The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Questions and Answers at the WEU Assembly – 23 February 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s questions and answers session following his speech to the Western European Union (WEU) Assembly, held in London on Friday 23rd February 1996.

QUESTION (Mr Naulius, Estonia):

Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for sharing with us your vision about European security in future and also for your support for enlargement of the European Union and spreading stability and prosperity to the East. However, for smaller associate partners like the Baltic States their own future is of primary concern and therefore I would ask what is the United Kingdom’s position on NATO and western European enlargement concerning the Baltic States or how do you it is possible to increase security in the area of the Baltic States and the whole Baltic Sea area in this context?


There are many aspects to that question. Let me try and take as many of them as I credibly can.

As far as NATO enlargement is concerned, I am in favour of NATO enlargement. I think we have to take it at a practical level. I re-emphasise the point I made a few moments ago: enlargement of NATO is not a one-way option; enlargement of NATO is an obligation for NATO to the new country and it is an obligation for the new country when it joins NATO, so there is a twin obligation there so I think we will take NATO enlargement steadily but securely. The order in which NATO will enlarge I think is a matter yet to be determined, I don’t think there can be any immediate progress over the next few months but I hope towards the end of this year we can begin to look seriously, after we have examined the practicalities of enlargement which are enormous, at what sort of order the enlargement will come in and I think we can say no more about that on this occasion.

As far as the western European Union is concerned, we have of course, including the Baltic States, an associate partnership position at present. What is the best way to develop that?

The associate partner status is unique in the Western European Union and the purpose of it is to give the Central Europeans and indeed the Baltic States a direct involvement in the work of the organisation. I think we can make a good deal more of that than we have thus far.

What we are looking to explore is ways of involving the associate partners more directly in the operational work of WEU. We have work such as mine-clearing, work in Bosnia. I think absorbing increasingly the associate partners into that element of work is the first step. Beyond that, I think it is for the Western European Union to look at the question of further enlargement and I for one would wish to put no impediment in front of that but the first option I think is to increase the absorption of the associate partners not just in conferences and assemblies but in the practical work, including the military work that we hope increasingly is going to be done by the Western European Union.

QUESTION (Mr Van der Linden, The Netherlands):

I would like to ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees that in order to conduct an irreversible process in Europe as was referred to by Federal Chancellor Kohl, we must have a European common defence policy which in the long term must ultimately be part and parcel of the European Union. We cannot have a European political union without defence being a part of that union. May I ask the Prime Minister for his reaction?


I think I gave my reaction a few moments ago to that. The British are a very large part of the European defence component in NATO and in the Western European Union. I have to say to colleagues here present that when British troops are on active service I cannot conceive that they would be subordinated to anything other than the British Cabinet in the United Kingdom. I don’t see that there is a circumstance that I can foresee in which the determination and decision-making about British troops in action is going to be available to the European Union or the European Parliament, I cannot foresee that being accepted by this British Government or any other conceivable British Government. I don’t know what time-scale other people have their ambitions in, I tend to deal in practical slabs of time and I cannot foresee at any stage in the future as I see it that we are likely to reach a position in which British troops would have their effective decisions taken for them by the European Union rather than by the British Government, I do not believe that would be acceptable to the British Parliament, it would not be acceptable to me, I cannot believe it would be acceptable to any other British Government and I do not believe it will happen.

QUESTION (Mr Jack Thompson, United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, first of all may I make a remark about your comments earlier about the role of the WEU and say that as far as I am aware, the British Parliament, not only the British Government, supports your view on the role of the WEU so there is unanimity in the British Parliament.

Bearing in mind that in the United States we are running up to presidential elections, there is a Congress which tends to be rather isolationist these days and the situation in the former Yugoslavia is moving into a time I understand when at the end of this year the Americans are saying they are going to pull out of there. As Britain has the chairmanship of the Council of the Western European Union, what role do you think the WEU can play in terms of former Yugoslavia post the Americans leaving, if they do?


On the first part of your comments, Jack, let me thank you for what you had to say. I think it is always good for all our colleagues in Europe and elsewhere to see on very vital issues there is often cross-party agreement in the House of Commons and I am grateful to you for endorsing the fact that as far as the Western European Union is concerned that is one of those occasions. I think it is useful that our colleagues realise that that is the position on such a fundamentally important issue.

As far as the Implementation Force in Yugoslavia is concerned, it is the general expectation that the force collectively would be able to leave by the end of the year. I don’t think the concept of the Americans leaving unilaterally is one that is acceptable to the other European partners and I think the Americans would understand that when the time came. We hope that we will be able to have had the work done by the end of the year; I very much hope that that is the case. If the work isn’t done, then we will have to examine what needs to be done to ensure that the work can be done but I do not foresee it being a position that the Americans would unilaterally leave; that is not the basis upon which other troops from Europe are presently serving in the former Yugoslavia either from the United Kingdom or from other countries so I hope the circumstance will not arise.

QUESTION (Mr Parisi, Italy):

At a summit held on 6 December 1995, a joint declaration was issued on the WEU within the context of European security at the end of the Italian presidency and the beginning of the British one. What progress has been made in order to apply this joint declaration and has the Ministerial Council of the WEU approved a document referring to WEU’s contribution to the IGC where there are at least three alternative options? Minister of Defence, Mr. Portillo, last December at a WEU meeting said that the British Government considered the debate on this matter as closed within the WEU as this has become within the frame of competence of the IGC. Does the Government then consider that it is easier to arrive at a compromise in future between the 15 members of the European Union rather than the 10 of the WEU?


The last part of your question sounded as though it was coming from a blizzard somewhere on the other side of Venus so I am not entirely sure what the last part of your question was but let me deal with the general points.

For some time, Britain has had extremely good defence cooperation with Italy. You mentioned a particular declaration in Florence, I can think of other occasions over the last few years where we have agreed bilaterally with Italy certain matters on the question of defence. As far as how those are developing, we are seeking to develop them as rapidly as possible. There are a whole series of elements in the agreement that was announced to which you refer some time ago, some are now in the process of being implemented, some are not, there is still some way further to go.

As far as the last part of your question is concerned, with your President’s permission, if you would like to repeat the last part I will try and answer it. It was quite impossible to hear on the translation.


Thank you, Prime Minister. I was referring to the fact that the British Defence Minister, Mr Portillo, last December at the WEU Assembly said that the British government considers that the debate on constitutional matters is close within the WEU whilst the matter will be referred to the IGC. Do you think that the British government is tending towards a compromise which is easier to deal with the 15 European Union countries or is it easier to do this within the 10 member countries of the WEU?


No, I think the point that Michael Portillo was seeking to make is a reflection of what I was saying a few moments ago, that we do not wish to see the Western European Union subordinated to the European Union in its decision-making capability. Of course the WEU must work very closely with our European Union partners, we agree with that. But the point that Michael was seeking to make was that we don’t want institutional changes that subordinate the decision-making process of the Western European Union to the European Union with obvious future knock-on implications for the Western European Union Assembly and its relations with the European Parliament. That would have been the point that Michael Portillo was seeking to make. We do not favour unhappy changes to the Western European Union.

QUESTION (Leader of French Delegation to Assembly):

The Brussels Commission has made proposals with regard to establishing a Common Market for armaments. Is it the best body to do that and is the British government prepared to participate, given the concentration of the American output in armaments?


When it comes to European armaments, the UK defence industry of course is a very major player, amongst the most important in Europe. So we are well attuned already to the benefits of collaboration with our European partners. And we see obvious benefits in extending this cooperation in the form of the European armaments agency, self-evidently that is the case. So we would certainly support continuing work in the Western European armaments group towards that particular end. What we do not see, of course is the European armaments agency simply existing as a body to prevent armaments purchases from elsewhere. There are occasions where a particular weapon is particularly suitable for a particular need, and if it comes from the United States we would buy it from the United States, if it comes from Europe we would buy it from Europe. But that there are undoubted advantages in cooperation and coordination of what our weapons actually fire – it is ridiculous that some of our guns in Western Europe fire different sorts of bullets, that our mortars are different, that our gun barrel sizes are different on heavy weapons, a whole series of things where there is a great deal of coordination that could and should take place. We are very much in favour of that and we see great advantage in the European armaments agency, but not as a protectionist model.

QUESTION (Mr Pavlidos, Greece):

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for the speech you have made to us this morning. And I think you have led us to believe even more strongly that the Western European Union can play an important role in developing security matters in Europe. However, very recently we have seen on two occasions that whenever a crisis breaks out, for example in former Yugoslavia, and just a few days ago in the Aegean, and I am referring to the now famous islet of Imia, and of course I am talking about an area which has very close historic links with your country, I am talking about the area of the Dodecanese and the period of British administration between 1945 and 1947, before you handed those islands, including Imia, over to Greece. And in this crisis we have seen again that Europe did not intervene. I would be interested to hear your views on the subject. How do you see European organisations intervening in such incidents and such cases when there is a threat to Europe’s borders, and I would be grateful if you could state for us what role you think your country could play in such incidents?


The two incidents you mentioned, of course, are of a different dimension. But I understand what impels you to link them. On former Yugoslavia, Europe as a whole has had a good deal of media criticism for the way it reacted. Some of that criticism is justified, I have to say a good deal of it is not justified. If the Europeans had not acted as they did, one forgets the beginning of the dispute in former Yugoslavia, I remember very plainly the nightmare we had at the beginning of the former Yugoslavia, the nightmare we had was that the dispute would move southwards to Kosovo and beyond and that we would drag in the areas beyond and that we would have a full scale Balkan war. That was the fear at the beginning and I think some of the European nations, and since you ask for the role of Britain, I think from memory we were the first actually to send troops there to try and damp down the difficulties and prevent the danger that then existed of the dispute moving to the south and beginning to involve other nations. So we did act very speedily. I recall coming back from my European holiday as it happens, I think I was in Portugal, in order to make the decision to send British troops there, and as I say I think that was the first. So that was the role we took because we saw the danger.

I think Europe has learned a lot about cooperation as a result of what actually happened in former Yugoslavia. The only point of difference that I have with some of my European colleagues is that I believe we have to do these things by a better mechanism for cooperation, rather than by centralising a decision-making process within the European Union. That we should cooperate, I am very much in support of. That we should have a common foreign and security policy, I very much agree. What I do not agree is that that common foreign and security policy should be centrally determined against the wishes of major players. They cannot ask any European troops, against the wishes of their sovereign government, to do something and in practice I don’t think it would work. So we have to build on the common foreign and security policy and improve it. And in many of the European matters I think the mechanism of the Western European Union is also an appropriate mechanism to use. That is precisely why we want to improve its operational capability during the period of the British Presidency and immediately afterwards. We think the Western European Union can become a much more effective European arm of NATO than it is at present and we ate keen to give it the assistance that it needs to ensure that it can do so.

As far as the second incident that you mentioned, the now famous Isle of Imia, I think it was more a matter for diplomatic intervention than military intervention and certainly that is an area where there is a European Union member involved where I think diplomacy can play a considerable role. And we will have some proposals to make at the Intergovernmental Conference as to how that might be improved. Our position will be to make some positive proposals in that respect and to try and persuade our European partners that we can improve the cooperation of European common and foreign policy by agreement.