The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Comments on the European Union – 27 January 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the European Union, made in an interview on 27th January 1995.


[Mr Major was asked about the increasing concern of people about the European Union].


I don’t think that is wholly true but it is certainly true that the debate has changed and the debate has grown but I think that is a result of two things. It is the result of the Maastricht Treaty and it is the result of changing oratory amongst some of our continental partners who have raised a more centralist vision of Europe that is not attractive to most of the British people. If those fears had been raised some time ago, then I think you would have had the same debate some time ago.

I think many of those fears are overdone. I think the high tide of centralism, of federalism as I have called it, in Europe has reached its zenith and is now declining. Subsidiarity – the returning of decisions back to the nation state – has got widespread support across the European Union. The way in which it will develop in the future, I believe, will not be as a centralist monolith and we are not interested in it developing as a centralist monolith. We wish to see it develop in what has been called variable geometry.

Of course, there are some things that we will all be involved in but you cannot have fifteen now, in due course twenty-seven nations, all dealing with every subject in the same way at the same time; that isn’t credible, it isn’t in the real world of management or politics so it is going to become a more variable European Union. What we have to do is to determine how that comes about, what points should we push, where can we be proactive and improve what happens in the European Union and where should we simply say: “No! That isn’t for us because we don’t think it is in the interests of the British!”.

There is a serious, rational debate to be had about all those issues. I think we are entering into this debate. We will have to consider all these issues as we prepare for the intergovernmental conference and that is what we have started to do.


[Mr Major was asked whether he was a European].


It depends what you mean by a European. With respect, I think that is the sort of question that pins false labels on people. If you were to say to me, “Do you believe we should be a member of the European Union and do you believe on balance it is in Britain’s interest?”, I would say yes. If you were to say, “Do you believe in all the centralising tendencies that have come out of the Commission and some of our partners?”, I would say no; and if they said: “What is your gut instinct? When you think of yourself, do you think of yourself as British or do you think of yourself as European?”, I would think of myself as British, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want Britain to play a part in it – I do – but I want Britain to play a part that will build the sort of Europe that I believe can be competitive with the rest of the world, that enhances prosperity and living standards of people across Europe, is not too prescriptive and does not hold back their living standards as I believe some of the politics advocated by some of our partners would undoubtedly do. So the point at issue is the real politics of the real political debate on measures that have to be considered in Europe over the next few years and I look forward to that debate with relish because I believe we have the best arguments and I believe it is a debate that we will win.