be put into ensuring the dialogue is effective and leads to outcomes but, at this stage, we do not have specific timeframes for the conclusion of discussions.

The Deputy raised the issue of the EU membership perspectives. Our view, as a country, has been that we support in principle the membership perspective of all countries in the western Balkans as a significant contributor, ultimately, to stability in the region. Full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is a prerequisite for that and the achievement of the norms and values and other issues related to joining the EU will also be essential.

I was interested in the Minister's comment about opposition within Serbia. My concern is that if the process is allowed to be dragged out, the discussions and negotiations could slow down. It is vital that the EU plays an active role in pursuing both parties to conclude negotiations as quickly as possible.

I agree with the Deputy. It is important that the progressive forces in both countries are allowed to win the day and that the process is not allowed to drag on too long but we know from our own history that in situations such as this, where there have been significant difficulties and so on historically, the very fact that dialogue has commenced is a good sign. It is important that we, at EU level, do everything we can to create the environment to ensure these talks are productive.