The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1990Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference in Rome – 15 December 1990

The text of Mr Major’s press conference, held in Rome on 15th December 1990, following the European Council meeting.


Perhaps I might say a few words about the Council first and its conclusions before I seek to field any questions you have. I suspect that no-one is ever entirely content with the conclusions of a European Council, that I believe is probably in the nature of the Community. But I must say to you that I am very satisfied with the text that has emerged and I expect to have no difficulty in commending it to the House of Commons when I will make a statement on Tuesday. It might be helpful just to take you briefly through the main points.

If I can turn firstly to political union. We have on political union a text which does not in any way pre-empt or prejudge the proceedings of the inter-governmental conference. That of course was one of the main aims we had at this European Council. We have said from the beginning that it is perfectly legitimate to put everything on the table for discussion in the IGC, and that is precisely what has happened.

The list that has emerged includes our own proposals: closer cooperation on foreign and security policy; better implementation of Community decisions, a matter upon which we feel very strongly; a role for national Parliaments; and better financial accountability.

The key point about all this is that all these issues can be considered at the IGC. That is not of course to say that they will all be agreed. We have already made clear that a number of them would not be acceptable to the government or to Parliament, but I think it is both helpful and legitimate to discuss them. We are discussing them of course bearing in mind that the outcome of the inter-governmental conference is one that has to be determined by unanimity.

I think in that respect the situation is similar to one that was faced a few years ago at the start of the Single European Act. We started off then with a large number of propositions on the table and they were steadily whittled down to those which all Member States were able to accept.

In short, we have a menu for the ICC, our favourite dishes are on that menu, so are others’ favourite dishes, but the Community has not yet determined what orders to place.

Secondly, we have some very positive conclusions indeed on assistance to the Soviet Union and to Eastern Europe. The Community will make available substantial food aid to the Soviet Union but we emphasised, and there was much discussion of this, that the key to that is of course proper distribution of the food, we need to be sure that the aid will actually reach those for whom it is intended.

We are also very ready to provide technical assistance, which Britain is of course already doing under our own Know-How Fund. Similarly, for both Central and Eastern Europe, we are making clear that the Community is ready to provide further financial help to those countries which are making the transition to democracy and of course to a market economy as well.

Thirdly, we have given a very strong signal of the Community’s resolve to see a successful outcome to the GATT negotiations as soon as possible. As you know, this was one of our main objectives at this conference, it was not easy to achieve, but the Commission are clearly invited to make full use of the negotiating authority they already have, in other words in practice to show some flexibility, in order to reach a satisfactory agreement on agriculture and thus to the GATT negotiations as a whole. I hope in the light of this that the United States, too, will respond to this positive indication of the Community’s willingness to make progress.

Fourthly, we had a statement on the Gulf crisis. It is a good statement, it is one that shows that the European Community and all its Member States are as firmly committed as ever to full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions. Our declaration particularly refers to Security Council Resolution 678 which, as you will know, is the one that envisages the use of force if attempts to resolve the matter peacefully have not succeeded by 15 January. We do not accept any linkage between Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait and progress on other Middle Eastern issues. Saddam Hussein must not in any way gain from his aggression.

Fifthly, the Community has taken a very important step forward on South Africa. We recognise the huge changes that President de Klerk has brought about and say that the Community has agreed to lift immediately the investment ban imposed in 1986. Britain, as you know, has been urging this for many months.

There are other points which I welcome such as the reaffirmation of the importance of completing the Single Market by 1 January 1993, but I do not think it is necessary to go into all the details of these matters.

There was on this occasion, contrary I know to some expectations, there was no discussion on this occasion of economic and monetary union. That is for the IGC where we will continue to urge the advantages of our proposed hard Ecu as a true European currency and we will, I should add, be tabling Treaty language to give effect to this policy at an early date.

I would just add perhaps in conclusion that the atmosphere of this Council was extremely good, extremely positive and reflected a willingness on the part of all Member States to work for solutions which enable us to go forward together as Twelve. During the Council and in the various bilaterals I had both yesterday and this morning I was able to say something about Britain’s general approach to the Community. And that approach is that we have a very positive attitude and intend to be wholeheartedly engaged in the enterprise of building, shaping and developing Europe. I believe that is the intention of all our partners as well.

So all in all I think it was an extremely good Council and we are very pleased with the outcome.



QUESTION (Italian TV):

What reservation do you have as you prepare for the ICC on political and monetary union? And what do you mean when you say a liberal Europe?


On the latter point of a liberal Europe I think essentially we mean two things: a Europe that is open for trade, a free market Europe; and a tolerant Europe – that is what I mean by a liberal Europe.

On reservations as we go into the IGCs, we set out in some detail our policy on economic and monetary union and I do not think I need to reiterate that. So to the extent that there is a reservation about that, that reservation is met by the proposals that we ourselves have put forward which we think are a practical way of proceeding.

QUESTION (Alistair Campbell, Daily Mirror):

Has British Government policy in any way changed on any of the issues discussed since October?


I was a member of the Cabinet that formulated the policy before and the policy continues. The substance of the policy is the same, we have expressed that, we have discussed that with our colleagues and we have a very successful outcome to this European Council on the back of that.

QUESTION (John Palmer, Guardian):

Anyone reading the communique will see that the great weight of the references to the inter-governmental conference on political union reflect a clear majority view for greater powers for the Council, more majority decision-making, more powers for the European Parliament and a direct role in security and defence. Do you accept that the balance of opinion on these central issues has not shifted towards Britain’s view during the course of this Summit?


I think you need to be clear about what Britain’s view has always been. If you take for example the question of powers for the European Parliament, there are areas and there have been for a long time, financial accountability and matters of that sort, where we have always thought it proper for the European Parliament to play a greater role. Our reservation is upon greater legislative powers for the European Parliament and that remains. Upon the other issues, I think the situation is as it has traditionally been.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley, Times):

You expressed worries in advance about the implementation of policies that have already been agreed in Europe and you were looking for some kind of sanctions against those who do not obey the regulations already made. What has survived in the direction to the IGOs of Britain’s plans in that respect?


There is a clear statement in the conclusions, that we must actually look towards ensuring that implementation actually continues and continues apace. There is a very wide degree of performance quality, if I might put it in that way, in terms of implementation amongst different Member States. I think in that respect Britain’s record is extremely good, others, perhaps best not mentioned specifically, less good. I think the Council has made it clear today that they expect all Member States to implement that which they sign up to.


But is there to be any role for the European Court of Justice?


Yes, we are considering that, no firm conclusions are yet reached but we are certainly considering that and that policy will develop over the next few weeks.

QUESTION (Philip Stevens, FT):

Could you tell us whether the proposed draft Treaty changes for the EMU IGC will include an institutional framework for the hard Ecu to actually develop into a single currency, will those draft Treaty changes make it clear that you see the hard Ecu as possibly at least an intermediate rather than a final stage in a move towards EMU?


I think Philip you must wait until we actually table our provisions which will be not very far away.

QUESTION (David Usborne, Independent):

You said there was no change of substance. However, reading the sections not connected with the inter-governmental conferences directly and the conclusions makes me wonder when this morning you signed the Social Charter and when you intend to lift border controls at Dover, there are very striking commitments, in the draft that I have at least, to accelerating work on the action programme and social policy, which stems directly from the Charter, and in implementing provisions in the Single Act for a frontier-free Europe. What is the position on that?


All, those matters have to be considered individually. There is a menu there for consideration, nothing is determined, there is a menu there for consideration and various people have set out what they believe to be the right way to proceed. Our reservations about the Social Charter are well known and were reinforced this morning.


Prime Minister, we wondered what kept you this morning and whether there was a last-minute dispute over either the form of aid to the Soviet Union – the content of that aid – or secondly, the language attached to proposals for a common defence strategy, where there was a suggestion that some envisaged such a strategy, others simply wanted to discuss it. Could you elaborate on both?


There was no discussion of that latter point this morning at all.

The reason the discussions this morning took so long is that it is a fairly lengthy text and there are, of course, some sub-texts as well on South Africa and other foreign affairs matters. There was some discussion about the breakdown of the assistance to the Soviet Union but that was a matter of technical detail, not a matter of substance, as to whether the help should proceed.


Prime Minister, you say that the policy has not changed with regard to the Community’s development since October. Is it therefore still the case that Britain remains, as it were, firmly behind its Community partners in its ambitions for merging sovereignty and developing stronger Community institutions and is it also therefore the case that the British Government is still opposed to participating or allowing a single currency for the European Community?


We have set out the position on a single currency on innumerable occasions and we have set out the practical approach that we think we should pursue. I can return to this point again and run through it in detail, though I am not sure everybody would quite welcome that.

If the market-driven approach that we propose of actually developing a parallel or I suppose what you might call a “European currency” in the hard Ecu is successful, we have made it perfectly clear that it could evolve into a single currency. What is equally clear is that you actually need some practical experience before a really significant change of that sort is made and I do not think that is a view upon which we are alone in the Community at all. One only has to look at the practical proposals that have been put forward by the Spanish, for example, or the number of other Community members who are actually talking at this moment in rather vague terms – and they must elaborate on it not me – about hardening the Ecu, to see that our economic reservations are accepted by many people, agreed with by many people and they too are looking at a practical way forward. So I do not accept the fact that we are standing entirely on our own on that issue. I do not remotely believe that to be the case nor do I think that we stand as alone as is sometimes supposed on many of the other issues. The range of interplay of Community opinion is a good deal deeper and more flexible than many people imagine.


Prime Minister, you said that the GATT talks particularly had caused some difficulty. Could you tell us where that difficulty arose and whether you think that the agreement you have got takes us forward in any real practical way on GATT?


Yes, I think it takes us forward in a very real and very practical way. It is the clearest possible political signal that we could have given from the Community that we actually want and expect those GATT talks to succeed and think it is important internationally that they do and an indication that we do not regard the Commission as not having a negotiating position – they clearly have got a negotiating position. The political will to reach an agreement is there. The Commission will now go back, I trust, and negotiate with others in GATT and produce a conclusion that is satisfactory to us all.

There was a general recognition, I think, of the damage that could internationally be caused if there was not a successful outcome to the GATT Round. It was equally clear that it will not be necessary for all the concessions and changes to come from the Community others must move as well – so I think it was a very positive signal.


Prime Minister, in your Opening Statement, you referred to the need for unanimity at the end of these two IGCs. Does that mean you are prepared to use the British veto if there are unacceptable proposals on majority voting and common defence policy?


It is a straight statement of fact, George, and I think it is a statement of fact that would equally apply to every other member of the Community. That, of course, is what the veto is there for.


Prime Minister, the hard Ecu proposals, as I recall, involve the creation of a new European financial institution to be called the European Monetary Fund and whatever financial institution is to be set up is to be set up in 1994 according to the Conclusions of the last Rome summit. Will you be pressing for that EMF to be based in London?


I think in the first instance we will be pressing for it to be accepted as a logical and sensible way forward. If that were accepted, it would certainly be extremely agreeable to have it in London together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development but our first concern is to press what we believe is a logical, practical way forward on economic and monetary union. That is the main point.


Prime Minister, can you tell us a little bit about why you think the institutions of the community need to be changed for political union? Why can’t they just be left alone the way they are? What is the goal of this whole process for you?


I think in two words “efficiency” and “effectiveness”. The Community is evolving and changing. Its nature has changed; some of its institutions perhaps have not reflected that fully.


Could I just ask you three questions briefly?


One question!


Is there any specific decision in the Community on lifting of further sanctions coupled to specific steps by Government?


At the moment, the decision is to lift immediately the position on the investment ban in South Africa. There was widespread acknowledgement that a considerable amount has been done; the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of political parties, the discussions with the ANC, the abolition of the Separate Amenities Act, a whole series of things that are very positive moves forward in South Africa. More to be done, certainly, and we will look carefully at that.


Prime Minister, you said that the Government was planning to table Treaty language to give effect to your proposals on EMU in the very near future. Do you mean this afternoon or do you mean in Luxembourg next month?


I think it is unlikely to be this afternoon but I promise you that you will not have to wait very long for it. Certainly next month, probably early next month.


Could I just return to the social affairs point?

The draft text that we have – not in the part that deals with the IGCs, not in the menu part – says that the Community attaches the same importance to social affairs as it does to economic affairs. If that is still in, is that not rather a shift in thinking?


No, I do not think it is a shift in thinking and I think you will have to draw your own conclusions from that.

The position we have set out on the Social Charter, which was reinforced this morning, is that we think there are areas in that we simply do not agree with. Some of them, maybe we will take a different view. Overall, our position on that has not changed at all.


You will notice in the conclusions a point very close to our thinking about the aim being to create and develop employment. We believe that job creation is the main justification for the Social Action programme. We judge the different proposals coming before the Social Affairs Council on that basis.


In fact, I have now got in front of me the actual text and specifically added at our request, of course, was the phrase “the aim of creating and developing employment and the need to respect the different customs and traditions of member states in the social area”. Employment has always been the area of most concern to us there.


Was there any discussion on why some member states have not sent a larger number of troops and artillery to the Gulf?


No, Peter, there was not.


Would you confirm the definition of an “imposed single currency” which I believe your spokesman gave this week as “any single currency introduced by means other than market forces”?


A non-imposed single currency is one that evolves. I think you can draw your own conclusions from that.


Prime Minister, given the continued emphasis you put on the hard Ecu proposal, do you now accept that the former Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, was quite wrong in dismissing the possibilities of the hard Ecu as ever likely to be extensively used?


Actually, if I may say so, that is only a partial quotation of what she actually said.

There are two points to make about that question:

Firstly, Mrs Thatcher was very much involved in the creation of the hard Ecu policy way back in the summer and gave it her full support. The quotation she used certainly is partly what she said, but she also went on to say, rather disarmingly I thought at the time, “but I may well be wrong and others may take a different view” and I think the position is increasingly the case, not just in the United Kingdom but elsewhere, that this is a practical way forward and the Community does need a practical way forward and I hope and expect they will increasingly look at this particular proposition.


But she may well be wrong?


Who can tell?


Prime Minister, have any of your contacts – bilateral or in the Council – encouraged you in the belief that both these IGCs may take rather longer than had previously been anticipated, perhaps at least a year to complete their business?


No. That point has not been specifically discussed but I think there is a recognition that there is a huge agenda for both of these IGCs and it is necessary to reach a conclusion that is satisfactory to the whole of the community, but no-one has yet been in a position to determine whether that can be done in six months, nine months, a year or longer. That was not specifically addressed in any of the bilaterals that I had either yesterday or this morning.