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 Speech to the European Parliament – 16 December 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, made on Wednesday 16th December 1992.


The British Presidency of the European Community


The European Council at Edinburgh took place at the end of one of the most difficult periods in the Community’s history. It was Britain’s responsibility to steer the Council to a successful conclusion. With the help of our partners, we did that.

We never expected our Presidency to be easy. Many of the challenges we faced were not unique to our Presidency. We took the chair as the Community began to come to terms with the Danish referendum on Maastricht. Serious recession was afflicting most of Europe, indeed most of the world. A stormy referendum in France was just beginning. At the end of that campaign, we experienced great volatility in the currency markets, which has continued. The need for a GATT agreement had never been greater, but the obstacles to overcome remained formidable, as the Munich Summit showed. War was raging in former Yugoslavia and instability gripped the rest of Eastern Europe.

Against that background, we knew what our objectives were; we set these out clearly at the start of the Presidency. Even as difficulties have increased, they have not blown us off course. During the British Presidency, a series of complicated negotiations has come to a head; many of the negotiations inter-locking; all of them complex.

As Douglas Hurd made clear to this Parliament in duly, we set ourselves a number of tasks: to complete the single market; to agree a future financing settlement; to implement subsidiarity, and to make the Community more open. Externally, we wanted to get a GATT agreement; to launch enlargement negotiations; to tackle the problems of former Yugoslavia; and to develop relations with the emerging democracies to the East.

The Community has tackled all these priority areas. Of course, some problems remain to be solved; but we have solved the main problems confronting the Community now. The Community can go forward more confidently as a result.

Economic Recovery

Underlying this agenda is the need for economic recovery. At Edinburgh, we agreed on supportive action at the Community level, as part of a growth initiative to stimulate new investment and new jobs in every country in the Community.

The most important element of this is, of course, the Community’s success in completing the single market on time – the biggest free trade project in history. Some 500 measures have been passed since the programme began in the mid-1980s, breaking down barriers to trade and enterprise across the Community. This means new opportunities for all Europe’s businessmen; and competition to make the most of those opportunities should mean lower prices and more choice for Europe’s consumers.

At the start of Britain’s Presidency, the single market was already 90% complete. Inevitably, some of the toughest pieces of legislation were left until last. Nonetheless, political agreement has been reached on a string of key directives. After 31 December, there will still be areas where more can and will be done, for example, in transport, energy, telecommunications. But the cumulative work of the last six years, covering the Presidencies of all twelve Member States, amounts to a magnificent achievement. I pay tribute to the contribution made by the European Commission and to the cooperation with this Parliament in enabling this body of legislation to be adopted. The single market is now opening for business.

The agreement between the Community and the United States on agricultural issues was a breakthrough in worldwide trade negotiations. Much work now needs to be done speedily in Geneva. But negotiations have resumed among all the parties to the GATT. The Commission is playing a positive and leading role. As the European Council confirmed, the Community must press for an early, successful and balanced conclusion to the Uruguay Round.

An OECD estimate puts the benefit to world income at something like $200 billion per year. What is more, benefits will be general, not specific to manufacturing countries such as EC members in the North. Trade is worth much more than aid to boosting economic growth in developing countries.

At Edinburgh, we added a third element to the Community’s endeavour to promote recovery and prosperity. We agreed to set up a new European Investment Fund to guarantee loans to infrastructure projects and small and medium sized businesses, and also a special loan facility at the European Investment Bank. These will be able to support a total of new investment of up to £24 billion. Taken together with other Community agreements to reduce the regulatory burdens on business, and national programmes to encourage investment and new jobs, this should give a new boost to confidence and economic recovery.

Recovery can be helped by action at the international level but conditions must be right at the national level for international action to be effective. National action is crucial. We all agreed at Edinburgh that we must improve efficiency, reduce subsidies and enhance competition. Sound finance, low inflation and firm control of public sector wage bills help to create the conditions for reductions in interest rates. And we agreed on the need to give priority to capital spending and incentives to private investment.

The Maastricht Treaty

To be effective, the EC needs the right institutional framework, the right relationship with its citizens. At Edinburgh, we found a solution to the problem of Denmark and the Maastricht Treaty, enabling the Community to move forward as Twelve.

Maastricht is the best achievable basis for the Community’s development. All twelve agreed that. It will improve the working of the Community – making the institutions more accountable; strengthening the rule of law; giving the principle of subsidiarity a legal base.

By the end of this year, ten countries will have ratified. In Britain, the House of Commons is now looking at the Treaty in great detail. We are committed to completing our ratification before the present Session of Parliament ends next year.

At Edinburgh, we had to tackle three Maastricht-related issues: the Danish issue; subsidiarity; and openness.

We had a specific Danish problem and we found a solution particular to Denmark. No-one, including the Danes, wanted renegotiation of the treaty, nor a new ratification process. But Denmark required an additional, and legally binding, instrument. So we confronted a delicate conundrum. And we solved it. We agreed to a decision, binding in international law, which will enable Prime Minister Schluter to go back to the Danish people and recommend a ‘yes’ vote in a second referendum next spring. This takes up the concerns in the Danish memorandum in a way which is consistent with the Treaty. The solution is designed specifically for Denmark.

The ratification process this year had thrown up doubts across Europe about the way the Community was developing. There seemed a general fear that the Community was in danger of becoming too remote. The Community had to become more open; decisions in the Community had to get closer to ordinary people. For the first time, the principle of subsidiarity is being formally enshrined in an EC treaty. People everywhere, it seemed, were a little baffled by a paper principle; they needed to be persuaded by practice. So, in advance of formal implementation, the Commission is showing us what that principle will mean.

I congratulate the President of the Commission for his work. The presumption is, as the Commission document puts it, on national action, not Community action. But subsidiarity will operate without disrupting the institutional balance. The Commission has published lists of proposals which will not now take forward and of existing legislation which it wishes to see repealed. Subsidiarity will be judged by actions, not assertions. Community action here is both positive and persuasive. The European Council welcomed the Parliament’s ideas for a new Inter-Institutional Agreement. The Council are now committed to negotiate a new one with the Commission and this Parliament.

Openness is just as important. At Birmingham, Foreign Ministers were asked to find ways of opening up the Community’s work to greater scrutiny. Now the Commission have agreed on more consultation in advance of legislation; and the Council have agreed to publish voting records and to let television cameras into some important Council discussions. This is a solid start.

In the future, Community institutions are going to need to cooperate even more closely. At my instigation, the Edinburgh Council was the first where there was a substantive political discussion with the President of the Parliament at the beginning of our discussions, putting those discussions clearly into their wider context. Herr Klepsch made a valuable contribution. I am confident that this will set the pattern for future European Councils.

Sites of Institutions and Size of the European Parliament

Two decisions will be of particular interest to the European Parliament. We settled on new numbers of MEPs for Member States. The main reason for this was the need to increase German representation after unification to include the Eastern Lander. But we also had to make sure that the new arrangements made sense in the context of the future enlargement of the Community. The Council took up the Parliament’s Resolution based on the de Gucht proposal, on the composition of the Parliament from 1994. That was the basis for our final decision. That shows the institutions working together properly.

We also reached a final settlement of the sites of the main institutions. This is of direct interest to the Parliament. We took account of views expressed here, but many interests had to be balanced. The European Parliament shall have its seat here in Strasbourg; twelve monthly plenary sessions will be held here. Additional plenary sessions will take place in Brussels, where the Committees shall be based.

Although I know that some of you will have been disappointed by this decision, the spirit of cooperation at Edinburgh allowed us to settle an issue which has been contentious for years, and which has held up other important decisions on sites. The clarity of the Edinburgh decision will let you get on with the job of agreeing working arrangements.


The Community also needs a financial framework which gives it the resources it needs and which the Member States can afford. At Edinburgh, we agreed the future financing of the Community to the end of the decade. This was possible because everyone saw that any settlement had to balance two requirements: the need for a confident, cohesive Community; and the need to take account of the economic realities we all face. I recognise that this Parliament called for a much higher level of own resources and spending. I recognise too that some – but by no means all – Community spending substitutes for national spending, and so does not add to total spending, and so to additional burdens on taxpayers. But the view of the Council was that the Community could not be exempt from the pressures, to which all member states are now subject, to keep such burdens down. And the importance of reducing national budget deficits, in the interests of convergence and lower interest rates, was stressed by all in the Council.

That is the background to the Edinburgh decision to keep the present Own Resources Ceiling, the limit on Community spending, for a further two years.

Thereafter, there will be a gradual increase. Internally, Community spending will increase by over 30 per cent between 1992 and 1999. On cohesion, total structural funds will increase by over 60 per cent by the end of 1999. The Cohesion Fund will be larger than originally proposed by the Commission. Commitments for Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal will double between 1992 and 1999. External actions in 1999 will reach 6.5 billion ecu compared with 3.5 billion ecu in 1992, helping to meet real needs in countries as different as Russia and Somalia.

This final outcome, gives us the sound financial foundation we need. We are committed to cooperating closely with the Parliament and to agreeing a new Inter-Institutional Agreement. I hope we shall also reach a settlement this week on the 1993 budget.

Relations with the Rest of Europe

At the end of the British Presidency, I believe the Community can look forward, plan confidently. I hope it will also look outward.

In the last couple of years we have at times risked becoming too introspective, though in the last six months we have held a constructive EC/Turkey Association Council, a good EC/ASEAN meeting in Manila, and a summit meeting with the leaders of the Visegrad countries. Tomorrow, with President Delors, I fly to North America for the EC/US and EC/Canada Summits. All that is as it should be. But in Edinburgh we set a new external agenda in two important respects.

First, the way is now open for enlargement. We agreed that it was in the Community’s interests to get negotiations under way as soon as possible. They will start in the New Year with the Austrians, Swedes and Finns. The technical preparations have been laid by the Council. Negotiations will also start before long with the Norwegians.

A second priority for 1993 is the East. Russia and Eastern Europe are Western Europe’s biggest challenges for the 1990s. The Commission have put forward an important paper on the relationship between the Community and the countries of Eastern Europe. This paper, formally welcomed in the Edinburgh Conclusions, calls for early trade liberalisation and full membership of the Community for those countries with Association Agreements as soon as they are ready for it.

We are also working to develop relations with the Former Soviet Union. We are in the middle of negotiations for Partnership Agreements with Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

It might seem from what I have said so far that the Edinburgh Council was the only event of the Presidency. Although many subjects came to a head at the Council, the result rested on work undertaken earlier. Throughout the last six months, we have laid particular stress on the Community’s external relations. With the long internal agenda it would perhaps have been pardonable if the EC had neglected the outside world. But that has been far from the reality.

In one external area there has been precious little good news: Yugoslavia. The Community has jointly led with the United Nations a determined international effort. In August we called the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia in London. The EC’s representative, Lord Owen, is co-chairing a meeting of the Conference’s Steering Committee at Ministerial level in Geneva today.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could be the tinderbox to ignite a wider Balkans conflagration. At Edinburgh, the European Council agreed to unblock Community and international assistance to Macedonia which will help stabilise the country. The Commission will allocate 50 million ecu of humanitarian and technical assistance. Other Member States will also provide a matching amount from their own resources. In addition, we unreservedly backed the United Nations plan to put a battalion of soldiers in the Republic to monitor the peace there.

The Community and its Member States have led the international humanitarian effort. Despite this activity, this determination, the situation in Bosnia shows no improvement. We are all appalled by the systematic detention and rape of Moslem women in Bosnia. The European Council demanded that all detention camps close immediately, that secure access be given to humanitarian organisations.

It is appalling that, as most of Europe comes closer together, burying old feuds in new cooperation, the Community should see on its doorstep a reversion to a savagery that has no place in the world of today or tomorrow. Those who behave in this way cannot expect any relationship with us, for our Community is built on a system of values to which our common commitment is firm, as firm as our faith in freedom itself.


Let me in conclusion add a more positive message. I know that earlier this year many of you in this Parliament were uneasy, as I was, that the Community seemed in danger of faltering. I firmly believe that Edinburgh has changed all that. Edinburgh leaves the Community pointing in the right direction. We have declared the single market open. We have – confirmed our commitment to Maastricht. The solution we have found for Denmark paves the way for a referendum there in the Spring. We have begun the process of bringing the Community closer to its citizens. We have taken a major initiative for economic recovery. We have settled some long-running internal problems. And we have provided the firm budgetary foundation the Community needed.

So the Community can now lift its sights. That is what our people, and the rest of Europe, expect of us. We can now get on with the crucial business of finalising the Uruguay Round, which the world economy so desperately needs; and with healing the division across the heart of our continent. The end of the Cold War broke down barriers, but the wound was so deep, had festered for so long, that the healing cannot come quickly or automatically. It is up to us to build bridges, spreading prosperity, encouraging hope. It is up to the Community to give a lead.

Before Edinburgh, the question being asked was “Can the Community give a lead?” The answer at Edinburgh was “Yes” it can. And with your help, it surely will.