My Lords, I am interested in the Balkans and some years ago I used to handle the insurance account of Yugotours, a state-owned travel company which specialised in arranging holidays to Yugoslavia. During the existence of Yugoslavia I visited Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia. Since the independence of Kosovo, I have known the Kosovan ambassador and met him on several occasions. In fact, I saw him last night at a meeting I hosted in the House of Lords. I know the Imam of the Kosovan community mosque in Maida Vale and I have visited the mosque on several occasions and performed its inauguration. I have arranged for Friday prayers to be said in the House and the Imam has led these prayers several times. I have also met various members of the Kosovan diaspora. A high-powered delegation from the country recently came to see me in the House. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum and one of my executive committee members is in fact a gentleman from Kosovo.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, His Excellency Mr Hashim Thaci, has stated that he has worked towards three aims: freedom, independence and European integration. These aims are shared by all Kosovans, regardless of ethnicity or political background. In 1999, our Government played a crucial role in bringing about NATO intervention which saved Kosovo, and Britain was among the first countries to recognise Kosovo on 18February 2008, a day after it declared its nationhood.
I feel that our Government should lobby with other countries, within Europe and globally, for Kosovo’s inclusion within the international system. Furthermore, we should support Kosovo’s and Serbia’s EU integration prospects, as their entry will help to maintain peace and stability in south-eastern Europe.
I also believe that membership of the EU for both countries should be considered simultaneously. We should support the Kosovo Government’s action in extending the rule of law throughout the territory of Kosovo. I understand that a range of agreements have been reached between Kosovo and Serbia that will pave the way for the normalisation of trade between the two countries. In fact our ambassador, along with other European ambassadors, has met the Prime Minister of Kosovo today to discuss the implementation of the new customs regime.
We should look at the possibility of doing more business in Kosovo. The IPU is arranging a parliamentary delegation to visit Kosovo in October. There are opportunities for investment in Kosovo and the country has a lot to offer potential investors. Although small in size, it has abundant natural resources. Kosovo has large reserves of lignite, lead, zinc, nickel, chrome and bauxite. The ongoing privatisation process presents an excellent investment opportunity in the mining sector. Another sector that presents opportunity for investment is agriculture. Kosovo has large areas of fertile land, and investment in this field will be worth while and bear fruit.
Another great asset of Kosovo is its people. It must be emphasised that Kosovo has a young and educated population with a high literacy rate in foreign languages, and there is an excellent workforce to be employed. Notwithstanding the financial difficulties that a number of countries have suffered, Kosovo has experienced between 4 per cent and 6 per cent GDP growth in recent years, which I hope will continue in future.
In my dealings with the people of Kosovo I have found them to be hospitable and kind, and they have a will to succeed. I hope that the links we have built with Kosovo are strengthened and our friendship with the country and its people will continue to develop.