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 President Mitterrand – 24 June 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Mitterrand, held in Dunkirk on Monday 24th June 1991.


Ladies and Gentlemen. We are very happy to welcome Mr Major and several of his Ministers today here in Dunkirk, it is in the framework of the regular talks that we have between our two countries. Mr Major and myself have had a conversation and then Edith Cresson, the French Prime Minister, joined us and at the same time the Ministers had started meeting in the middle of the morning in order to work out the conclusions which they then put to us later.

The talks revolved around Europe of course, the preparation for the Luxembourg European Summit which as you know will be beginning next Friday. There were a certain number of agreements, we are understood for example on the need to terminate the intergovernmental conference by the end of 1991 at Maastricht in the Netherlands, but considering that the Luxembourg text on political union I should say as the basis of our work. We also talked about defence and the structure of the future treaty on economic and monetary union with the transition from one stage to another.

There were other questions which we also talked about, in particular the WEU, GATT and the Schengen agreements. And then moving further away from Europe we discussed several international matters, still in connection with WEU, the preparation of the forthcoming meeting of Foreign and Defence Ministers on 27 June and then for Iraq we noted considerable convergence of views on the vigilance that had to be deployed in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan, so as not to have the past beginning again, guarantees have to be given to the Kurdish populations. On the one hand the [indistinct] if necessary the means for such vigilance to be set up. There are certain questions which have been put to the Iraqi government and replies to those questions will to a large extent determine the steps that have to be taken. We also talked about the Atlantic Alliance and the preparation of the forthcoming Summit on 15 July and bilateral cooperation in defence matters.

But I will leave it to Mr Major to pursue this presentation and I would like to say to him once again that for we the French it is always fairly pleasant and certainly extremely useful to be able to take into greater depth our conversations because our two countries to such an enormous degree are associates in the broader areas of political affairs for Europe and for international affairs generally. So I wish to thank you, Prime Minister.


Mr President, thank you very much indeed and thank you for those opening remarks.

President Mitterrand has set out in the last few moments the breadth of our discussions this morning and I have very little really to add to that. It has been a very useful and I think a very timely meeting with the European Council immediately ahead of us, the World Economic Summit in July and with our joint intention to reach agreement on the two inter-governmental conferences by Maastricht at the end of this year.

So I am most grateful today both to President Mitterrand and to the Mayor of Dunkirk, Minister of State Delobar [phon] for their hospitality and for the warmth of their welcome here today. This is of course a town with very historic connections for both of us. It was also a very pleasant opportunity this morning to meet for the first time Madame Cresson. the new French Prime Minister, I very much enjoyed that and I know my colleagues have had very useful discussions with their opposite numbers over the last few hours.

The relationship that the United Kingdom has with France is very important to us, it is one of constant meetings, constant exchanges, it is a fluid, long-standing and vitally important relationship both within the European Community, within NATO and bilaterally, it is one we treasure very much indeed. And although this is the first formal Summit for a year, the President and I have met on a number of occasions over the last 6 months and there is frequent contact and frequent meetings between Number 10 and the Elysee, I know that will continue and I welcome that very much indeed.

It is vital I believe to both our countries to reach agreement on European defence. We need to reconcile the desire to spell out long term concepts and concerns with the need to be certain what they mean in practice in the near term and we have instructed our officials to work on this problem with the intention of taking an agreed position at the Council at Maastricht.

On Friday and Saturday of this week we should in Luxembourg take stock and give guidance for the future work of the two vitally important inter-governmental conferences. Very considerable progress has been made under the Luxembourg Presidency and I am very happy to congratulate them on the work that they have done. The President and I have agreed this morning that we can build on that progress to reach decisions at the European Council at Maastricht in December. What we cannot do at Luxembourg this week is to take partial decisions half-way through a negotiation on subjects which can only be judged as a whole at the end of the negotiating process.

We touched on a wide range of matters in our discussions. On economic and monetary union, for example, it was agreed that strengthening the Ecu was a very important part of Stage 2 and that monetary policy should remain in national hands during that period. There are many matters still to be discussed both at the European Council and in ECOFIN before we are able to finalise decisions on economic and monetary union towards the end of this year.

We discussed also a number of the important matters that are dealt with in the political union treaty and found there were areas of clear agreement and other areas where there was still more work to be done. But I hope and believe again that it will be possible [indistinct].

We touched very briefly on the prospect of welcoming President Gorbachev to London next month at the end of the Economic Summit, I think that will be a useful meeting, I believe it will be an opportunity to hear from President Gorbachev of his commitment to democratic institutions in the Soviet Union and for the development of a genuine market economy. Those are discussions both the President and I look forward to.

And finally on bilateral issues we are intensifying our discussions on possible areas of cooperation in the defence field. Britain and France played a very notable part in the liberation of Kuwait and in the establishment of safe havens in Iraq. We believe that there is room to enhance that cooperation as we develop a stronger European defence identity.

So in summary we have had some very worthwhile and very wide ranging discussions over the last few hours, I have found them most useful and I look forward to continuing those contacts in the future.


Thank you very much, Prime Minister. I could add to what you have said, the intensity of our relationship will be given additional confirmation fairly soon because we will be meeting on 29 July in Calais to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the treaty signed at the time on the Channel Tunnel.


[NB: Microphone difficulties made audibility difficult]


Mr President, would we be talking more about a common currency or a single currency?


[Indistinct] that is of course the whole question of substance, as you know, single currency/common currency. What was said among ourselves is that the process that has started, and we agreed on the timetable for the three stages, the point is that this programme should make it possible for us to go towards a single currency with it being understood that for France this is a [indistinct] and to negotiate with our partners for the setting up of a single currency; whereas for the UK it could be a consequence if everything that will happen before that time, before the date chosen by the Community has in fact developed to lead harmoniously to the possibility of having a single currency. In other words, the theoretical and a priori view points are different, the method that would make it possible for a rapprochement to take place and really Mr Major quite recently has taken certain initiatives on the hard-Ecu which after all had made it possible for the situation to get unblocked. But I think it would probably be better for the Prime Minister to say himself what his position is on this.


Thank you very much. You do touch on the very heart of the problems that remain to be decided and there is a great deal to be concluded before we can reach proper decisions about this. One of the matters of course that is of most importance is a proper assessment of what the economic results of proceeding either via a common currency or via a prescriptive approach to a single currency might be. Such a detailed economic analysis has not yet been concluded and one does not quite know what the outcome of that would be. But I have expressed my concern in the past about a prescriptive move forward suddenly to a single currency without the right degree of preparation and the right degree of economic convergence. And the United Kingdom would find it very difficult to agree to the objective until it actually knew what the effect of the objective would be and we cannot of course know what the effect of the objective will be until we see to what extent and in what fashion and at what pace the economies do converge. And that is one of the matters that must remain under discussion between now and the remainder of the year.

The proposal that the United Kingdom put forward when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer was a proposal to create a parallel or common currency in the term that you used but would enable countries to utilise that common currency whilst withdrawing their own domestic currency at the same time to ensure there was no growth in money supply and hence increased inflationary prospects in Europe. That is a matter we shall still want to discuss with our colleagues. If the hard-Ecu proposal were successful, if countries wanted it, if companies wanted it, if individuals wanted it, then it is self-evident that that would develop into a single currency and it was with that proposition and with that understanding that we actually launched this proposal in the summer of last year. So these are .matters under discussion and the prospect is that we will discuss these and the economic effect of those routes in the period between now and December.




The question, which you may or may not have heard, was should the word “federal” go, be removed from the Treaty, but that problem has not really been settled. Some people would like to move towards a federal structure, others no and the discussion is an open one so one cannot prejudge that particular question.


[Inaudible but question repeated by interpreter]

The question is whether the French would be prepared to support the British in Luxembourg and try to defer or evacuate that problem of a federal goal.


The French are in favour of an orientation of that kind if you like but we had not planned to spend the little time at our disposal to try and persuade our British friends to share our views on that. We may perhaps try in Luxembourg or during the course of the year – that will be for later.


Our views on the word “federal” have been clear for some time. There are some differing views within the European Community as to what the word “federal” actually means. It certainly means different things to different nations in the European Community and that does give rise to a considerable amount of confusion but as expressed and understood in the United Kingdom of “federal” being a centralisation, it is not an attractive proposition to the United Kingdom and the formulation we prefer is the formulation of course that appeared in the original Treaty of Rome of ever closer union of the peoples of Europe. That is a prospect that operates bilaterally and operates also through the Community that is a more acceptable premise but the idea of federal union is not an attractive concept for the United Kingdom and we have made that clear repeatedly.


While accepting that the word “federal” can mean different things in different countries, why has it become such a sticking point for the United Kingdom?


There must, at the conclusion of these Inter-Governmental Conferences, in the Treaty be no doubt about the destinations to which we are heading in that regard so if there is doubt about what “federal union” may mean and it may be interpreted as leading to a great level of centralisation beyond that that we would find tolerable in the United Kingdom or that I believe many of our partners would find tolerable in the Community, then we ought not to leave such a phrase so capable of misinterpretation in the Treaties.

At this stage, we have a draft Treaty in front of us, the details of that have not yet been discussed. There will be many changes, I have no doubt, of all sorts in the Treaty texts that are before us in Luxembourg and some of those changes may be flagged up in discussions at Luxembourg this week-end, others will not, but I think the time to be concerned about the detail of what is in the Treaty is as we come close to Maastricht and of course, at Maastricht and at the conclusion of it.


The discussion has only just started; one cannot consider it is closed. The two IGCs have fixed the end of 1991 in order to conclude and we have not got there yet so we cannot prejudge the decision that will be taken.


Do you think, Mr. President, that the discussion of the long-term goals of Europe is a purely British discussion? Do you think that on the French side the French have really accepted the idea of a European federation and that, in a way, we should talk about this?


No, I confirm what has already been said: the debate has not yet taken place; it just has not started yet so we cannot say what the outcome will be.

In France, I myself mentioned that as a hypothesis, a possibility, but it is only one hypothesis.


Prime Minister, do you now have French and German support at the Summit for a Monetary Union Treaty which, if necessary, allows Britain to opt-in at a time of its choosing?


These are discussions that we are going to have in ECOFIN and at the European Council over the months ahead. We have discussed many of the details, many of the practical aspects of what needs to be discussed but until we have reached the conclusion of those discussions, we cannot determine what the outcome will be so it is not a question of making agreements and deals way in advance.

We have set out the reservations which we have; we have discussed the details and the way ahead with our partners in France and in Germany and indeed in a number of the other European countries and we will advance those discussions over the months ahead.

I think we have made the position as clear as we possibly can about the reservations that we have. I have, for example, made it clear on a number of occasions that progress towards economic and monetary union, which was mentioned originally in the Treaty of Rome and also in the Single European Act, is not just a question of dates though I understand the desire to set dates as a time-table but it is also utterly dependent upon the key questions of economic convergence which in the view of the British are more important than simply the dates; that one needs to see whether the economic situation makes it a justifiable proposition to contemplate moving from a dozen currencies in Europe to one.

Those are all details and technical matters many of which are only in their infancy in terms of discussion, so it is impossible yet to reach final conclusions as to what the outcome will be.


We have come back several times to this kind of discussion and after all, it is very pleasant for me to see several members of the press who seem to be in a great hurry for the whole thing to be done with and in a way they sort of share my own feelings on this but certain deadlines have been fixed, certain times, a time-table has been fixed, a time-table which takes us in fact several years ahead. These are things that are very important, serious matters and difficult matters to be given time since they in fact will affect the future of the twelve countries of the Community and perhaps others too so it is something that has to be carefully thought out.

Our positions on the French side are well known. We tend to want more, if you like, than the common structure that is under discussion and the discussion should be over its first period before the end of 1991. We ourselves have our preferences obviously and our preferences would be for a stronger structure of the federal type for example but it would be very premature to put that point of the problem to partners who have not even finished talking about Political Union and Economic Monetary Union, so I think there is a time for all things.


My question is nothing to do with the Franco-British discussion. A Moroccan Member of the Opposition has just been expelled from France. Is that a question of “reasons of state” so to speak or are there genuine reasons which explain and justify the fact that Mr. Duni [phon] has been expelled from France? Why was this done?


Mr. Duri for many years enjoyed the status from 1974 of a political refugee and this was under my predecessor – seven years under my predecessor, more than 10 years under me – but as long as he was content with respecting the obligations of a political refugee because there are certain obligations on both sides – it is a contract, if you like, a contract between the country of asylum and the refugee – and the political refugee has to show certain constraints and that is what happens.

In France, there are political refugees of all nationalities. My definition of a political refugee is someone who is rejected by the government of his country and who rejects such government and so obviously is a spokesman of a certain vigorous form of action against the political system of his own country.

But France, acting as host as it were, cannot accept to move into serious difficulties with each of the countries from which we have political refugees so there are certain duties concerning constraint shown by a political refugee and this is a legal obligation; this is mandatory for any political refugee asking for right of asylum in France.

This kind of problem arises very often and I repeat that it is rather understandable surely. A political refugee is usually someone who wishes to pursue in a different form the [indistinct] that he is engaged in but France also has her own obligations.

So for 17 years there was no real problem except that for several months now – and also this is nothing to do incidentally with the hypothesis that some people have thought up about the recent incidents – but for several months Mr. Duni had been warned that on several occasions and in several areas he was in fact violating the rules and his obligations. This does happen periodically but not very often in France because one is fairly indulgent but the time did come where he had gone beyond the limits and there were too many violations of all kinds and therefore it was decided to expel him.

What do you want me to add to that? For the rest, under our French law, freedoms etc. are fully respected. One can express oneself in France, any French citizen who says something in writing or in speech and is subjected to no censorship as you know well, particularly with regard to Morocco because that is the country we are talking about. A foreigner can publish what he wants to publish but one cannot accept the repeated violations – I would almost say continuous violations – of the rules governing political refugees because after all, diplomatic relations between France and the countries concerned depend on all this.

From time to time I have problems of this kind with a certain number of countries with whom we have diplomatic relations, very often good relations or perhaps not all that good, but the law is the same in all cases and one has to abide by the law.


Can we take it, then, from what the President and the Prime Minister are saying, that the conference in Luxembourg will merely be a stocktaking exercise; that Britain need not expect to be bounced or ambushed in any way on major decisions at that conference?


Great Britain never allows herself to be bounced as you indicate and certainly no other country of the Community would try to do that. No! One tries to convince Great Britain of the validity of certain options but that is quite different and there have been in the past particularly fairly lively discussions but we have always managed to move forward; Europe has always moved forward so I am very confident in the outcome following discussions that it will be perfectly well understood that the Inter-Governmental Conferences are to be terminated in 1991 and therefore this will take place at Maastricht in the Netherlands.

The first European Council in each year – and of course there is a change as you know every six months – makes it possible to take stock of the situation and see where we are, sort out the problems of the day and that is what will take place in Luxembourg, especially as the Luxembourg Government has prepared a document which is a very well-drafted document and which will contribute to shedding light on the whole range of our discussions.


I am sure there are going to be issues of substance discussed at Luxembourg – I don’t have any doubt about that. There are a great many things that will need to be discussed on the basis of the Luxembourg draft and then we will have to determine where there are broad areas of agreement and where there are not and I think it will highlight the direction in which the discussions must go for the remaining six months of the year. But we are only half-way into these discussions; there is a long way to go yet and a long way before we can reach final conclusions.

One of the points of general agreement amongst, I think, all the Community nations is that there is a great deal of inter-relationship between the conclusions both of the Economic and Monetary Union Conference and the Political Union Conference and of the subjects that need to be decided within both of those treaties, so although some areas will throw up points of agreement and points of disagreement, for practical reasons it will be towards the end of the year before final conclusions can be reached when the two packages are seen as a whole.


I would like to ask President Mitterrand and the Prime Minister, following their discussions, how they both see the future relationship of NATO, Western European Union and the European Community developing and how soon each now expects to see a common defence policy?


We have a great deal to discuss about the development of defence. The defence of Europe has been based on NATO for a long period of time and both France and the United Kingdom are both members of NATO and very important members of NATO.

The development of defence policy in the future has got to examine separate premises: the development and sustenance of NATO and also the fact that within that, it is both desirable and I think inevitable that Europe itself should make a larger contribution to the communal defence of its own territories.

Those, I think, are points of total agreement and what we have to discuss in the discussions about NATO, about Western European Union and about the Community’s aspirations towards common defence is the best mechanism for taking this debate forward but it is an important debate and one we will have to take step by step.


The debate on common defence is not a debate between France and Great Britain but between France and those who, in the framework of the integrated NATO command, decided to take a certain number of initiatives quite recently, initiatives in which France intends to participate, so there is no specific point really between the UK and France on this; it is a more general debate within NATO at the political level and not in the military framework because France is not present in that military framework.

But alongside this there is a debate also on the future of the WEU; in other words, we are looking for a sort of embryo for European security and the British and the French are on the same side and engaged in usually constructive discussions and it is really the link between these two manners of approaching security which is at present in question but I repeat this is not specifically a Franco-British negotiation.