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 Statement at Meeting with Visegrad Group – 28 October 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s opening statement at the meeting with the Visegrad Group, held at Lancaster House in London on Wednesday 28th October 1992.


May I firstly welcome you all to Lancaster House, there are some old friends and some new friends here today but you are all equally welcome and I hope that we will have a useful and productive conference.

I do not think there is any doubt at all that we can claim that today is an historic occasion. It is the first time that the leaders of the Visegrad countries have met with the Presidency and with the Commission. I fervently hope it will not be the last and that what we are doing today is beginning a trend that will continue.

Just a few years ago, perhaps even as recently as four years ago, a meeting of this sort would frankly have been unthinkable, it could not have been arranged, and this meeting is essentially a mark of the revolution that has taken place firstly in your countries and your societies and secondly in our relations with your countries. And it follows of course the very successful meeting which Foreign Ministers had in Luxembourg in early October.

Let me tell you something about the housekeeping arrangements for the day and how I propose to conduct the business. I would propose that our discussions this morning should fall into two separate parts. Firstly, we should focus ourselves on relations between your countries and the European Community. In particular I think we should consider how the association agreements, the Europe agreements, call them whichever you wish, we should focus on those and how they might be developed and we will also need of course to deal with the question of accession. I think we can also consider financial cooperation and our political dialogue between the Visegrad countries and the Community.

We will then break for coffee, after which the Paymaster General will invite Finance Ministers and Mr Christopherson from the Commission to join him for a separate discussion. This meeting will then resume to discuss current international issues. We need to look at Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union both before lunch and I think that discussion runs naturally into the discussion that we will have over lunch as well.

As you will all know, The Queen has graciously agreed to receive Heads of delegations at 12:40. We need to leave for that meeting promptly at 12:20. Pre-lunch drinks will take place in the drawing room while lunch itself will be in two separate groups. I will have lunch with the Heads of Delegation in the Gold Room on the ground floor, we will make sure you are all safely escorted there, whilst the Foreign Secretary and the Paymaster General will host lunch for other Ministers and senior officials in the State dining room. And M. Attali, the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, has also been invited to join Heads of Delegation for lunch.

I would suggest that at the end of lunch the Heads of Delegation should join me in a short press briefing in the State drawing room. I will talk to the press on that occasion on the basis of our Presidency conclusions which our officials have already discussed and which we have already agreed, and I hope that will be acceptable. And I understand you all then will be going to the European Bank for a meeting with M. Attali.
So if that is satisfactory as the way to conduct business for the day, let me move directly to the state of our relations and say just a few words about those before we commence on wider matters.

We meet at the moment half way through the British Presidency of the Community at a time of tremendous change in Europe, not just Western Europe but right across the whole continent of Europe, tremendous changes internally in individual countries and externally across Europe as a whole. And if you look back at some of the problems that have been there to be faced in recent months – the Danish referendum saying ‘No’; the very high French negative vote, despite the final success of their referendum; turmoil in the currency markets; countries forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism by sheer market pressures against their will – all that has happened in the turbulent few weeks that has just passed.

But we are back on course as a Community. The Birmingham European Council I believe was a very significant milestone, a completely harmonious summit which steadied the ship and opened the way for the challenges that we face and must meet at Edinburgh and conclude before Christmas.

There were I think two important messages that emerged from Birmingham, both of those messages should be reassuring to each of the countries represented here today. Firstly, the Community is working together, it is unified and it is determined to press on with the challenging agenda it has set itself. And internally that means three things: it means pressing ahead with ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, the Danes are showing us the way through their problems, the British Government is determined to complete its ratification procedures as soon as feasible and other partners will do so later this year; secondly, we are now almost there with the single market, by 1st January we will be there, the biggest, most powerful single market in the world will be fully in place; and thirdly, we are completing our internal review of financing, including a cohesion fund for our southern member states. I will be seeking conclusions at Edinburgh which will set a sound framework for the Community’s finances for the next half a decade or more.

But the second message that emerged from Birmingham is that the Community is a changing Community as well as being a stable Community, a flexible one reacting to public opinion. Attitudes in Europe are changing. Maastricht is the first evidence of this, providing the first treaty recognition of subsidiarity, of cooperation between member states outside the Treaty of Rome, as well as deepening the treaty process within the Treaty of Rome. So the Birmingham Declaration will move things on a little further, a declaration committing ail member states to respect national identity and to decentralise decision-making wherever possible.

And that, in my judgment, is what actually makes for the uniqueness of the European Community, we have to get the right mixture between cooperation, a joint endeavour within a framework of international legal obligations and respect for national cultures and national decision-making. The British Presidency provides an opportunity for the United Kingdom to play its part in getting that mixture right.

The truth that we must face in the United Kingdom, and I believe in all our countries is quite clear cut, national states alone can no longer face all the challenges that we face. But we cannot create that new Europe without taking our citizens with us, that is the first lesson of democracy that all of us are well aware of. And that element of democracy, that essence of democracy, is the single strongest bond between all of our member states. That is so within the Community and I believe that that is also the case in your countries as well, it is why today we are able to sit together around the table. It is also why Britain is pressing for the closest possible cooperation between the Community and between each of the states represented here today, leading ultimately, ultimately, to membership of the Community when the other details are right.

There is just a third message that I will mention very briefly. The European Community does need to be an outward-looking Community, open to trade with third countries, open to new members, a Community that is a liberal force in international trade and committed to playing its part in the affairs of our continent. We have many things to discuss today and I want to spend most of my time listening to what you have to say, so I will say no more at this moment and we will perhaps move to many of the matters we need to discuss.

I think it would be appropriate to open our discussions this morning by inviting the President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, to say a few words on the relationships between the Visegrad countries and the Community, focusing perhaps on Europe agreements, financial cooperation and technical assistance and I will invite M. Delors to open that debate, I will then seek some remarks by Heads of Delegations and then we will carry the discussion forward.