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 Press Conference in Florence – 22 June 1996

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Florence on Saturday 22nd June 1996.


Firstly, I apologise for the fact the Foreign Secretary isn’t here. He is still representing the United Kingdom in the plenary session that is still continuing.

Let me just say a word or two about the weekend. I think it has been a very satisfactory weekend both for Europe as a whole and for the United Kingdom. We reached yesterday a satisfactory resolution of the dispute on beef, a resolution that meets the objectives I set out, and now provides a concrete way of moving forward with the ban being lifted in stages, and with each stage firmly based, as we wished it to be, on objective criteria and science. So I am more than content with that. I know what a difficult issue this has been, not just domestically in the United Kingdom, but a very difficult issue as well for some of our European partners. And I am grateful to the Commission and to the Presidency for the work that they put into helping us ensure a satisfactory way forward.

Over the remainder of the weekend we have made quite a lot of progress in different aspects of European policy. We believe very strongly that the sort of Europe we should be building is a Europe that works as a partnership, a Europe that recognises that there will be no success unless enterprise is given a pride of place in European policies. I think that is gaining ground as a European concept, though not yet universally accepted.

There was agreement yesterday about the need to improve the performance of Europe as a whole on job creation and competitiveness. And self-evidently, if one looks across Europe, the problems of creating jobs must be amongst the first of the difficulties that we all face.

There is an increasing recognition of the need for more flexible open markets, the importance of supporting small businesses, precisely because it is from the small business sector that the new jobs will come in the years that lie immediately ahead.

Some of our partners in Europe prefer to present these policies within their own familiar context of social partnership. Well we have different traditions in the United Kingdom and we have made clear again, unsurprisingly, to our colleagues that the United Kingdom will not be bound into institutional structures of centralised social partnership. We think those would inhibit rather than help businesses and we have reiterated that view this weekend.

We have also made some progress on developing the agenda for the Intergovernmental Conference to reflect the matters we think are of most importance. In the conclusions they specifically refer to the need to review the workings of the European Court of Justice, we strongly welcome that, and to further entrench subsidiarity as a treaty item, that also is very welcome, with a full report on progress at the next summit in Dublin.

There are other items in the agenda which, to be frank, we are rather less keen on. We made clear in the White Paper on our negotiating position in the IGC that we remain opposed to future extensions of qualified majority voting, for substantial extensions of the power of the European parliament or to the removal of national controls in areas of cooperation like justice and the foreign affairs pillar.

One other aspect that I think is worth mentioning, is the fact that within the Intergovernmental Conference we will be insisting that changes are made to ensure that the health and safety provisions of the treaty are used for health and safety, and not used more widely to undermine the social chapter opt-out that the United Kingdom agreed with its partners at the Maastricht negotiations. That is a matter of some importance. We reached an agreement on the social chapter opt-out. We cannot accept that agreement being broken by the use of a different treaty head to pursue the same sort of legislation.

We will also be looking at the Intergovernmental Conference for a resolution of some of the important issues under the Common Fisheries Policy. One very important outcome from our discussion that I very much welcome, was the decision to seek to bring forward a draft treaty text for discussion at Dublin in December. I very much welcome this, and for this reason. I think the sooner we can actually see the substantive detailed points everyone proposes to put in the treaty, the sooner we can get down to genuine debates rather than some of the shadow boxing that occurs in advance of detailed treaty discussion. And I think it would be useful to have that information both for an informed debate across the European Union, and also of course within the United Kingdom about the importance of our arguments on the future development of the Union.

Let me touch just very briefly on one or two other matters. One important area of our discussions covered justice and home affairs. And we agreed in that discussion to build on our cooperation in the fight against drugs and organised crime, and that follows on from the British joint initiative with France to combat the drugs trade in the Caribbean, so much of the drugs that reach northern Europe come actually from Latin America, using the Caribbean as a staging post.

We also reached a conclusion on the establishment of Europol that reflected the concern we have had about maintaining the independence of the United Kingdom courts. That of course was the sticking point that caused us to block progress at the Cannes Summit a year or so ago. We have now reached an agreement in the protocol that the UK will not be subject to ECJ jurisdiction in this area. That is a good result and I think it is an illustration, not the only one, but an illustration of how a more flexible approach to Europe will enable us to deal with matters much more satisfactorily in the future.

We discussed the progress on the enlargement of the European Union and agreed a number of policy declarations on external relations, including former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Russia.

I think that the Council ended with relationships in good repair across the European Union, and with attention now able to focus on the important issues that lie ahead. We look forward to the debate on those issues. We have set out very clearly the particular vision that we have of the development of the European Union and I look forward to engaging in debate on that in the Intergovernmental Conference and in the two summits that we will have in the second half of this year, both in Dublin, one I think in October, an interim summit in October is likely, and then the usual half-yearly summit in Dublin in the middle of December.


QUESTION (Reuters):

Mr Clarke has said that he sees circumstances in which it would be in Britain’s interest to join monetary union, and also sees circumstances in which it would be in Britain’s interest to be in the first group of countries going into that. Do you agree?


What the Chancellor has done is repeat what he and I have said a hundred times in the past. We have an option to enter – to opt in or opt out. Self-evidently since we have an option to go in or an option to stay out, there is a possibility of exercising both options. That has been exactly the position since the Maastricht Treaty. I don’t know exactly what the Chancellor said but that is precisely the position, it remains that and has been that way for a very long time.


Are there any circumstances in which you would ever envisage employing the tactics of non-cooperation again, or was that just a one-off, never to be repeated?


We faced a unique situation. I cannot recall an occasion in the European Union in the past where on a matter that was of vital national interest for one nation, in this case the United Kingdom, the other 14 members were not actually engaging in cooperative discussion with us. I hope that will not occur again.

But on this occasion what happened was that we put forward repeated ideas of how we might deal with this, and instead of there being a constructive dialogue about that, in essence people said very interesting, now go away and produce something better. Well I just have to say to you that is no way to treat the United Kingdom, it is no way to treat any member of the European Union. And the second element that led to the policy you refer to was the fact that the European Commission had unanimously recommended the lifting of the ban on beef derivatives, the scientists had recommended it and then it was blocked, clearly as a political decision, by not all, but a minority, of our partners. Now that clearly was not a tolerable circumstance. So providing the normal canons of goodwill apply, I would see no need for such a policy again, but of course it is dependent upon the canons of goodwill. Where non-cooperation was not extended to us, we did not extend it to others and that was the genesis of this dispute.


A number of member states have said they are now going to be seeking sanctions which carry out what Dick Spring called serial vetoing in the future, within the context of the IGC. Will you support or oppose that?


Of course I am not going to support that. The IGC is agreed by unanimity. I don’t believe that is correct and if there were a proposition of that sort, the United Kingdom would not accept it, it would not accept it whether it was aimed at us, and it would not accept it if it was aimed at any other member state of the European Union either. Each of the members of the European Union is an individual nation state, whether a large one like Germany, France or Britain, or one of the smaller members. And they cannot just, in important areas, be told that they are going to tag on behind the rest of the European Union if it is not in their national interest to do so. So of course I would not agree to anything like that and, in case you ask, neither would I agree to the abolition of the veto.


What is the British position on a possible Europeanisation of NATO, and what is the British position regarding the enlargement of NATO to central European countries and the Russian veto on it?


There are two elements to that question. As far as what you call the Europeanisation of NATO is concerned, well I don’t see that. I do see Europe playing a larger role in NATO using as its arm the Western European Union. I see the Western European Union developing as the European arm of NATO, I think that is now on its way to being established policy and I welcome that. It is time for the big European nations to play a larger role in the sum total of NATO’s commitment and I think that is happening and we have long wished to see that.

As far as the expansion of NATO is concerned, we are in favour of the expansion of NATO, but I think it has to be done gradually and it has to be done in a non-provocative fashion and I think that is eminently achievable. The expansion of NATO, of course, is a two-way project. Not only does NATO expand its membership but the new members must accept obligations from NATO, it is a two-way street. But I do favour the expansion of NATO, I think it will expand but I think it will do so at a leisurely pace.

QUESTION (Chris Buckland, Daily Express):

Do you see any possibility that the next Conservative manifesto will rule out the UK joining a single currency in the lifetime of the next Parliament?


We have set out the position, Chris, on a number of occasions and I see no reason to suppose that it is going to change.

QUESTION (John Palmer, Guardian):

Listening to your fellow Heads of government in the last 24 hours, I think all of them that have spoken have said Britain could have got a beef deal earlier had it been less tardy in producing an eradication policy and a framework agreement. They also all seem to echo what the Swedish Prime Minister said last night: “The British government will pay a very, very heavy price for what it has done”. How do you react to that?


As to the second point, if anyone thinks they can threaten us in that fashion they are in for a very nasty shock. Neither do I think that is the view of our European partners, neither do I think that is going to happen. As far as the first part of your question is concerned, I am bound to say in the immortal words used some years ago – they would say that, wouldn’t they. But the reality is that if a deal was available earlier, why was there no cooperation on a deal, why was there 8 weeks with no progress whatsoever and only progress latterly after we had imposed the non-cooperation policy? I didn’t do that lightly, it isn’t in my nature to go out and lightly confront unless there was a reason for doing so. And there was a reason for doing so. There was a reason because we were not getting the sort of cooperation we were entitled to from our European partners, and there was a reason for doing so because the people who ought not to be forgotten in this dispute are also the 650,000 people in the British beef industry who needed to know what was going to happen to the future of their livelihoods. And for those reasons it was necessary to reach a constructive debate. We were not reaching a constructive debate. I sought another method of ensuring we got one and I am delighted to say we have.

But as to suggestions that there are going to be reciprocal measures – well, nonsense.


[Indistinct] price of staying in the government, the non-cooperation?


You do ask some preposterous questions.