The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to Conservative Group for Europe – 22 April 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Conservative Group for Europe on 22nd April 1993.


Two years ago I said I wanted to put Britain at the heart of Europe. And the heart of Europe is where I still want us to be.

It is now 20 years since we joined the European Community.

Since then, a whole generation has grown up. A generation free of the legacy of the old animosities. A generation which takes for granted co-operation between the Member States.

Yet in 1973 all you would take to the Continent was a limited amount of foreign currency and £25 sterling. Today, we go to France much as we might go to Yorkshire. Last year we made a trifling 24 million trips to Europe.

It is no longer an oddity for British students to spend a year in France or to see a German student rowing in the boat-race for Cambridge. For the manager or the professional it is becoming as normal for a career to include two years in Mannheim as a posting to Manchester. Little England steps out. But as we have been stepping out for more than 20 years now we hardly notice that we do it.

Economic benefits

There is also the minor question of profit. We British are traders. Our trade with the rest of the Community has risen thirteen-fold. In 1973 we exported £800 million to Germany. Now it is over £15,000 million. We export as much to Germany as to the United States and Japan combined. That is the scale of our European self interest. Since we joined, our exports to our partners in the Community have grown 50% faster than have those of our old partners in EFTA. That amounts to £20 billion last year. That’s a lot of prosperity and a lot of jobs.

Britain has looked at the world, understood that it must be competitive … and competes.

And the fact that we do compete makes inward investors flock here. Two out of every five who come to the Community come to Britain. Now we export cars to Japan, television sets to Germany and computers to the world. We hear a great deal about the industries we’ve lost. I would like to hear more about the industries we have gained.

Take an example I saw recently. A textile factory that has become the most modern in the world; a firm taking on and beating Far Eastern competitors is exporting two million garments every week, and is about to double its workforce: a factory in Northern Ireland.

How had they succeeded? They had seized the European market, attracted investment and made it a success.

That Northern Irish factory is emblematic. Investors like our welcome. They like our tax structure. They like our industrial relations. They know that our workforce is flexible and adaptable. And we have English, – English, the world language. We should do well with such strengths. But outside the Community? Doing our own tiny thing, splendidly adrift? It’s just not on. Outside Europe Britain can survive; inside we will thrive.

Britain’s achievements

We take from the Community. And we put into it. Europe needs Britain just as Britain needs Europe. We have just completed the biggest free trade area in the world. A British initiative, started by a British Prime Minister, driven by a British Commissioner, and brought to fruition under a British Prime Minister. A single market that makes full use of the Treaty of Rome as a charter for economic liberty. A single market that helps us capitalise on the things Britain does uniquely well – our financial services, our transport and aviation and our telecommunications companies.

Europe is only one part of the world trading system. The prize, if we can successfully complete the GATT round is huge: 200 billion dollars of extra prosperity for our globe. The risks, if we fail, are equally immense. Our influence, together with our Northern partners, tilts the Community onto the side of success. Thirty years ago the economist, James Meade wrote a famous pamphlet. An outward-looking Europe was good, he said, an inward-looking Europe should make us flee to the hills. We are fighting and winning the battles he identified. Historically some of our partners are protectionist by instinct. But Britain with her outside links, American and Commonwealth, will always thrust Europe outwards.

We have also led the way to bringing in our old EFTA partners and friends Austria, Norway, Sweden and Finland. They share our instincts as global free traders. Many of the traditions on which our Parliamentary democracy is based come from the Scandinavian part of our heritage. A rugged, independent-minded legislature can sometimes be uncomfortable. Believe me, it can. But it is a good and healthy thing. They share that with us.

Like us, too, they will be net contributors. They will be watchful how the Community spends its citizens’ money.

Only a cloud-borne idealist would deny the debits to our membership. We joined late. We didn’t make the rules. A lot of them didn’t suit us.

There is a legend of ancient Rome to illustrate the British predicament. It tells how the Sibyl offered the Roman Senate 9 books containing the future of the republic. Shocked at the price, the senators refused to buy them. The Sibyl burned 3 books. She then offered the other 6 for the same price. The Senate still refused. She burned 3 more. Seriously rattled, the Senate hastily agreed to buy the last 3 books for the price of the original 9.

Ted, you bought the books. We have read them; and thank goodness you did buy them.

But of course, we keep bringing out new editions. That is what happens to successful books. We have reformed the Common Agricultural Policy after years of squabbling. At Edinburgh we put a ceiling on EC spending until the end of the Century. At Edinburgh too we reached out to the new member nations. The Scandinavians now; and in time the Central European nations – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We won agreement against all the odds that those old friends would join. Not tentatively or in the future conditional tense, but “join” meaning “join”. That was always Britain’s wish; and it will be fulfilled.

Like Douglas Hurd, I know that the Community has become too intrusive in our national life. Where this is so we must correct it and the Maastricht Treaty provides a way of doing so. But some intrusion is necessary and is in our interests. For example, if we are to make the Single Market work, there has to be some body of common law. It is we, British, who have pressed hardest for a true common market – a slogan made flesh. If we are to have that, it needs to be enforced and someone must have the authority to do so. The Commission and the Court have that authority. For all its quirks and quiddities, when the Commission battles against vested interests and for competition, it is on our side.


Of course, there is too much regulation both in Brussels and Whitehall; and indeed too much done at Community level better done by individual nations. Maastricht is the focus of that concern.

But let me tell you a story. A colleague at a constituency dinner asked everyone present to tell him what they didn’t like about Maastricht.

Up went a jungle of hands. “Nobody else got a point? Everyone had their say?”


“Well” he said “you have raised 35 different points against Maastricht. 33 of them date back to the Treaty of Rome or the Single European Act. And 2 of them are valid complaints against the Treaty of Maastricht.”

Maastricht has been used as the scapegoat for the varied and nameless fears about Europe, most of them wholly unrelated to the Treaty.

I have never pretended that Maastricht is perfect, but, warts and all, Maastricht makes Europe better.

Take “subsidiarity”, which I call “national precedence”. Subsidiarity enshrines in EC Law the principle that the Community should not be permitted to do what Member States can do better themselves.

But there are areas – many areas where the Community countries do need to work together. The member states of the EC face an ocean of problems beyond the capacity of any of us to solve alone: migration; environmental degradation; nuclear proliferation; international crime and especially drugs; political instability to our East; terrorism; and protectionism. I do not see our Nation as a cog in some centralised superstate. Maastricht does not solve all problems but it draws all of us together for the shared, common sense purpose of trying to solve them.

Of course, the Brussels centralisers haven’t all gone away. But they are now running against the tide. A tide that will flow ever more strongly in the enlarged Community we ensured at Edinburgh. The idea of a centralised Europe had resonance in a Community of the 6. But for 12, soon 16 and eventually 20 plus nations it is a grandiose doodle. It is not what the people of Europe want. We Conservatives, must have the confidence and the sharp-edged determination to stay in the heart of the European debate to win a Community of free, independent members. The nations must be free-standing – a colonnade, not a set of bars.

To opt out of that struggle would deny 20 years of British effort and achievement. How does the Community work? Europe is a small sea of perpetual negotiation. It shapes its future and its laws by alliances between governments and ministers. Many who fear and oppose Europe are like the fat boy in “Pickwick”. They want to make your flesh creep. They think we are always going to lose the argument in Europe. That is defeatist and wrong. We learnt to swim in that sea long ago.

The Single Market was a British idea; breaking open state monopolies was a British idea. CAP reform and enlargement have been British goals. If we tried to huddle back into some private yesterday we wouldn’t have any alliances we could make. Others would make the rules. And they’d impose the rules on us. That’s what our EFTA partners have learned. It’s one reason why they are queuing to join.

I know there are those who have many objections to the Community. But I notice they offer no satisfactory alternative. What are the theoretical options? There are three:

– to leave altogether. Put that bluntly, they shrink away from that choice;

– to form some kind of association with an American free trade area. That is a sugar coated turnip and the economic hole that leaving Europe would open up cannot be filled with turnips;

– third, to stick at “a Common market and no more”. That’s such a narrow, unexalted vision. Britain has long argued for a more coherent foreign policy for the Twelve. Because it makes sense for us to work together as we did in providing safe havens for the Kurds of Northern Iraq.

So what really moves the opponents of Britain’s full participation in the EC? As much as anything it is frustration. Frustration that we are no longer a world power. Frustration that nowhere is the nation state fully sovereign, free to conduct its policies without concerting with ruddy foreigners. There is frustration that some of the fixed and treasured aspects of our national life are subject to seemingly relentless change. They practice a sort of phantom grandeur, a clanking of unusable suits of armour.

I understand these feelings but I cannot share them. The world has moved on. Britain has to take its rightful place in it. Though no longer a global power we still have global interests and we need to defend them with determination but also with subtlety. We cannot afford to subject ourselves to the despotism of nostalgia. We need to use cleverness and shared strength. We must operate a network of little threads to make most use of the influence we do have. And the European Community is a handful of threads for the pursuit of our domestic and foreign interests.

We hear a lot about principled opposition to Europe. Let’s not forget that there is a great deal of principled support too. Looking around, I see a great many who have been principled supporters of our place in Europe for as long as I can remember.

The sly argument that to be a principled supporter of Europe is somehow to put Britain’s interests second needs dismissing for the nonsense it is. It’s precisely because we put Britain’s interests first that we need to be in there shaping the new Europe. A new Europe that is larger, more open and less intrusive. That’s not throwing away history, that’s not knocking down traditions. We are digging straight ditches and putting layers of bricks into them – what builders call a foundation.

A wider Europe

Those who say Europe is only an economic entity, a tower of brass, forget one small gift to our age: two generations of peace.

The peace we have had in the West was not reached by the turn of a card. The ancient hatreds were composed and the ancient enemies conciliated with fearful singularity of purpose.

Let’s not forget, that when we joined the Community, Spain Portugal and Greece were still governed by men in sunglasses and epaulettes. The dictators were booted out. Stability and democracy have been locked in – by membership of the Community.

The tragedy in Bosnia on our borders is a terrible reminder of the loss of that blessing we here take too much for granted. It is an irony that many who protest most loudly that ‘Britain only joined a common market’ are the first to complain that the EC has not secured a political or military settlement to the conflict in Bosnia.

Our long term purpose must be the whole continent of Europe with free democracies and without trade barriers. We are backing freer trade with more aid. A great swelling tide of humanitarian and technical aid flows to Russia and central Europe. The EC is by far the largest donor. £5 billion worth over the last three years. £5 billion to support democracy, and free market reform. Of course, we want it wisely spent. And who bangs on the most to insist upon that? Britain does.

And it isn’t all governments, the big battalions who are helping. It is the small platoons too – volunteers and private benefactors, like those I was able to thank at Number 10 recently for their work in setting up the 1990s equivalent of Rhodes scholarships for young people from central and Eastern Europe.

That is the best of Britain and it is part of our distinctive and unique contribution to Europe. Distinctive and unique as Britain will remain in Europe. Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and – as George Orwell said – “old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist” and if we get our way – Shakespeare still read even in school. Britain will survive unamendable in all essentials.

Surely we trust our own integrity as a people quite enough to fear nothing in Europe. We are the British, a people freely living inside a Europe which is glad to see us and wants us. After 20 years we have come of age in Europe. One Conservative leader put us there. This Conservative leader means us to thrive there. So let’s get on with it.