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 Speech in Leiden – 7 September 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the William and Mary Lecture, given in Leiden at the University on 7th September 1994.



Britain and the Netherlands

John Milton, the great British poet, described Leiden as “That famous University and renowned Commonwealth, a sanctuary of liberty”. I am privileged to deliver the second William and Mary Lecture in such distinguished surroundings.

This lecture series was inaugurated by Ruud Lubbers in Milton’s University, Cambridge. It celebrates the close bonds between our two nations over hundreds of years. Bonds so old that even in the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, her Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, declared Britain and the Netherlands to be “the most ancient allies and familiar neighbours”. Bonds epitomised in our fierce attachment to the liberty stressed by Milton. Liberty underlies much that I shall say this evening.

The long history of the Anglo/Dutch relationship is, of course, not wholly one of unbroken harmony and friendship. I admired Ruud Lubbers’s lightness of touch in passing over four Anglo/Dutch wars as “the occasional naval battle” in last year’s lecture. And at various times in our history, Britain and the Netherlands have been fierce rivals in their pursuit of prosperity on the world’s sea lanes.

In the post-War period, we have been staunch allies in NATO – many of whose leading figures have come from our countries. We’ve been totally committed in our support for the Atlantic Alliance. As we meet, our two Air Forces are making the largest European contribution to NATO air power in the skies over Bosnia, just as our armies have undertaken some of the most hazardous operations for UNPROFOR on the ground. Our joint amphibious force operated in Iraq in 1991 and now helps to defend NATO’s Northern region.

The Dutch and British are not just allies; not just the inheritors of outward-looking, sea-faring, free trading, global traditions; not just bound by the history which united our Crowns in 1688; not just close neighbours; but friends, in the most genuine sense of the word. Friends from conviction and shared values. Friends by habit and instinct. Friends wherever they meet around the world.

The challenges facing Europe

It is from that perspective – of a candid friend – that I would like to give a British view of the challenges facing us in Europe.

My theme is the long-term future of Europe – all of Europe – and the extent to which we are now outgrowing the concept of the original founders of the European Union.

To some, who believe the original concept is not yet met, that may seem provocative. It is intended to be realistic. Since the 1950s and especially over the past five years, our Continent has changed in ways no-one could foresee. We live in a different Europe and a different world. The vision of the 1950s is not right for the mid-90s.

I shall first describe Britain’s outlook on Europe.

Then I shall look at the ways in which the European Union should be developed in the future.

Finally, I shall set out how we can extend security and prosperity to our neighbours in Central and Eastern Europe.


The caricature of Britain

Let me tackle, straight away, a popular caricature.

The caricature is that there are, in broad terms, only two approaches to the European Union – that of the Eleven on the one hand, and of Britain on the other. Britain, for these purposes, is said to be a backmarker; a country interested only in a glorified free trade area.

The caricature is ludicrous. Many of the key developments of the past few years have been advanced by Britain’s advocacy – the Single Market; budgetary discipline; proposals for CAP reform; CFSP; deregulation and trade liberalisation. No backmarking there.

Nor is it right to characterise Britain’s opposition to some policies as anti-European. I have argued continually that the European Union must improve its competitiveness. With over 18 million unemployed that is surely essential.

That is why I believe we must keep social costs down. If we don’t we will lose competitiveness, lose jobs, lose prosperity.

This, to me, is a pro-European argument. But when I first made the case, my arguments were regarded as close to heresy, and as distinctly anti-communautaire.

The fact is that there are not two approaches to Europe among the Governments of the Union, but one and twelve. One because we are all firmly committed to a strong and effective European Union. But twelve because no two Governments have identical approaches. Issue by issue, the twelve members line up in different ways. Sometimes, the United Kingdom finds itself with the majority, sometimes not.

Sometimes, we are on our own. But that does not happen only to the United Kingdom. Yet how often have we seen the headline “Britain isolated”; and Britain’s fidelity to the European Union questioned as a result? We don’t see this question asked when, as often happens, other Member States stand on their own, in what they see as important national interests.

Yes, Britain – like the Netherlands, like Germany, like France, Italy, Denmark, in fact like all twelve Member States – has her own perspective on Europe. Our perspective is not wrong simply because it is different.

The British Outlook

So what is the British perspective?

First, it is quite simply that Britain is irrevocably part of Europe. We are hard-headed about it but perfectly clear. The British people know that their future rests with being part of the European Union.

But, second, it must be the right sort of Europe. One which does not impose undue conformity, but encourages flexibility. Only in that way will we achieve the Europe we want – a Europe which is free and secure, prosperous and coherent, democratic, potent and generous.

Third, we believe that the political dimension is crucial to making the most of the development of the Union.

Fourth, we want the European Union, – which is, after all, a unique community of democracies – to pull its full weight internationally and be a power for good in the world.

And fifth, we want the Union’s development to be realistic, attainable, and – crucially – supported by its peoples.

Like everyone else, we want to move forward in Europe. We cannot consider Europe complete while so many European democracies remain outside the Union. But if we are to build well, we must build carefully. We do not just want a futuristic grand design which never leaves the drawing board. Even worse would be to put up a building which fell down because we hadn’t got it right. The most constructive attitude to Europe is to plan a future that works. That is what Britain wants.

Britain’s Contribution

It is to this Europe that Britain seeks to make a very large and positive contribution.

The assets Britain brings to Europe are pet haps too easily taken for granted.

We have the world’s sixth largest economy. London is one of the world’s leading financial centres. Our trading links and global connections bring substantial benefits to Europe. We are the second largest net contributor to the European Union’s budget.

With France, Britain is one of only two nations in the Union which still have a global reach to their foreign policies. Alone in Europe, the United Kingdom is a member simultaneously of the UN Security Council, the Economic Summit, and of the Commonwealth which now comprises one third of the world’s nations. We have a deep involvement in all of the Continents of the world.

Our contribution to the defence of Europe, to its security institutions, to its ability to exert an influence when conflict threatens European interests – as in the Gulf – is second to none among the Member States. Far from staying separate, over 40 years ago we merged our security policy into that of the North Atlantic Alliance. We were prepared to commit ourselves to its integrated military structure. We have made a more significant contribution to NATO – and hence to the security of all Europe – than any other European nation.

I make these points, not from national pride, but because our willingness to contribute, whether to the European Union or to NATO, is vivid evidence of the British commitment to the freedom and future of continental Europe.

Given this commitment, it is high time that the caricature of Britain in Europe was buried. We have a commitment which surely gives Britain the right – just as others have the right – to advance her reasoned views without constant questioning of our European credentials.


Achievements and Problems

We should not let the European Union’s recent difficulties obscure its remarkable success over four decades.

The European Community was born to end divisions in Western Europe. It has succeeded. With NATO, it has given us peace and prosperity in our part of the Continent, and made war literally unthinkable. The determination of the Founding Fathers has succeeded far beyond the estimations of most people in their time. Their vision was proved right for its age. But it is outdated. It will not do now. We must all adjust our vision to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

The deep hurt of the recession and bitter divisions over Maastricht – within so many Member States have left the European Union bruised and battered. We British had a parliamentary fight unequalled in perhaps a hundred years to pass the legislation. Other Governments had to invest great effort into persuading their Parliaments of its worth. Where Member States held referenda, their results were far from a ringing endorsement of the Treaty. This year’s European Elections were another warning. All over Europe, the picture was much the same: a poor turn out, with many votes cast more on domestic than on European issues. I believe that the Netherlands were no exception.

The European Union seems temporarily to have lost the self-confidence of the 1980s. Popular enthusiasm for the Union has waned. We need to listen to these warnings if we are to make the right moves in the future.

The Lessons for the Future

The European Union has come a very long way in a very short time. There is impatience to take it further, but impatience is a poor framework for building soundly. Even though the original ambitious schemes mooted were not incorporated in the Maastricht Treaty, the final outcome nevertheless strained the limits of acceptability to Europe’s electors.

The lesson is self-evident. Harmonisation and integration will not work if they have to be forced on people. Of course it is for governments and politicians to give a lead. But our vision will only work if we carry support of our electors, if our people can see the benefits, understand them and want them. That is the fact of the matter. We need a vision grounded in reality.

Another clear message is that Europe’s peoples in general retain their faith and confidence in the Nation State. In the European Union, Nation States have both pooled elements of sovereignty and retained their independence and individuality. We have reached a careful and effective balance, and the evidence is that our peoples are wary of over-centralisation and of overambitious blueprints for new European architecture. They do not feel that a huge, remote, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-national amalgam would be responsive to them or could properly reflect their national identities.

Edouard Balladur said last week: “France has always wanted a Europe of nation states, which respects each country’s own personality”. So has Britain. I believe that the Nation State will remain the basic political unit in Europe.

A third lesson is the need for greater transparency. Both the language and the institutions of the European Union can be extraordinarily difficult to penetrate from outside. They need to be made accessible to the citizens of Europe. At present they are not.

Tasks for the Future

I see two pre-eminent tasks for the period ahead:

– within the existing Union, to rebuild the cohesion and confidence which has diminished in the past few years;

– in external policy, to extend security and prosperity to the countries to our East. I shall come back to this in a few minutes.

The European Union now needs to regain public support by making a success of what is already on its agenda.

Let me touch on some of the key points in this process.


First, cohesion within a community of twelve to sixteen requires flexibility, as I argued consistently throughout the recent European elections.

So I am glad a debate on this matter is now developing, and I have read with great interest recent contributions by Edouard Balladur and by Wolfgang Schauble and Karl Lamers. I welcome their emphasis on a more flexible Europe. Diversity is not a weakness to be suppressed: it is a strength to be harnessed. If we try to force all European countries into the same mould we shall end up cracking that mould. Greater flexibility is the only way in which we shall be able to build a Union rising to 16 and ultimately to 20 or more Member States.

The way the Union develops must be acceptable to all Member States. It seems to me perfectly healthy for all Member States to agree that some should, integrate more closely or more quickly in certain areas. There’s nothing novel in this. It is the principle we agreed on economic and monetary union at Maastricht. It may also happen on defence.

But the corollary is that no Member State should be excluded from an area of policy in which it wants and is qualified to participate. To choose not to participate is one thing To be prevented from doing so is quite another – and likely to lead to the sort of damaging divisions which, above all, we must avoid.

So I see a real danger, in talk of a “hard core”, inner and outer circles, a two-tier Europe. I recoil from ideas for a union in which some would be more equal than others. There is not, and should never be, an exclusive hard core either of countries or of policies. The European Union involves a wide range of common policies and areas of close co-operation. No Member States should lay claim to a privileged status on the basis on their participation in some of them. For nearly forty years now, the Member States of the European Union, first six, then nine, ten, twelve, soon to be sixteen, have worked to reduce divisions in Europe. We must not see them reintroduced.

That is why an essential component of the future European construction must be flexibility. We need a debate about it.

By flexibility, of course, I do not advocate chaotic non-conformity. Our union depends on the rule of law. Where countries have accepted obligations, they must honour them. If they fail to honour them they must – if necessary – be made to do so. Nothing is more destructive of commitment to common European aims than the popular belief that, while some countries diligently obey the rules, others are cheating and being allowed to get away with it.

There are areas where conformity is right and necessary – in the rules which govern international trade and the Single Market and the environment, for example. But conformity can never be right as an automatic principle. Flexibility is essential to get the best out of Europe – and to respect the wishes of our peoples.

The European Monetary Union is a case in point. The arrangements in the Maastricht Treaty for progress towards EMU do not simply allow, but require a differentiated approach. This is essential. Whatever one’s view of EMU Stage 3 – and I have thought it right to reserve the United Kingdom’s position, and still do – the introduction of a common currency without proper prior economic convergence would be calamitous. But Maastricht recognised that. In general, the Maastricht Treaty’s flexible arrangements allow countries freedom and choice on how they decide to participate in the pursuit of our shared aims.

The Inter-Governmental Conference

The Inter-Governmental Conference in 1996 is likely to bring many issues into sharp focus. How, for example, can we fashion a fairer voting system? Can we develop simpler and more transparent legislative procedures? Should the Council exercise more control over the Commission? Is the number of Commissioners becoming unwieldy as the Union enlarges? Should the Commission have new powers in some areas – for example to pursue budget fraud into the Member States themselves?

In developing Britain’s approach to the IGC, I will be guided by four considerations:

The first is my sense of what Britain’s Parliament wants and what people actually need.

Secondly, I shall want to see greater flexibility in the European Union, and greater tolerance of diversity.

But that makes it all the more important, third, that Europe maintains a strong sense of shared purpose and common enterprise. The IGC must be the anvil on which we forge a stronger Union.

And fourth, that any proposals for change are workable and effective. The European Union has never lacked for ideas for its development. But it needs ideas which work.

The European Parliament and National Parliaments

This is particularly evident in the approach we must take to developing the European Union’s democratic credentials.

Within a more open, flexible and diverse Europe, what should be the respective roles of the European Parliament and the national parliaments?

Parliaments take time to mature. Compared with the British Parliament and the States General in the Netherlands, the European Parliament is a fledgling institution. It has gained considerable powers in a short period. It plays a significant role in the legislative process: some 50 per cent of its legislative amendments are adopted, which is a far higher average than any national parliament. Yet clearly there is a long way to go before it wins respect and popular affection.

The European Parliament sees itself as the future democratic focus for the Union. But this is a flawed ambition, because the European Union is an association of States, deriving its basic democratic legitimacy through national Parliaments. That should remain the case. People will continue to see national Parliaments as their democratic focus. It is national parliamentary democracy that confers legitimacy on the European Council.

The European Parliament is not the answer to the democratic deficit, as the pitiably low turn-out in this year’s European Elections so vividly illustrated. The upshot, sadly, has been an unrepresentative and rather incoherent range of parties in the new European Parliament, in which fringe, protest and opposition groups are over-represented. We must wait to see if, over time, our electorates begin to take European Elections more seriously. But, for now, it would be premature to consider a further increase in the Parliament’s powers.

The task for 1996 is for the European Parliament to grow into its existing powers – for it to ensure that legislation is sensible and proportionate; to avoid damage to competitiveness and jobs; and to contribute to matters such as budgetary control, market opening, and the scrutiny of spending.

It should also do all it can to oppose fraud. Defrauding the Community budget has become a multi-billion ECU industry. It is scandalous and it does need comprehensive action. No Member State is immune from this. Indeed, it is an area in which national interests and the best interests of the European Union often conflict. The Parliament should continue to give its full backing to the Court of Auditors in waging war on fraud. In that way it can earn the strong support of European electors by lightening the load on their pockets. It could give them more confidence that their taxpayers’ money is properly spent. It’s this sort of action which will improve the status of the Parliament.

In parallel, I believe that much more should be done to build links between national Parliaments and the European Parliament. Westminster, as I suspect is the case with most national Parliaments, is partly at fault here. We all need to develop a more cooperative effort with the European Parliament and we must examine how this can be done. In my own country, I see a case for Joint Committees (both by inviting MEPs to contribute to national scrutiny committees, and vice versa) and we will examine this in the months ahead.

Second and third pillars

The IGC will also consider the so-called pillars – the separate arrangements for foreign and security policy, and for home affairs and justice. They enable Europe to operate through co-operation and not compulsion in areas that are hugely sensitive to the national interest. Britain wants to see more energy put into them.

The first joint actions in foreign policy strike us as no more than a modest beginning. They have included the elections in South Africa and Russia, humanitarian aid in Bosnia and assistance to the Middle East peace process. We should be more ambitious. There are obvious advantages in developing common policies towards Russia, Ukraine, and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe.

Of course, for each of us, there will be areas of foreign policy where national action is more appropriate. Hong Kong is an obvious example for the United Kingdom. But when we can act together we have a diplomatic impact much greater than the sum of our parts.

What of defence? We have NATO, we have the Western European Union. Both offer guarantees for our safety, both call for commitments, both have been a focus of British efforts over the past 40 years. We have now decided to retain and reshape NATO – that is one of the fundamental decisions of the last two years. The January NATO Summit agreed to develop new structures which will allow groups of countries to conduct operations together within the NATO framework, but without the participation of all. We have also decided, at Maastricht, to work towards a common European defence policy, based on the WEU.

There is serious and detailed work to be done before we have turned these general propositions into reality. Britain will be at the core of this enterprise. Britain’s armed forces have the experience, skill and professionalism to meet the new challenges which we now face. The defence of Europe is not for us a luxury, but a necessity.

The third pillar, Home Affairs and Justice, deals with threats to our societies of a different kind. There are growing risks to all of our countries from organised crime, and in particular from drug trafficking and money laundering. Cooperation in the fight against crime must become as instinctive as it is in foreign and defence policy. And our Governments must organise their work better than the criminals who oppose them. We are determined to see a success made of Europol, and the further development of the third pillar. The United Kingdom will pursue this energetically.


A month ago, on a warm night in Warsaw, I sat by the Monument to the 1944 Uprising and heard a remarkable speech by the President of Germany. To anyone familiar with Warsaw’s history, it was striking that he should be there at all. He was speaking to a nation whose overriding foreign policy objective is to integrate with Western Europe’s institutions and above all with the European Union and with NATO. For all that has happened in Polish history, the Polish people want to bind themselves to Germany and to the rest of us. And for all that has happened in German history, Germany wants Poland to be a free and equal partner in our Union.

On the following day I sat in Vilnius with the Prime Ministers of the three Baltic States. Their goal was the same. They, like the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Hungarians and other peoples on the edge of our present Union, are part of the European family.

After the war, and through the 1950s and beyond, we had to preserve the security of Western Europe against the threat from Communism. Now we must move on. Communism has gone. For the next generation we face a different task. It is to make sure that the barriers now down in Europe’s East do not rise again in any form.

We have taken our first small steps along that road but we have to go a great deal further. Our predecessors went to war after Poland and Czechoslovakia were invaded. But at the end of a six year war that engulfed the world, those same nations lost their freedom for half a century. By bringing the Central European States into our family of democracies, we can finally make good the damage they suffered. This must and can be done in a way which benefits the whole of Europe. Indeed, it will enhance the Union: a free, stable, prosperous and democratic Central Europe will be a huge benefit to the whole Continent.

The process will require many changes from the countries to our East. They will need to embody our standards of democracy, law and human rights. They must adopt the economics of the free market.

However, the change cannot be only on one side. If we expect them to make changes to join us, then we must make changes to help them do it. We must be prepared, for example, to offer periods of transition in some areas. We must also face the fact that our European Union cannot function in the same way and with the same policies with sixteen or twenty or more members as it did with six or ten or twelve.

Two examples suffice to make this point. The Common Agricultural Policy, as at present operated, would be unsustainable and unaffordable with twenty. members. Wholesale reform will be essential. Secondly, the admission of less economically advanced countries will mean a major reform and redirection of structural funds.

No-one can doubt that these changes will be controversial and, for some, very painful. Across Europe, we have only just begun to think about them. Member States are not yet reconciled to the policies that are necessary to bring them about. It must not be our objective to admit new members to a status inferior to other partners. They must enjoy the same options, in a flexible Union, as are open to us.

Enlargement: Economic Cooperation and Free Trade

We have a responsibility to help the economic development of our neighbours to the East – and it is in our own interests to do so. We must be open-minded and open-handed.

They must be given access to our markets and not kept at bay by trade defence mechanisms. We do not want to build a Continent where economic divisions would return as the ghosts of the political barriers which crumbled in 1989.

Enlargement: Security Relationships

Our outward reach of course must extend to security relationships. Here, too, we must be flexible. For some countries, membership of NATO will be the the right answer, the only question is when rather than whether. For twenty-one countries now including Russia “Partnership for Peace” is making a reality of practical cooperation. The six central European countries and the Baltic states are now also associate partners in the Western European Union. The end of communism has been the biggest peacetime change in our continent for over a hundred years. It is an opportunity we have longed for, hoped for. We now have the chance to entrench democracy right across Europe. I do not believe history will forgive us if we squander it.

Mr. President, soon we hope to be welcoming four new members to the European Union. They will not be the last. We have the prospect of a Union of increasing diversity, a Union in which difference in size, shape, economic and industrial profile, philosophy, history and culture will make varied geometry a fact whatever decisions we may choose to make about our institutions.

This diversity, these differences, will undoubtedly make for more vigorous debate, more late nights, harder work to keep our common aims on track. We may sometimes need to take comfort in the observation of a Dutch philosopher, Spinoza, that all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.

We will have to balance priorities, the priorities of the smaller nations with those of the larger ones, the needs of the southern countries with those of the north, of allowing for the various weights of agriculture and industry in the national economies of our European Union. In the future, Britain will work hard to ensure the Union takes good account of these differences. We want to ensure that common policies are adopted wherever they offer common benefits; we want to ensure our Union is not a directorate of the larger countries at the expense of the smaller countries. Above all, Mr. President, we don’t want Europe to go off the road. When we see a proposal that could have this effect, then we will say so in a frank and a realistic way and when we have positive proposals to put forward, we will do so vigorously and argue our case with conviction and clarity. That is the positive attitude that we have, an attitude to help Europe towards a future, a future that works, a future that we believe can be built if we have the courage, the application and the farsightedness to take the decisions now that will shape our future not just for the months and the years immediately ahead but far beyond that to make the most of the opportunity that I passionately believe lies at hand for all of us in Europe. [Applause].