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 Commons Statement on Turin European Council – 1 April 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement to the House of Commons on the Turin European Council, made on 1st April 1996.


With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement on the meeting of the European Council in Turin on 29 March which I attended with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

The purpose of the meeting was to launch the intergovernmental conference aimed at preparing the European Union for the next phase of enlargement. The Council conclusions, which I have placed in the Library, set out the main areas of the IGC’s agenda. We have ensured that the conclusions do not prejudice the actual negotiations in any way, nor do they contain an exhaustive list of the issues for negotiation. We shall pursue our objectives for the development of Europe as a partnership of nations, as set out in the Government’s recent White Paper.

The negotiations themselves will now begin. They may well last for a year or perhaps longer. Foreign Ministers will meet every month. Their personal representatives will meet every week. I outlined to the European Council the Government’s approach to the intergovernmental conference. I made it clear that our vision of Europe is built around the bedrock of the nation state. I also set out some of the areas where the United Kingdom will be putting forward proposals, and those where we have strong views.

For example, I underlined the need for the principle of subsidiarity to be enshrined in the treaty; the value of a greater role for national Parliaments; our desire to see Europe’s common foreign and security policy work better while preserving its basis of unanimity; the need for further progress in co-operation in justice and home affairs without undermining its essential intergovernmental character; our opposition to any further extension of qualified majority voting; and our insistence on reforms for the working of the European Court of Justice.

I also made plain to the European Council my particular concern about the recent opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice on the working time directive and its implications for the intergovernmental conference. I said that I was not prepared to see the social chapter opt-out undermined as a result of an expansive and unreasonable interpretation of the health and safety article of the treaty. I made it clear that I would be looking in the intergovernmental conference for changes to that article to reflect our earlier understanding of its limited scope.

The European Council also held a brief discussion on employment and competitiveness. This subject will rightly be high on the agenda of its meeting in Florence in June and I set out the Government’s views.

Europe has to be globally competitive. Jobs are not created by Governments–and still fewer are created by the European Union. Jobs come from the decisions of businesses in the marketplace. Job creation needs less regulation, not more; and there must be lower financial and other burdens on business, not extra impositions arising from ill-conceived European directives. There is increasing understanding of these realities among some of our European partners. I was encouraged by the discussion, but I will continue to resist strongly any suggestion that the treaty be amended to cover employment issues. Action in those areas is overwhelmingly for individual countries, not for the European Union collectively.

All the Heads of State and Government in Turin were acutely conscious of the Europe wide crisis in the beef market. This is, and was treated as, an entirely separate issue from the intergovernmental conference agenda. There was no question in anyone’s mind of trading help in one area against co-operation in another. I told my colleagues of the impact in this country of the ban on British beef decided in Brussels last week–particularly as it was taken on the basis of considerations other than the scientific advice.

I suggested to my colleagues that three things were now needed. First, the conditions should be created as speedily as possible to allow the ban on British beef exports to be lifted. Secondly, the specific problems of the United Kingdom beef market had to be addressed. I looked to the Union for sympathetic and speedy support for the measures necessary to return confidence and stability to the market. Thirdly, it should be recognised that this was a European, not just a British, problem.

The response of my European colleagues was, without exception, one of support. There was universal agreement that this was a Europewide problem and that a European solution was required. All Heads of State and Government who spoke expressed readiness to see the European Union bear a share of the financial burden and recalled the European Union help in the swine fever epidemic a few years ago. This was a welcome response, in tone as well as in substance, but we still have some way to go.

Negotiations continue with the Commission on the measures needed to restore confidence. My right hon and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture is in Luxembourg today to take this forward and to attend a meeting of European Ministers of Agriculture, which is now under way.

I emphasised to my European colleagues that, with the measures we have taken, British beef is–on any normal definition of the term–safe. No one disputed this. Everyone recognised that the present crisis came not from a real health risk but from unnecessary hysteria across Europe.

At Turin the intergovernmental conference was launched with an agenda that enables us to pursue our objectives in a non-prejudicial climate. I was able to make clear to my European colleagues our strong views on certain key issues, including what is needed to tackle unemployment across Europe as well as in Britain. We achieved a notable measure of understanding and support over the beef crisis that we and our European partners face together. The need now is to turn this support into action, particularly the lifting of the export ban on British beef and beef products. That is our immediate objective. It is important and we are pursuing it urgently.