Dáil Éireann - Volume 657 - 18 June, 2008
Written Answers. - Foreign Conflicts.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Deputy Bernard J. Durkan
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he and his EU colleagues have addressed the issues in the western Balkans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23939/08]
Deputy Micheál Martin Deputy Micheál Martin
Deputy Micheál Martin: The December 2007 European Council reaffirmed that the future of the Western Balkans lies within the European Union and the countries of the region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) continue to feature on the agenda of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. On 18 February last, EU Foreign Ministers recalled the Union’s longstanding commitment to strengthening stability in the region. Foreign Ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to support fully the European perspective for the Western Balkans and asked the Commission to use community instruments to promote economic and political developments in the region.
The European Union’s Stabilisation and Association Process for South-East Europe aims to bring the countries of the region closer to EU standards and principles. The Process involves the negotiation of Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs) with each of the countries which focus mainly on trade liberalisation in goods and other trade-related issues, political dialogue, legal approximation, and cooperation in sectors such as industry, environment and energy.
SAAs have been signed with Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. The SAA with Serbia was signed on 29 April 2008. An Interim Agreement  dealing with economic and trade matters was signed at the same time. The Council welcomed the signature of the SAA and the Interim Agreement as an important step on Serbia’s path towards the EU. The Council decided that the ratification process of the SAA by Member States and implementation of the Interim Agreement will begin as soon as the Council decides unanimously that Serbia is cooperating fully with the ICTY. In this context, the arrest in Belgrade on 11 June of Stojan [Zcaron ]upljanin, one of the four remaining war crime fugitives, charged with crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, marks a welcome and significant step towards fulfilling the condition of full cooperation with ICTY. The Presidency hopes that the authorities of the Republic of Serbia will strengthen their efforts to that end, also in order for Serbia to be able to advance further on its path of approach to the EU.
Negotiations on an SAA with Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded late last year. Signature of the agreement was linked to key reform priorities being advanced. In the light of progress made by Bosnia and Herzegovina in its reform programme, the SAA was signed in Luxembourg on 16 June 2008.
In addition to the Stabilisation and Association Process, the European Union opened negotiations on accession with Croatia in 2005. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has obtained candidate status, although its negotiations on accession have not yet commenced.
Recent developments in the Western Balkans have largely focused on Kosovo and the decision of the Kosovo Assembly to declare independence on 17 February 2008. At the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 February, EU Foreign Ministers agreed a common response to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, noting the uniqueness of Kosovo’s situation, arising from the conflict of the 1990s and the eight years of UN administration which followed, and reaffirming the EU’s willingness to play a leading role in strengthening stability in the region including by means of the planned ESDP rule of law mission, EULEX KOSOVO. The Council also agreed that Member States will decide, in accordance with national practice and international law, on their relations with Kosovo. Since then, 20 EU Member States, including Ireland, have recognised Kosovo’s independence.
With the coming into force of the new Kosovo constitution on 15 June, the focus for the EU is to ensure a smooth transition from the current UN mission (UNMIK) to the EU’s EULEX KOSOVO mission, and to ensure that the international presence can operate effectively throughout Kosovo, including Serb majority areas in the North. In this context, we welcome the decision of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to proceed with reconfiguration of the UNMIK mission. The EU will work closely with the UN to help ensure that the planned reconfiguration takes place in a way which allows for the progressive deployment throughout Kosovo of an autonomous EULEX mission.
Dáil Éireann 657 Written Answers. Foreign Conflicts.