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 Speech at the Inauguration of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – 15 April 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Inauguration of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, made in London on Monday 15th April 1991.


Madam Chairman, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Distinguished Colleagues. I am delighted as I look round this particular auditorium to see the tremendous interest there is in the establishment of the new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

I hope among this particular audience that I will be forgiven for saying that banks are not inevitably a cause for celebration, having myself worked in one for a period of nearly 20 years I believe I am in a better position to say that than many. But I believe here today we will agree that today is different because today we are celebrating the birth of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It is I believe a unique institution and a unique development and for that reason this is a special occasion, special because it symbolises a new beginning for the countries of Europe, special because it stands as a monument to European cooperation and special because it underlines the central role that Britain intends to play within Europe.

It was at the Paris Economic Summit in July 1989 when President Mitterrand was host that the European Commission was given responsibility for coordinating Western aid to Eastern Europe. Four months later Paris was again the setting for a meeting of Community Heads of State and Government and it was then, once again with President Mitterrand playing a crucial role, that it was decided we should set up a bank dedicated to helping Eastern Europe. And now, only 18 months later, we celebrate the opening of that bank. That is I believe a remarkable achievement and I know that I speak for everyone present in paying tribute to all the people, and perhaps especially Jacques Attali, who played such a part in turning this idea into reality.

It is of course a particular pleasure to me that London was chosen as the new European Bank’s home, I believe it is a natural fit. I may perhaps be prejudiced but I believe London is and is certainly determined to remain Europe’s greatest financial centre. With our bankers, our stockbrokers, our accountants, our lawyers, we believe we are uniquely well equipped to offer the expertise that Eastern Europe will need as it puts in place its own financial and industrial infrastructure. In Britain’s drive for privatisation, for example, London has built up a wealth of experience on which to draw. It has for a long time been the financial crossroads between East and West and I am delighted that it will now be where Eastern and Western Europe meet at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

All of Europe is represented here today but of course the European Bank stands for something even bigger and broader. The United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, Egypt and Morocco have all been closely involved. So it is goodwill on a worldwide scale that the European Bank has brought together and turned into something practical and lasting.

Last year the rest of the world watched in admiration as democracy swept through Eastern Europe in the first free elections there in 40 years. Even though many of us were on the sidelines, it was an exciting and a very moving time. But even in the euphoria, we all recognised that political reform alone would not be enough, it was true that without it there would be no economic reform but without economic reform there could be no lasting prosperity. No-one knows that better than the new governments of Eastern Europe, in a way that has increased our admiration for them day after day they have bravely turned their back on the failed nostrums of the command economy.

We should not pretend for one moment that moving to a free market economy will be easy or painless, it certainly will not, but what we in the West can do is to help make that transition a little easier and a little less painful. The European Bank is unique in having an explicit political aim – to bolster democracy in Eastern Europe. Its membership must be closely involved in the conduct of the bank’s business, the bank needs a strong and an active Board to match the professional staff Jacques Attali is already gathering around him and Britain will certainly be maintaining a close and a very supportive interest.

The European Bank will be focusing on the private sector, it will foster new businesses, it will encourage competition and promote better business practices, it will in short be helping those sectors in Eastern Europe which have been the backbone of success in Western Europe for the last 20 years.

The private sector in the East is still small and still weak, it may find the bracing air of competition difficult to breath at first, it needs time to grow strong, it will require special care as well as resources. This the bank will provide, not for all time, but now in the early stages when special help is most needed.

We in the West are doing what we can to help, in Britain for example through the Know-How Fund, we can train talent, we can lend money, but we cannot instill the will to reform, that has to come from the countries of Eastern Europe themselves. Ten years ago that would have sounded like a very tall order. Ten years ago most people did not believe that Eastern Europe would find the political will or the political leaders to attempt political reform. Today in this hail we can see that such pessimism was utterly misplaced.

For over 40 years individual enterprise and initiatives were stifled in the countries of Eastern Europe. For those of you here today that is thankfully no longer the case. In helping to put that unleashed energy to work I believe the European Bank can play an important part. And I repeat, I am particularly delighted that this latest chapter of European cooperation is being opened here in London, it underlines our commitment to being at the very heart of developments in Europe. I believe that the European Bank will help us to bind Eastern and Western Europe more closely together and I have no doubt that it has a flourishing future ahead of it. As we all know here today, the new bank carries with it many hopes, many hopes because of what it represents and what it is. I am delighted today, on behalf of the United Kingdom, to wish it well.