The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Jacques Delors – 1 July 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with Jacques Delors, held in London on Wednesday 1st July 1992.


I would like to add my welcome to the President of the Commission and the other Commissioners to London this morning and to say we [indistinct] looking forward for the last year or more to the Presidency of the Community at what, it seems, will be a crucial period for its future.

We have had the opportunity today of discussing the very heavy agenda that lies ahead in the period between now and the Edinburgh summit. We have had some very worthwhile discussions this morning, it was very useful to have the views of the Commission on the workload that lies immediately ahead and I have no doubt that will help us in the efficient conduct of Community business as the individual councils begin to meet.

We paid tribute at the outset of our meeting this morning to the work accomplished by the Portuguese Presidency that was brought to fruition at Lisbon over the weekend. The predominant part of our discussions this morning was a forward look at the agenda facing the United Kingdom Presidency. There are a particularly large number of matters that lie on the table requiring action and determination.

Amongst the major themes clearly are the completion of the single market, we have a deadline for completing that at the end of this year; the future financing negotiations that we have touched upon but no detailed discussions have yet begun; the preparations for enlargement negotiations with the EFTAN countries; the development of relations with other applicants to the Community, and also with the countries of central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; the consistent search for a conclusion to the GATT Round; we had discussions also this morning on proceeding with Maastricht ratification and on the way ahead to entrench subsidiarity as a way of life within the Community; we also spent some time discussing Yugoslavia and the need for humanitarian aid, and proposals are at present being put together for extra aid that I hope will reach a conclusion fairly speedily.

Let me say also that the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out our Presidency priorities in the House of Commons in a debate tomorrow and the Foreign Secretary of course will make the traditional Presidency programme speech in the European Parliament on 8 July.

We look forward very much to working with the Commission, with the European Parliament and with our Community partners in all the member states over the forthcoming six months. I think at the outset that is all I wish to say, but I will invite the President of the Commission to add any points that he may think are relevant and then we will seek to take your questions.


The Commission and I take this opportunity to fulfil the preparation of the British Presidency and to concentrate our minds on the priorities designed by the British Presidency. And you must understand that in the spirit of the Community, during those following months, the Presidency and the Commission are on the same side, with the same purpose to make progress and to succeed.

QUESTION (Elinor Goodman):

Delors said that the Presidency and the Commission would be on the same side, do you see any areas where there is a tension between the British position and the position of the Presidency?


We are the Presidency so there is no distinction between the Presidency and the British position. But we will be discussing the areas that are difficult throughout the Community, both with the Commission of course and bilaterally with our Community partners. We have a dual responsibility during the Presidency, the first, of course, is to maintain the British interest and that we will do. But the second responsibility we have in the Presidency of the Community is to bring together the disparate views and seek a conclusion that is the right way ahead for the Community at large and in that we will work very closely indeed with the Commission and I have every reason to believe we will reach successful conclusions on many of the outstanding matters.

QUESTION (John Sergeant):

How important is it for the success of the British Presidency for the House of Commons to ratify the Maastricht treaty before the Presidency ends and before the Edinburgh summit?


We will bring the Bill back to the House of Commons at some stage, I cannot be quite clear yet when it will come back, we will need to see precisely what is going to happen with the difficulties that at present exist in Denmark, we need to give the Danish government some time to determine how they propose to deal with that difficulty, I think that is perfectly reasonable. So we will take stock again when the House of Commons resumes in the autumn and decide what the right procedure is for bringing the Bill forward. It would be desirable to finish it by the end of the year but it is not essential.


Your predecessor, Mrs Thatcher, called the Community ‘socialism by the back Delors”, do you agree with that?


We have been in the Community now for 20-odd years, during that period we have helped frame the policies of the Community. The single market is a particularly strong British initiative in the Community, that has been the driving motor of the Community over the last two or three years, that embraces open competition, that certainly is a British concept, I do not know what others may call it, but I would say it is a concept of open liberal markets, that is what the single market is about.


Mr Delors, how significantly do you think the British government’s position has changed with the advent of Mr Major as Prime Minister; and do you think that Lady Thatcher’s current comments are consistent with her Presidency of the Community and the attitude she took as Prime Minister?


I have not the intention to enter into the internal debate of Great Britain. I say that it would be possible to work frankly and friendly with the Prime Minister and the duty of the Commission is to help the Community to make progress, no more. And if we must have discussion, we have discussion on technical matters between the Minister in charge and the Commissioner in charge, no more.


Prime Minister, how does your Presidency intend to interpret the principle of subsidiarity, it is at the heart of the Maastricht treaty and how do you hope to have a good relationship with M. Delors who represents the federalist intention of the Community?


The first thing I think I should say about subsidiarity is that whilst we feel very strongly that it is something that ought to be entrenched in the Community principles and practices, so does the President of the Commission who has made that position entirely clear on a number of occasions both publicly and privately. We are both committed to looking at ways in which the principle of subsidiarity can be enshrined as a natural part of the Community’s instincts rather than something that is just wheeled out from time to time when it is convenient. And the President is examining ways, the Commission will be examining ways, with our guidance and assistance, over the next few months to determine precisely how we carry that principle into practice. We have a number of ideas we are looking at, many of those are not yet right for public discussion, but I assure you progress is being made on that, we are determined to make progress on that as the British Presidency and the President of the Commission and the Commission are equally determined to make progress on it. We will report to the Edinburgh summit.

QUESTION (John Cole – BBC):

A question to M. Delors, please. How do you think a country which has opted out of the Social Chapter and reserved its own position on the single currency can give the kind of lead to Europe that you think it ought to have in the next six months?


The twelve member states accepted the two opting out in the Maastricht summit. This is not the first time there was an opting-out and it is frankly possible to manage the Community and to make progress in those conditions and the Maastricht Agreement obliged all member states and the Commission on all aspects of the treaty draft.


A general and a specific question on the British presidency’s hopes to improve environmental concerns in Europe throughout your time. What will you do to, in a general sense, enforce improvement in environmental legislation in the EC and specifically on the question of Norway’s and Iceland’s attitude to whaling? Given Britain’s anti-whaling position, will the British presidency be able to lead the EC to perhaps take action against those two countries perhaps through trade sanctions to prevent them whaling?


They are both important matters. We weren’t able to discuss them this morning, not least because as of this moment the Community does not have an Environment Commissioner. Ripo di Meana, who was the Environment Commissioner is now a member of the new Italian government and a new Environment Commissioner has not yet been appointed so we have not had the opportunity of discussing those matters this morning. I have no doubt, when we have a commissioner, that we will wish to discuss with him how to make progress on environmental matters – that we will do.

On the subject of whaling, I think the British position is very clear both on whaling and on the smaller animals, the dolphins and others. Our position has been spelt out by John Gummer on a number of occasions. We will try and persuade other people in the Community and beyond it that that is the right way to deal with the present problems of whaling.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley):

A question for M. Delors, if I may. It was agreed at Lisbon that there could be no official enlargement negotiations for the Community until both the ratification of the treaty by all twelve member states and the settling of the budget but the British presidency has talked of unofficial negotiations starting on enlargement. How much do you, M. Delors, believe can be achieved by unofficial negotiations? How far can they go and are they a meaningful concept?


Practically, there is no difference between my colleague, the Vice-President Andriessen. We are in discussion not only with Sweden, for which we prepare an opinion but also with Austria, with Finland and so on and the objective of the British presidency is to be ready as soon as possible to start with official negotiations and during the following months the Community will do its best to accelerate the preparation of the opinion for Sweden and after for Finland and Switzerland and also to take in place the things which allow official negotiations starting as I hope since the beginning of 1993.


I have two questions for the Foreign Secretary. In view of improving the relationship of the European Community with Turkey, will that include the adoption of the 4th Financial Protocol? My second question in about Yugoslavia. What are the next steps that the British presidency is planning to take with the government of Giro Gregorov [phon] in Skopje?


As regards the first question, I hope that the Foreign Affairs Council will discuss later this month the whole question of the Community’s relationship with Turkey on the basis of a working paper which the British Government was asked to prepare some weeks ago and which is now ready but certainly one element of that in our view should be the fulfilment of what the Community has already undertaken in the financial protocol.

I have nothing at the moment to add to the Conclusions of the Lisbon Council on the question of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.

QUESTION (David Buchan – Financial Times):

Prime Minister, where you have a conflict between subsidiarity and the single market as you well might have – decentralisation might cause unevenness in the single market – which would your highest priority be?

Could I ask President Delors about the environment? When do you plan to nominate an Environment Commissioner? Do you intend to give that dossier to one of your colleagues and will the Commission in general terms pursue your court case against the UK Government on the issue of bathing water?


Shall I deal with the first part of the question?

I actually made clear in the House of Commons the other day that there is sometimes a conflict between subsidiarity and achieving a level playing field across the Community – that is undoubtedly the case. The single market requires a level playing field and often that does require action at the Community level. We would have to look at the conflict between those two principles in terms of each individual matter that may arise but we are committed under the Single European Act to reach a single market and we do make sure there is a level playing field on the major matters of competition throughout the European Community so that clearly has a very high priority but we would have to look at each individual item to see whether the balance of advantage lay wholly with an unreconstructed level playing field or whether on occasions subsidiarity would have to take precedence but generally I think we would want the level playing field.


As you know, the Commission is a college and I intend to propose tomorrow to the college that a commissioner take by interim the portfolio on environment until the Italian Government appoint a new commissioner and with the interim commissioner in service, we intend to discuss the problem you raise concerning bathing water.

QUESTION (Jon Snow – ITN):

Delors, do you accept that it is the ambition of the British presidency to ensure that your last two years as President are less powerful than your first?


The most important for me is not to appear as powerful. The most important is to be useful, useful for the Community, that is all and evidently I do not please articles in the British press but this is not my problem. My problem is that the twelve member countries consider that the Commission will be useful to make progress in the Community – no more – and the problem of power, the problem of nomination of the President of the Commission is not of interest to me; even for French politics it is not interesting. [Laughter].


Regarding M. Delors’ comment on the issue of subsidiarity, what he, thinks about what kind of work should be done. Does it infer that in some way there could be some danger for the Commission itself.


I put my ideas over a dinner with the Chiefs of State and Government and those ideas I think are welcomed by the twelve Chiefs of State and Government and those ideas are put in the communique of Lisbon. Evidently, it is very difficult to draw the line between what is best done at Community level and what is best done at national level but we make an effort to conciliate for example as one of your colleagues raised the problem, the necessity to have an efficient single market and also the political necessity to bring closer the decision from citizens. It is not always easy but the Commission has has two debates on this question and is fully prepared to apply the principle of subsidiarity even before the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in the line of the [indistinct] given by the European Council in Lisbon.

QUESTION (George Jones – Daily Telegraph]:

A question for both Mr. Major and M. Delors. Earlier this week, British Employment Minister, Mrs. Gillian Shepherd, cast some doubt over whether Denmark would be the next presidency of the Community and there were some suggestions at the Lisbon summit that because of the referendum Denmark should not take it because its commitment to the European Community was now in doubt. Are there going to be sanctions against Denmark?


Let me answer that first. Denmark have confirmed to us this morning, I think, that they are going to be part of the Troika, that is to say the immediate past presidency, the current presidency and the future presidency and the implication for that is that Denmark proposes to take the presidency of the Community at the beginning of next year and it is our view that that is the right way for them to proceed.

The wish across the Community is to give the Danes some time to sort out the difficulties that they have so that they may then decide how to proceed but that is a decision that Denmark must take. They are in the Community and they take over the presidency on 1 January next year.


I share the same point of view and the Commission is ready to prepare tomorrow the next Danish presidency.