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 press release following Mr Major’s speech at the William and Mary Lecture, given in Leiden at the University on 7th September 1994.



Speaking in Leiden, the Prime Minister said that his theme “will be 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”.

The Prime Minister dealt with:

The British outlook on and contribution to Europe.

The future development of the European Union.

Extending security and prosperity to Central and Eastern Europe. Britain’s Outlook and Contribution

The Prime Minister tackled a popular caricature of Britain “that there are … only two approaches to the European Union – that of the eleven on the one hand and of Britain on the other … Britain is said to be a backmarker … and British arguments anti-European. The caricature is ludicrous. Many of the key developments of the past few years have been due to Britain’s advocacy – the single market; budgetary discipline; proposals for CAP reform … No backmarking there.”

The Prime Minister went on to say that “Britain is irrevocably part of Europe … but it must be the right sort of Europe … We can achieve that but to do so such a Europe must be flexible … The most constructive attitude to Europe is to plan a future that works.”

“The assets Britain brings to Europe are perhaps too easily taken for granted … second largest net contributor to the European Union’s budget … a global reach … a more significant contribution to NATO – and hence to the security of all Europe – than any other European nation … 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.”

Future of the European Union

The Prime Minister said that the vision of the Founding Fathers of the European Community “was proved right for its age. But it will not do now … 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 Maastricht Treaty “strained the limits of acceptability to Europe’s electors … our vision will only work if we carry the support of our electors … that is the fact of the matter. We need a vision grounded in reality. Europe’s peoples in general retain their favour and confidence in the nation state … I believe that the nation state will remain the basic political unit for Europe.”

The Prime Minister said that he saw two pre-eminent tasks for the future:

“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 have read with great interest recent contributions to the European debate 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 Members 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.

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 of 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.

… Flexibility is essential to get the best out of Europe. 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 III – -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 a disaster. But Maastricht recognised that.”

Inter-governmental Conference

The Prime Minister said that the Inter-governmental Conference in 1996 was likely to bring such 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 enable it to pursue budget fraud into the Member States themselves?”

The European Parliament and National Parliaments

“Parliaments take time to mature … the European Parliament is a fledgling institution … there is a long way to go before it wins respect and popular affection … The European Parliament sees itself as the future democratic focus of 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 … The task for 1996 is for the European Parliament to grow into its existing powers … much more should be done to build links between national parliaments and the European Parliament … 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.”

Foreign and Security Policy

The Prime Minister said that “steps which have been taken towards joint actions in foreign policy strike us as no more than a modest beginning … We should be more ambitious. There are obvious advantages in developing common policies towards Russia, the Ukraine and other countries in eastern and central Europe.”


The Prime Minister said that both NATO and the WEU had been the focus of British efforts over the past 40 years. We are committed to looking ahead … to constructing a European Security and Defence identity which reinforces NATO, which builds on the potential of WEU … Britain is, and must remain, at the core of the defence of Europe. Enlargement to the East

The Prime Minister said that bringing the central European states into our family of democracies “must and can be done in a way which benefits the whole of Europe …The process will require many changes from the countries to our east … change cannot be only on one side … we must also face the fact that our European Union cannot function in the same way and with the same policies with 16 or 20 or more members as it did with 6 or 10 or 12 … For example, the CAP would be unsustainable and unaffordable with 20 members.”

“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.”

The Prime Minister added that we had a responsibility to help the economic development of our eastern neighbours: “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 ghosts of the political barriers which crumbled in 1989.”

As to security relationships with central and eastern Europe, the Prime Minister said that “for some countries, membership of NATO will be the right answer: the only question is when rather than whether.”

“The end of Communism has been the biggest peacetime change in our continent for over a hundred years … We now have the chance to entrench democracy across Europe. History will not forgive us if we squander it.”


The Prime Minister concluded by saying that “we have the prospect of a Union of increasing diversity [which] will make varied geometry a fact, whatever decisions we take about our institutions.”