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 Joint Press Conference with President Chirac – 10 June 1995

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Jacques Chirac, held in Paris on Saturday 10th June 1995.


Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me first of all to thank the British foreign and defence journalists who are present here today following our conversations and I would like also to begin by saying it is very pleasant to have such conversations among friends.

I will not surprise you in saying that our conversations were very cordial and allowed us to raise a certain number of issues. First of all regarding the Cannes Summit preparations and a number of European issues, in particular the preparation to the run-up of the Intergovernmental Conference in 1996. It is true to say that we have a number of approaches and views in common, in particular with respect to the role of the Council and that also of the association of Parliament in contributing to the work being done in Europe. So on those issues we have common approaches and common ground.

[small section inaudible] and indeed the recent initiatives have been taken in common and, as you know, were approved yesterday by the Fifteen. We request the immediate release and freeing of hostages; we want considerable diplomatic efforts to be deployed and in particular with respect to the appointment of a mediator, Mr Carl Bildt; and in particular also the setting up of the Rapid Reaction Force which will allow for additional support to be given to the peace-keepers in the field. As you know, the Rapid Reaction Force will be made up primarily of British and French troops, to which will be added a Dutch contingent and possibly contingents from two or three other countries.

With respect to transatlantic relations we were thinking along the same lines, namely the strengthening of Euro-American relations with respect of course for the identities of both sides.

Regarding bilateral matters, there are no major difficulties there, we both want to strengthen our cooperation in a variety of different fields, in particular the military field.

With respect to future meetings we have decided that we will meet on 29 July, probably in France, on the occasion of a visit that the Prime Minister will be paying to France at that time. And on 30 October next we will hold the next Franco-British Summit, which will be convened in London, and preceded by a dinner and some evening entertainment on the evening prior to the 30th.


Jacques, thank you very much. The President has set out much of the detail of our discussions this morning and I will simply say that I share the views that he has expressed.

We have had some two hours of talks and my expectation that they would be very wide-ranging and very worthwhile have not been disappointed, they were an excellent exchange.

Let me turn particularly to the area of Bosnia where we both have a very great concern about present events. Throughout the last three years, Britain and France together have assumed the lion’s share of UNPROFOR’s burden in Bosnia. In Bosnia British troops serve under French command, French Marines and French Legionnaires serve under the British command, and that is the true reality of European defence cooperation. And I would like to pay my one tribute to the 39 French troops who have lost in Bosnia over the last 3 years. We admire what they have done very much and I very much respect also the very brave action of French troops on the bridge at Sarajevo.

Let me remind you once again precisely why British and French troops are in Bosnia. We are there for humanitarian reasons, we are there to save lives and feed the starving. We are also there for strategic reasons. I believe it is a vital role for British and French troops to help contain a conflict which, if it is not contained, has the potential to ignite the whole of the Balkans.

That is why, for so long as British troops can carry out their duties without undue risk to their lives, I shall want to see them continue to play their role in UNPROFOR. But let me add also, if the warring parties make it impossible for the United Nations to carry out their mandate, then of course we would have to consider withdrawal. But that is not, emphatically not, our wish.

Let me make it very plain. If it became necessary for the United Nations Protection Forces to leave, and I repeat I very much hope that will not be the case, but if it were to happen then I think everyone in Bosnia, Serb Croat or Muslim, would suffer as a result of their withdrawal.

Britain and France are now cooperating very closely indeed, the cooperation is on a daily basis at political level, at military level, at diplomatic level and at other official levels. And we have three immediate tasks. Let me set out all of them;

– the first of them is to use the reinforcements which both our countries are sending to help UNPROFOR do its job more effectively. And I announced yesterday that the 5,000 troops of our Airmobile Brigade have now been given orders to deploy. They will take effect as soon as some logistical problems with the United Nations are concluded;

– secondly, let me make it clear that they are not going there as an aggressive force to make war, they are going there to keep the peace. But British troops have always responded robustly if they are attacked and they have responded robustly to provocation. They will continue to do that. The second task is to make clear to the Bosnian Serbs that they need to release all of the hostages unconditionally and they do their cause no good whatsoever by hanging on to them;

– and the third task of course is to stay focused on the overriding objective and that must remain a negotiated settlement.

Let me just briefly indicate the other areas that we discussed. We had a very worthwhile exchange on the forthcoming European summit at Cannes. We discussed a range of matters – unemployment, subsidiarity, deregulation, competitiveness and the launch of the Study Group. There were no difficulties of any significance between us in those issues.

The one area of difference that the President mentioned is an area we are examining and I hope and expect we will reach an agreement before Cannes. We have shared objectives on aid flows and different mechanisms to meet them but we will reach an accommodation about that I hope.

We found ourselves in agreement on the objectives for the G7 summit at Halifax and similarly we found ourselves in agreement on a range of matters related to transatlantic relationships.

So let me just say, before we invite your questions, how much I have enjoyed this visit and how much I appreciate the hospitality that has been given. It has been a very good occasion for Britain, a very good occasion for France and I think rather a good occasion for Europe as well.


I have two questions. You talked about the convergence of British and French views with respect to the 1996 conference, but I would like to know whether there are no divergences here. In particular I am thinking of the issue of qualified majority voting on the Council of Ministers? My second question has to do with the issue of transatlantic relations, I would like to know what you feel about the proposal made, in particular by Sir Leon Brittan, with respect to a transatlantic free trade zone?


Taking your question on voting and the qualified majority system, these are matters that have to do with how to implement the decisions that will be taken at the IGC and I think it is too soon for us to consider them here. In fact we did not talk about such matters, it will be up to our experts to give consideration to these issues. However, having said that I do not expect there to be any difficulties, in fact I would go so far as to say that we will be in agreement on that.

On your question with respect to the free trade zone mooted by Sir Leon Brittan, anything we feel that can facilitate trade is necessarily positive, is necessary to be supported. France of course is paying great attention to the proper establishment, the getting going of the World Trade Organisation before any free trade measures are taken along the lines of those suggested. That being said on the general principle, there is certainly no objection and no disagreement.


I wonder if I could ask President Chirac, and perhaps a special request for a response in English if that would be all right? Did the two of you agree that the judgement is that the Rapid Response Force is now the last chance for keeping the UNPROFOR troops on the ground in Bosnia? And secondly, what sort of representations will you be planning to make to President Clinton?


I don’t think anyone is in the business of saying the Rapid Reaction Corps is the last chance, that is not the purpose of the Rapid Reaction Corps, the Rapid Reaction Corps is there to facilitate the work that goes on, to protect the troops that are there to enable them to carry out the work that they are doing. It is not there to wage an aggressive war. It is there to protect people, to respond where appropriate and to try and ensure the work that goes on. So, far from being the last chance, it is intended to ensure that the present work continues for some time. The solution to the problems of Bosnia is not going to be found on a battlefield, the solution is going to be found in a political settlement and a search for a political settlement will go on.

The advent of a Rapid Reaction Corps and the reinforcement of the United Nations troops is a very important event indeed, in keeping the work that is going on on the ground in Bosnia in being and ensuring that it continues. But I don’t think either of us would see that as a last chance at all. We will continue to seek for both the diminution of fighting, the maximum amount of humanitarian aid, the maximum amount of protection for our troops and we will continue to push very hard for a sensible pragmatic political outcome to this dispute.


We share the same point of view on these matters. The issue of the objectives and aims that have motivated the establishment of this Rapid Reaction Force is something we totally agree on. I note furthermore that neither President Clinton nor President Yeltsin have expressed any reservations about this initiative. You see there was a situation that simply could not last, The UNPROFOR troops have been deployed throughout the territory and they are stretched very thin with relatively limited military means at their disposal and we have seen the emergence and rise of a certain number of phenomena, aggressive phenomena and situations in which these troops have had to face humiliation and that is something we could not accept. The Rapid Reaction Force is a means of ensuring that our troops never again find themselves in a situation whereby they are humiliated. They can fight, they may unfortunately be injured or even sadly killed, but one thing they will never have to face again is humiliation.

QUESTION (Reuters):

Prime Minister, in the light of your discussions this morning and what we have heard from both of you, do you feel that you have a new ally in Paris, particularly on European Union affairs, and that perhaps Britain is not as alone on those affairs as it was in the past.


Paul, if I didn’t know better I would think you were being mischievous. I have always found in my relationship with the French government and with the President of France that both sides to the discussions speak their mind plainly and clearly. We are concerned about the way Europe develops and we are concerned about the individual interests of Britain and France in Europe. I think that was the case with President Mitterrand, I think it is the case now with President Chirac, I have found our discussions this morning very amiable. There are many areas of very great agreement, some of them have been very evident I think in the discussions we have had this morning and in the questions indeed that you have asked this morning. There may be areas at some stage in the future where there are divergent views, as there are between any two countries you care to name in the European Union. But I do think that the relationship between Britain and France is a very ancient relationship. On the really important matters we tend to be on the same side more often than not. I think that is going to remain the case, I cannot promise you we will agree on every issue and neither can President Chirac.

I can say the relationship is very good and where we differ it will be on matters of political substance, it will not be a matter that will bite deeply and damagingly into the British/French relationship.


I would like to add one thing in respect to the construction of Europe. I believe that the construction of Europe, in other words the strengthening, the permanent constant strengthening of the links between European countries, is a sine qua non for the future existence of Europe. Franco-German relations are therefore necessary for the construction of Europe but not in themselves sufficient. We cannot possibly build Europe without Britain. It is therefore essential that we understand the specific problems that Britain faces. And I believe that France can play an important role in finding the necessary impetus and synergy which is necessary to the building of Europe between all European partners and of course in particular France, Germany and Britain.

QUESTION (James Robbins, BBC):

President, in the discussions at Cannes on technical preparations for a single currency, should the matter of a name for the single currency be discussed, should a name be decided at a fairly early stage so that European citizens have an idea of what this thing would be called. What would be your preferred choice? The Prime Minister told the House of Commons in London this week that arguably circumstances might never arise in which it would be right for Britain to join the single currency, was that a disappointment to you?


On the first point I would say that we are not on the agenda of the Cannes Summit intending to discuss the name of the single currency. And on your second question, I know and I understand the British analysis and view of the single currency. And there is at least one point on which John Major and myself agree. In other words, the consequences of a single currency, the impact of a single currency which would bring together perhaps 5 or 6 or even 7 Community country members, on the economic situation and status of the Union as a whole, in other words the Union as made up of member states that would not have a single currency, have been insufficiently thought about and insufficiently studied. And therefore it is necessary to examine the situation very objectively and as speedily as possible. I for one of course am in favour of France respecting and upholding the commitments it made under Maastricht and France will of course make all necessary efforts to meet these commitments and indeed meet the terms set for the launching of a single European currency under the Maastricht Treaty and under the provisions of the treaty, in other words by 1st January 1999.


Let me add just a point about this because this is a matter that the President and I discussed at some length this morning. The unspoken presupposition in much of the early thinking about a single currency was that everybody would be able to join at the same time. But of course the European Union is changing and it is expanding and there are new members coming in, so it is no longer a practical proposition to assume that every member of the European Union would be able to enter a single currency, if it wished to, at the same time. And as the President said, one has to look at these realities and see what they might mean. They raise very important questions, not just for monetary union itself but for other aspects of working of the European Union as a whole. And I personally find it a breath of fresh air that these important matters are finally coming to the fore and will be examined, and I look forward to the examination.