The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Chancellor Kohl – 11 March 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with Chancellor Kohl, held in Bonn on Monday 11th March 1991.


Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen. We have just concluded the Anglo-German consultations with a plenary meeting. Before we address the individual subjects please allow me to make a general remark.

In the 100 days since Prime Minister Major has taken office an almost unusually friendly relationship and working relationship has developed between the two of us and I am very grateful for that because I think that particularly during these decisive weeks during the Gulf War this has been a very, very important thing for us and I can only say that the personal chemistry between the two of us works excellently and at the same time this is an expression of the very close and friendly relations between the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Of course in a number of issues we may be of different opinion, there are many things which we have to discuss if you just only think of the developments within the European Community, but that is a normal thing we think between friends and partners and it does not change anything as far as our, as I said, almost unusually friendly relations are concerned.

The last month has shown very clearly that there is no alternative at all to a politically strong Europe and to a very close alliance and partnership with our American friends. It is our wish as the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal Government that the United Kingdom be playing its important and central role in this work of the integration of Europe. The Prime Minister and the individual Ministers have addressed the far ranging issues.

I would like to mention as the first issue the Gulf conflict. I once again thanked the Prime Minister and his government for the involvement of British troops in the Gulf War together with France, the United States and 25 other nations on behalf of the community of nations, you have liberated Kuwait of a brutal occupation, you have fought for international rights and you have now made enormous sacrifices so that we Germans too many live in a peaceful world.

In the context of the Gulf conflict we addressed a number of issues. As regards the Middle East and its problems we have agreed that solutions for the conflict must come first of all from the region itself, that we must now create a durable and lasting order of peace and that included in this is the respect for the right of self-determination of the Palestinians and the right of existence of Israel within secure borders. We think that the United Nations has to take a central role here in this whole context and what is important too is that the constructive cooperation between the United Kingdom and the United States which has proved itself, and also the EC incidentally which proved itself, will continue.

We have talked also about the situation in central and Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe and also about the situation in the Soviet Union. As you know, the Prime Minister has just spent a few days in the Soviet Union, he sent an exhaustive report on these talks to me right after his meetings and we addressed the subject too here today. But we both agree that what is important now is to confirm the Soviet leadership in its reform course, what is necessary here is that they must not relent in their efforts. This is also in our interest. We talked about incidentally also the situation in Yugoslavia, about the situation which we are somewhat concerned, the difficulties there. I talked about the visit of the Polish Prime Minister here only recently.

Then we addressed a number of issues belonging to European policy, we talked about the inter-governmental conferences leading up to economic and monetary and political union. We know that we have quite a way to go there, we know that there are differences of opinion here, but the two of us have very clearly demonstrated that we have an interest in working together in order to remove final obstacles and to promote this idea, this work of integration. In this context I underlined the thrust of the Federal Republic of Germany, it is important that both conferences make progress in parallel and will both be concluded at the same time. After the individual Cabinet Ministers gave their report, we agreed that the consultations between the respective Ministers on both sides are to be intensified.

In one word we agree that on the road towards Europe the United Kingdom is a very important partner for us Germans and will remain so and that this partnership and this friendship will be something which will be taken care of very carefully by us.


Ladies and Gentlemen, Chancellor Kohl has given you a very full account of our talks today and I have only a few points that I would wish to add.

Firstly, perhaps I can thank you, Helmut, for you hospitality today and that of your colleagues. I know that all our colleagues believe the Summit has been a very successful and equally important I believe a very friendly occasion. It is particularly significant as the first Anglo-German Summit since the unification of Germany and perhaps I can repeat again how much Britain welcomed that historic event and how warmly we congratulate you, Helmut, and Hans Dietrich Genscher for your part in bringing that about.

You and I have had two meetings in the last few months and we have had the opportunity of very regular contact by telephone. We did keep in particularly close touch throughout the whole period of the Gulf conflict and perhaps I may repeat today Britain’s gratitude for the very generous financial contribution which Germany made to our very considerable costs in the Gulf operation.

In our discussions today we were able to look ahead to the next stage. We agreed on the importance of regional security arrangements and of progress in resolving the Arab/Israeli dispute. We very much welcomed President Bush’s recent speech and agreed to support his efforts.

We also discussed developments in the Soviet Union and my recent meeting with Mr Gorbachev. In that, too, we agree on the way ahead. We shall continue to encourage reform and support President Gorbachev for so long as he pursues reform. We also support the aspirations of the Baltic Republics, but we do believe that they can only be achieved through negotiation and we have both separately made that clear both to the Soviet authorities and also to the Baltic Republics themselves.

We had the opportunity today of talking about developments in the European Community and in particular the inter-governmental conferences on political union and economic and monetary union. Both our governments have now tabled treaty texts and we were able to confirm that there was some important common ground between them, for instance on the need for economic convergence before trying to move beyond the second stage of economic and monetary union. We agreed that our experts should get together to align our views on this even more closely.

We had a very good discussion on the important matter of co-operation on defence. We both want to see Europe have a common defence identity but we are equally clear that that must not be at the expense of NATO, NATO remains the cornerstone of defence and our closer European co-operation should take place within it, using the Western European Union as a bridge, and that is essential in our view to maintaining the United States’ commitment to Europe..

We discussed the situation in South Africa, welcoming the very great progress which has been made towards abolishing the last traces of apartheid, we both want to see early progress on lifting the remaining sanctions against South Africa. We also had the opportunity of touching on Turkey, Yugoslavia, Romania and some other particularly difficult areas in Eastern Europe.

In the Plenary Session we had reports from our Ministers on a variety of other points. I do not think it would be prudent to go through them all, nor indeed would we have time, but we did express particular satisfaction that the GATT negotiations are now under way once more in Geneva. Both our governments want to see these negotiations brought to a successful conclusion just as soon as possible.

Let me just add finally that I think the message that emerges from this Summit is the extent and the warmth of the coming together in relationships between Britain and Germany. In Britain we are very pleased with this and we recognise the very important part which you, Helmut, have played personally in it and we wish to see it continue. I am sure myself that Europe is stronger when Britain, France and Germany are working together and Britain is playing a full part at the very centre of the European Community. So I believe these have been most useful discussions, a good day for Germany, a good day for Britain and a good day for Europe.




Have the remarks of former Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher, been helpful in your talks today and what role did they play?


We were discussing my comments today on the relationship between our two countries and I think you have just heard what they were.


As regards the Economic Union, you said that there is a certain kind of rapprochement between the two countries, particularly as regards the conditions for creating a Central Bank of Europe in the second phase. Do you think that is at all possible and that there is an even greater rapprochement between Bonn and London than between Bonn and Paris in this matter?


I don’t think that the development will run along the lines you indicate in your question, that there is going to be a sort of rapprochement on one side but not the same kind of commitment on the other side. I think John has put this very succinctly here and I will say it in my own words.

It is very important for European development that France, the United Kingdom and Germany go together and make a common effort. Everyone knows that we have a lot of work, a lot of ground still to cover in Political Union as well as in Economic and Monetary Union but I would like you to consider the progress which we have already made since Rome.

We have now, in March 1991, agreed that by the end of 1992 we conclude our business; that means that we are halfway along the road and we are thinking about a lot of things; we are thinking about the possibilities of striking compromises but let me say I have no doubt at all in my mind that we will complete things successfully. My aim is that we do this together. I do not want anyone to have the feeling that he is left out in the cold or being pushed into a corner which is why I do think that this is going to be a concerted joint effort.


Prime Minister, only a few days ago you met with President Gorbachev. How grave is the danger do you think for Western Europe in the case of failure of the Soviet President?

The second question in this context is haven’t we, over the last weeks and months, forgotten a little bit in view of the Gulf War, the developments in Eastern Europe? Haven’t we neglected them?


I don’t believe we have neglected them. It is certainly true in terms of the public presentation that self-evidently what has been happening in the Gulf has been in the forefront of people’s minds but I don’t think the importance of what is happening in the Soviet Union has escaped from the mind either of the British Government or the German Government for a single moment – it clearly is very important.

In the meeting I had last week with Mr Gorbachev, he made no secret of hiding the difficult decisions that exist there for him and no-one can be entirely certain how they will develop. What was clear to me is that he is a very formidable man facing up to this problems and that he has faced up to a lot of problems in the last few years and come through them successfully and I believe the position that Britain would take would be exactly the same position that Germany would take: for so long as Mr Gorbachev continues to pursue reform he will both deserve and enjoy our support and for so long as he continues reform we would very much hope that he remains in his present position in the Soviet Union.


Prime Minister, both implicitly and explicitly, you have been underlining the different approach that you are taking to the previous Prime Minister, so how much did you take into account the sort of things that she was saying this weekend?


I am not sure that I make quite the distinction that you make. If you actually consider the position in terms of Britain’s involvement in the Community ten or eleven years ago when Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister, it was sharply less than that involvement in the Community that I inherited a few months ago. For example, a large part of the thrust for the Single Market was actually pursued by the British Government with Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister. So I think sometimes the distinctions that people draw are inaccurate and I would not view them as you express them.


Chancellor, do you think it all possible that joint units between the Federal Republic and the British Command can be instituted and that they can be operable outside of the NATO treaty area?


First of all, as regards the second part of your question, you know our constitution and the present situation there. Without a change in our constitution, which is under discussion now, a question leading in that direction is inconceivable.

As to the future development, nobody can make any predictions there but I could envisage that at a later date developments could be initiated which would prepare the ground for something like that. Why not after all?


Prime Minister, to what extent did you discuss with Chancellor Kohl the details of your hard Ecu plan and how much agreement was there between the two of you on that?


We did not discuss the details of that. As an ex-Finance Minister, I know that is best left to Finance Ministers and alas, as my Finance Minister is within days of a Budget he was not here today, so we are not discussing the particular details of the hard Ecu.

We did run across the broad thrust of Economic and Monetary Union in the way I described a few moments ago, but we did not enter into the underlying and very technical detail.

I indicated earlier the areas of agreement that actually exist between our texts. For example, if you take the substantive matters on Economic and Monetary Union, there is very considerable agreement about the emphasis on economic convergence before you move to the second stage – that is a vital agreement and it exists between ourselves and Germany. There is also agreement about the desirability for hardening the Ecu; we both have separate technical ways in which we think that can be brought about but that is implicit in both the British Treaty text and in the German treaty text.

I think those are two very substantial areas of agreement which were not there some time ago and which are essential if we are to see our way through to a satisfactory conclusion. I share the view expressed by the Chancellor – I believe it will be possible to do that.


Chancellor, do you agree with the Prime Minister in the assessment of European defence, that is to say in the fact that WEU is only under NATO auspices?


We have always maintained that NATO is indispensable and that even against the background of all that we are going to do for the foreseeable future we must find a system which allows us to completely include our American friends with whom we have entered into an alliance. I have never maintained or understood quite frankly the position as an “either/or” – on the one hand the Federal Republic of Germany and its relationship with the United States and on the other hand the Federal Republic of Germany and its relationship with our European friends – and that goes both for the British and the French. It is not an “either/or” situation; it is always a situation of both involved being here and I can’t quite understand this discussion because during the CSCE Summit meeting in Paris, we quite agreed as to how we saw the future common European house where both Canadians and Americans have a very firm place indeed, a very firm foothold.


Could I ask the Prime Minister another question about Mrs Thatcher’s recent statements? You keep saying there aren’t any differences with Mrs Thatcher and she keeps banging on about Germany dominating the rest of Europe and you don’t seem to be doing that. Therefore, can I ask you straightforwardly do you think Germany is about to dominate the rest of Europe, yes or no?


You may ask your question as you wish to ask it; I will exercise the freedom to answer it as I wish to answer it!

I think there is a development in Europe; the development in Europe affects both Germany and the United Kingdom and I think it is important that we develop together and both play an important part in the centre of the Community. I have made that clear on a number of occasions and all being well, I hope to make it clear again in a speech in half an hour’s time.


John, I would be very disappointed if Mr. Marsh had not asked a question as to Mrs Thatcher’s view on all this and when you come back again he is going to ask again and this is something for which we highly estimate him!

QUESTION (John Sergeant, BBC):

Could I ask the Chancellor, are you disappointed that the British Government have not accepted the aim of a single currency in Europe?


I do not have the impression that the British Government is at all disappointed; the British Prime Minister said earlier on that we both work along those lines which allow us to attain this objective and one cannot expect that during these few hours which we have that all problems can be solved. Thank God, we have time now and we will use it to come to a reasonable result.

QUESTION (Nick Gowing, Channel 4 News):

Prime Minister, you have said that Europe will be stronger with Germany and France together with Britain at the heart of Europe. I am wondering how far you believe that message is now getting through to the rest of Europe, that you feel that your partners now believe that Britain is at the heart of Europe?


Nick, it is a good question but I think the people to answer that question are the rest of Europe and not me. I hope they accept that that is the case. We have been members off the European Community for a long time. Because we are at the heart of the Community and in my view must stay so, does not necessarily mean we will agree with everything that all our colleagues may say and do and equally, they will exercise the same freedom to disagree with us, but the Community will be infinitely stronger, I think, with Britain, France and Germany all clearly in the centre of it working for the future of the Community and I believe that is the way ahead for us.


John, may I add something if you allow? If the relationship between Bonn and Paris is not on a good footing then people tell us: “You have not done your homework!”. If the relationship is a good one, they accuse us of being too close and forming a sort of axis. If the relationship with London is not a good one, they ask us: “Why are you not doing more in order to improve them?”, if the relationship is a very good one, they accuse us of wanting to dominate others.

We do not want to dominate anyone, not at all. We know that Europe can only come about if we all show respect for one another. This is not a question of quantity – I am speaking here about the size of the countries – but a question of quality of the input into Europe and that is a very important principle, but isn’t it a good thing if you can write in your newspapers: “They get along fine!”? I think that is a good piece of news, isn’t it?


Bad news for them. [Laughter].

QUESTION (Reuters):

A question to both Foreign Ministers. The French Foreign Minister, Roland Dumas, has said one should convene a special Summit for the European Community in order to think about the consequences of the Gulf War and the possibilities of how to bring about peace in the aftermath of that war? Would you agree to that, both Foreign Ministers?


First of all, I would like to underline that the British Prime Minister has said. We and France as well support the views held and expressed by President George Bush in his recent speech and we also support the endeavours of Secretary Baker. I think that we can state today that over the past few hours Europe and the United States have never held as similar views as regards the settlement of problems in the Near and the Middle East as now. There is a great convergence here and I think that the European powers should now try to draw a record of the developments over the past few months and we will certainly be ready to participate in such a Summit meeting when it has been convened.


When are you going to recognise the Baltic Republics as sovereign states and under what conditions?


I think I answered that in my statement earlier. I certainly said as much as I am going to.


The same goes for me!