The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference in Brussels – 15 July 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Brussels on Friday 15th July 1994.


We have, as you know, very little time. We are all due back at dinner where we have more discussions in just a few moments but let me say a word or two about our pre-dinner deliberations.

It has taken us a little longer than we originally expected to make a decision on a Commission President but the most important part of that was to make sure that when the decision was made it was the right decision. I believe that that has now been achieved and I warmly congratulate Jacques Santer on his nomination. That now of course goes to the European Parliament and I hope they will speedily and unanimously endorse it.

Let me just say a word, if I may, about the other candidates whose names have been put forward over the last few weeks but who have not been selected to be President.

A number of people have contributed in many ways to this debate, a number of highly respected European figures have permitted their names to go forward. The whole matter has, I believe, been conducted in a dignified and a friendly spirit in these discussions and that certainly was the tone of the discussions we have had this afternoon.

I think Jacques Santer is a wise choice for the next few years. He is well known to all of us, he has served on the European Council for ten years; he brings a wide degree of experience to the job as Prime Minister for some years, experience in finance matters, experience in foreign affairs. He has twice held the Presidency of the Council in 1985 and 1991 but on each of those occasions he made a substantial personal contribution to two of the most significant legislative acts that the Community has produced – the Single European Act in the mid-1980s and of course the Maastricht Treaty with its pillared structure in the early 1990s – and of course the importance of the pillared structure allowing matters to be decided by consensus was of very great importance in ensuring that that treaty came to be, so I think in Mr. Santer we have a President who is well able to reconcile conflicting views around the European table. I think that is very important indeed.

There will be many difficult decisions to be taken in the future. He is committed to free trade, committed to the economics of the free market, a strong supporter of subsidiarity and a very strong supporter also of enlarging the Community and that is going to be a very important theme of the next few years. He comes from a country proud of its national identity and I have always regarded him as a healing force and not a divisive force and I think that will be very welcome with the difficult decisions that will need to be taken over the years that lie ahead. In brief, I think he is the right man in the right place at the right time and I wish him every success in the difficult and demanding job that he will be undertaking.

When we had finished reaching agreement on the Presidency, we had a useful discussion on a number of other subjects and that discussion will continue over dinner this evening. Douglas Hurd gave the Council a detailed account of his visit with the French Foreign Minister to the former Yugoslavia. At the end of that discussion, very strong support was expressed by the Council for the plan set out by the Contact Group. We believe that it is absolutely essential to do everything to secure its acceptance and avert the threat of an intensified war in former Yugoslavia. It may be the Foreign Secretary will wish to add a word or two about that.

The French Prime Minister also raised the question of emergency aid for Rwanda. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to describe the problems there as truly horrifying. The French are playing a leading part to bring about an improvement and they deserve our support. The United Kingdom has made a very substantial contribution to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and in other ways and we will continue to do so, so we supported the proposal from the French Prime Minister for further assistance to Rwanda and that will be discussed in further detail at the Foreign Affairs Council in the next day or so.

That is as far as we have got with our subjects in this European Council thus far, the dinner conversation, as I say, lies ahead us but if you have any questions I will happily take them but first I will ask the Foreign Secretary perhaps to say a word or two more about Yugoslavia.


I don’t think I need add much. I gave the Council an account of Alain Juppe and my travels and our talks to President Tudjman, with Izetbegovic and the Sarajevo Government and with the Bosnian Serbs and President Milosevic in Belgrade.

We rammed home the strong arguments in favour of accepting the Contact Group’s plan but I told the Council that I came away with a rather sombre impression particularly from our discussions with the Bosnian Serbs. There is a very real danger of a drift back into war with all the consequences for the Bosnian people and for everyone indeed who is making an effort there so I left them with that feeling. It does mean, as the Prime Minister said, that anyone who has any influence over the situation has got to bestir themselves between now and the end of the month to maximise and improve to the utmost the chances of this plan being accepted.




Prime Minister, what do you think you have achieved by vetoing Mr. Dehaene in Corfu? Haven’t you wound up today with a candidate very much in Mr. Dehaene’s line of thinking?


I have never had anything personally to say against Jean-Luc Dehaene, as you know, but there are quite distinct differences in policy between those that Mr. Santer holds to and those that attract the support of Mr. Dehaene. Mr. Santer is a very strong believer in free trade not protection; he is a very strong decentraliser, he believes in federalism in the sense of decentralisation; he is a strong supporter of subsidiarity which is going to be an important theme of the next few years. He has shown by his record in a number of ways that that is the case. He was, as I indicated a moment ago, the author of the pillared approach that enabled agreement to be reached by consensus and not centrally-determined through the Commission; he was the President of the Council when it reached its final decisions on the Single European Act and crucially in that the Single Market, all of which are vitally important to us. I don’t think there is any doubt that he is a strong believer in nation states and I think there is another point perhaps that many other people have not yet spotted and that is the fact that for his own reasons he has been a longstanding opponent of harmonisation of taxes. All those are very distinct policy points of some importance to us.

The other point I would make is in the nature of the man himself. He is, I think, a reconciler and a healer. We are soon going to have sixteen nation states sitting round the table, not twelve, and very possibly within five years will be moving towards twenty. It is very important that the views of all of those nation states are fully taken into account and reconciled; I believe he will be very good at doing that. It is quite a formidable list of reasons for supporting him and I am very pleased at the outcome we reached this afternoon.


I wondered whether in view of what you just said, Prime Minister, you are therefore surprised to hear that Mr. Santer just now has denied that there are any political differences between himself and Mr. Dehaene. I quote: “I certainly do not believe the time has come to pause in the process of further European integration and in a deeper political union” and he repeated himself as federalist in that sense. Does that entirely square with what you have just been saying?


Would you have expected him to say: “Well I have got a long list of differences with my old friend Jean-Luc!”? You know very well in terms of the European debate that he isn’t going to say that.

I have set out a whole series of practical indications of his record of what he stands for. You will have seen, I am sure, the interview he gave in the Luxembourg press just a couple of days ago and he set out very clearly his views in terms of decentralisation; he made it perfectly clear there that he was a federalist in the sense of being a decentraliser, not a centraliser and I think if you read his interview you can take it from his own words, not mine, that he matches the list of attributes that I have just suggested to those present he has.


Does that mean that you too now, Prime Minister, are a federaliser in the sense of a decentraliser?


I am a decentraliser, that is certainly the case. I don’t think I would attribute any other words of yours to that. I am certainly a decentraliser, I certainly believe that the nation state is an important part of the European Union, so do other nations, and it will remain so.


Prime Minister, if the views of Mr. Dehaene and Mr. Santer are so different and if one must look through his policy record to prove that, why do you think it was that Mr. Santer backed Mr. Dehaene so enthusiastically in the first round debate on the President’s job?


Were you present at the Christian Democrat meeting beforehand?




Nor was I. I suggest you ask someone who was present at the private meeting for the answer to that question.


If you are such a convinced decentraliser as you say and you agree with subsidiarity, why don’t you practise it in Scotland?


Scotland is part of a single United Kingdom, I am not going to join in the sort of decentralisation the Scottish Nationalists want in Scotland which has as its ultimate aim not decentralisation but the eventual removal of Scotland from the United Kingdom.

As far as devolvement of authority is concerned, you will know, working for the “Glasgow Herald”, of the immense devolvement of authority that has now gone to Scotland and to the Scottish Secretary of State and the changes that are currently being agreed to extend that even further in the United Kingdom.


You said that Leon Brittan is the right man for the job and you did repeat that quite a number of times before and during the Corfu summit so would you agree that Jacques Santer is a compromise, has to be a compromise for you and for the other European leaders and has what happened to Mr. Tim Devlin caused you very much grief?


I made perfectly clear that our first choice for President of the Commission was Leon Brittan and I don’t resile from that now. I think Leon Brittan in every way would have made an excellent President of the Commission for the next few years. None of that detracts from the fact that I think Jacques Santer is an excellent candidate who has attracted support right the way across the Heads of Government and I hope will attract the support of the European Parliament in the next few days so I think he will do an excellent job.

As far as Mr. Devlin is concerned, the Chief Whip has dealt with that matter and I believe he has dealt with it properly.


And, of course, there is one other point to add perhaps: that Jacques Santer was chosen as the result of a period of very intensive consultation of everybody by the Presidency and that was not so before Corfu.


Do you think that should have happened the first time round?


Of course.


We not only think that now, we said that at the time loudly and clearly.


Prime Minister, now you have secured a candidate for the Commission who is clearly extremely satisfactory to Britain, do you consider that after the Corfu veto and in the talks that followed, you have put one over on Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand?


No, it isn’t a question of putting one over on any other members of the European Council, that is not remotely the way I see it. I thought it was right to take whatever action was necessary to get a President of the Commission whom I believe was right for Europe in the next few years and right for the United Kingdom in the next few years. That was the purpose of exercising the veto at Corfu and the only purpose.


Can I ask you whether, as David Howell said on the radio this morning, the really desirable thing about Jacques Santer from your point is that he will be very low-profile and that is really why you want him?

May I ask the Foreign Secretary what on Bosnia he has in mind when he says that anybody who has any influence on the Serbs should use it in the desperately short time there is as they seem to be immune to all influence including that of the Russians?


I think possibly Jacques Santer will be lower-profile than his predecessor. I don’t think it is the height of the profile that is really the relevant factor but the direction in which the profile is moving and as I indicated to everyone a few moments ago, I think the direction in which he will take the Community will be very amenable to the majority of member states including us.


On the Bosnian point, you never can tell in life when a particular argument or piece of persuasion or pressure is just going to tip the balance in favour of what you want done so there are all kinds of pressures, the Russians you mentioned. I was actually thinking of President Milosovic. I believe there are ways in which he could exert himself should he so choose which would really be effective in bringing the Bosnian Serbs to their senses. Whether he will do that or not I don’t know. It is in his interests to do, we urged him to do so, I hope he will do so.


Prime Minister, we have heard your comparison of Mr. Santer with Mr. Dehaene. How does he compare in your view to Jacques Delors? Is he better suited in your view to being the next President of the Commission than Delors was, more to your taste?


I think I got the underlying message! I think he will be very suitable for the next few years but I don’t think anyone should underestimate the contribution that Jacques Delors has made to the European Union over the last few years. He and I haven’t always agreed, there is no particular secret about that, but my respect for his abilities is very great.


Diplomats of some member states in Brussels have expressed fears that Jacques Santer is perhaps someone from a small country that doesn’t have the clout that M. Delors or M. Dehaene perhaps have and will find it hard to lay down the law in certain areas that are quite important to the UK I believe such as the internal market, insurance, where there isn’t much progress in enforcing laws. Are you worried that a weak Commission in this sense would undermine the UK’s interests?


No. I don’t accept the premise, if I may say so, at the outset. I think there has been some black propaganda of that sort about from Heaven knows where. I think from what I have seen of Jacques Santer is that he will press his case and his beliefs quite hard where that is necessary, certainly that is my judgement of the man.

As far as the laws are concerned in the Community, the laws are there to be obeyed in the Community and I have no doubt the Commission collectively will ensure that they are. That was something we pressed for very strongly in the Maastricht Treaty. It was a matter of concern to us prior to Maastricht that we did have a number of laws across the Community and we were not satisfied that every member state was fully implementing them. There are now mechanisms to make sure that they do and I am sure they will be enforced.


Prime Minister, do you think you will be able to live easily with the fact that M. Santer is a strong supporter of the Social Dimension of the Union and of a single currency?


I think there are two things that often get run together: one is the Social Dimension of the Community and the other is the specific Social Chapter.

As far as the Social Dimension of the Community is concerned, we have no difficulty with that. Indeed, if you were to ask the Commission which country has implemented more Social Dimension measures than any other, you would find it was the United Kingdom.

As far as the Social Chapter is concerned, it is not a matter of relevance to us whether any President of the Commission supports it or not because we are not a party to the Social protocol, it doesn’t affect us, so whether they support it or not is not relevant to the United Kingdom but on the Social Dimension which is a separate matter, we support the Social Dimension, we have implemented the Social Dimension and I would anticipate will continue to do so.