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 Commons Statement on the Birmingham European Council – 20 October 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement in the House of Commons on the Birmingham European Council, made on 20th October 1992.


The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council in Birmingham on Friday last. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom.

I should like to thank the city of Birmingham, its leaders and its people– [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I know that hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber have business elsewhere in the House. Will they leave quietly so that we can hear what the Prime Minister has to say?

The Prime Minister : I should like to thank the city of Birmingham, its leaders and its people for the effectiveness and speed of their organisation of the European summit.

Following the events in the financial markets a month ago, a number of EC member states asked for this meeting to help to restore confidence throughout the Community and to address the issues raised by the market turbulence. Amongst those concerns, clearly evident in the referendums in Denmark and France, was the unease that too many decisions were being taken centrally in Brussels. The summit conclusions on these and other issues are in the Library of the House.

Let me deal first with economic and monetary co-operation. At Friday’s meeting we reaffirmed our commitment to pursue open market policies, to control budget deficits, and to reduce inflation. It was unanimously agreed that these are the basis for recovery and for the creation of new and lasting jobs here and in the Community as a whole.

The European Council also reaffirmed the necessity of the work set in hand by Finance Ministers after the recent turmoil in the currency markets. It was agreed that the work will involve Finance Ministers, the Monetary Committee, Central Bank governors and the Commission. It will cover recent economic and financial developments in Europe and the implications of changes in the economic environment in recent years. In particular, it will look at the impact of the increasing size and sophistication of financial markets and greater capital liberalisation.

One critical discussion concerned the negotiations for a general agreement on tariffs and trade Uruguay round settlement. Over the past two weeks, significant progress had been made between the Commission and the United States in all sectors of the negotiation. I asked Commissioner Andriessen to report to the European Council. At the end of our discussion, the Commission was given the authority to continue to negotiate with the intention of reaching a satisfactory conclusion within the next 10 weeks. Subsequently, further useful progress was made in talks in Canada over the weekend. A GATT settlement would make a vital contribution to recovery and would be very much in Britain’s interest. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it would lead to an extra $200 billion in annual world output.

In the Birmingham declaration we also took significant steps towards bringing the Community closer to ordinary people. The declaration agreed at Birmingham has a number of distinct elements. It recognises the importance of national identity. It acknowledges that the Community can act only where member states have given it the power to do so in the treaties. It lays down that action at the Community level should happen only when necessary. It calls for new guidelines, so that when Community action is taken it takes the lightest possible form. It introduces better consultation by the Commission before proposals are brought forward. It calls for a greater role for national Parliaments in the work of the Community.

The declaration provides, for the first time, a proper framework for the practical definition and implementation of subsidiarity. We agreed that, at the Edinburgh European Council in two months’ time, we must make a reality of that principle. All members of the European Council agreed to take decisions at Edinburgh to make subsidiarity an integral part of future EC decision making. That change of attitude by the Council and the Commission is as important as the procedures and criteria to be introduced.

Prime Minister Schluter of Denmark reported to the European Council on the present state of discussion on the Maastricht treaty within Denmark. The Danish Government have published a White Paper and will produce specific ideas shortly. It remains their aim to ratify the treaty, and we plan to set in place at Edinburgh the framework that will allow them to do so.

The Birmingham Council also gave us an opportunity to review our action to relieve suffering in Somalia and Yugoslavia. The Community has given a lead in both countries. In Somalia we called for an immediate ceasefire to allow for the rapid deployment of United Nations troops and for the distribution of aid and agreed to try to expedite these deployments.

In Yugoslavia, at British initiative, a Community humanitarian force will be established. It will support the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in delivering humanitarian aid. The Community will speed up aid already pledged, which includes 120,000 tonnes of food. We have invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to hold a meeting of experts as soon as possible to make sure that that aid gets through without delay. There will be a follow-up meeting in a few weeks’ time to ensure that effective action is being taken. Member states also pledged further staff and resources to strengthen the UNHCR effort. I can today announce a further £15 million of bilateral aid to provide 22 more trucks, 10 Land Rovers, shelter, medical supplies and personnel. Deliveries will start very shortly.

A confident and successful Community is a vital interest of this country. Sixty per cent. of our visible trade is with the Community. Much of our external investment comes from the Community. Eight of our top 10 trading partners are in the Community. With less than three months to go to the completion of the single market, which could raise Community output by more than 4 per cent., it was vital to re-establish confidence in the interests of stability, recovery, growth and jobs in all our countries. The Birmingham European Council did precisely that.