The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Government Statement of European Court of Justice Ruling – 12 November 1996

Below is the text of the statement issued by 10 Downing Street on 12th November 1996 on the ruling by the European Court of Justice.


My intention in agreeing to the Protocol on Social Policy at Maastricht was to ensure that social legislation which placed unnecessary burdens on businesses and damaged competitiveness could not be imposed on the United Kingdom. The other Heads of State and Government also agreed that arrangement, without which there would have been no agreement at all at Maastricht.

However, in its judgement today, the European Court of Justice has ruled that the scope of Article 118a is much broader than the United Kingdom envisaged when the article was originally agreed, as part of the Single European Act. This appears to mean that legislation which the United Kingdom had expected would be dealt with under the Protocol can in fact be adopted under Article 118a.

That is contrary to the clear and express wishes of the United Kingdom Government, and goes directly counter to the spirit of what we agreed at Maastricht. It is unacceptable and must be remedied.

The United Kingdom will therefore table amendments in the Intergovernmental Conference to restore the position to that which the United Kingdom Government intended following the Maastricht agreement. Those amendments will be aimed at both ensuring that Article 118a cannot in future be used in ways contrary to the United Kingdom’s expectation, and dealing with the specific problem of the Working Time Directive.

I attach the utmost importance to these amendments and I shall insist that they form part of the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference. I do not see how new agreements can be reached if earlier agreements are being undermined.

Meanwhile, I urge the Commission to refrain from making proposals under Article 118a which properly belong under the other Member States’ Agreement on Social Policy.

I am sending copies of this letter to Heads of State or Government of European Union Member States.

To : His Excellency Monsieur Jacques Santer