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1993 - Mr Major’s Speech in London

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made in London on Monday 26th April 1993.


PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Chairman of Governors, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen. In welcoming you warmly to London may I firstly refer briefly to the events of Saturday. All too many of us present today have had experience of terrorism in one country or another. The world's terrorists have one thing in common - failure. They have failed to attract widespread support, they have failed the rules of civilised life, they have failed to undermine democracy. On Saturday they murdered Mr Ed Henty. I know that I speak for everyone in expressing my deepest sympathy to his family.

For years terrorists in the United Kingdom have tried to bomb and murder their way to a political objective. They have won no sympathy for their cause and nothing but contempt for their campaign. On Saturday they tried to maim the commerce of the City of London. They failed again. The EBRD, for one, illustrated that very clearly. Close to the explosion the staff of the bank worked on without interruption. You, the delegates, continued your meetings without interruption.

This morning London has given its response. The markets are open in currencies and commodities, stocks and shares, insurance and shipping. In short, today in the City it is business as usual.

Later this week I will meet the Lord Mayor of London to reconsider security measures. But even as we repair the damage the City will continue to operate as one of the great financial centres of the world.

I want this morning to talk about an idea of Europe and an idea of partnership. When the Iron Curtain crashed down across the middle of Europe in the late-1940s it divided a continent that had been joined by the ties of history, culture, a religion, for over 1,000 years. Much of European history has been about the ebb and flow of that sense of European identity. Religious strife fractured the unity of Christendom. Emperors, military adventurers, ideologists and dictators made one attempt after another to impose a forced unity on the continent. The Stalinist attempt to create an empire of the Soviets from the Pacific to the Atlantic was no more than the latest in a long line of inevitable failures. I say inevitable because it is not possible to impose a crude uniformity on a continent whose traditions are as rich and as varied as ours.

The collapse of communism in Europe is both a restoration and a revolution. It has restored national freedom to the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, it has restored individual freedom to the citizens of those countries and it has restored the possibility of partnership between East and West, between countries whose divisions have caused so much suffering over the centuries.

But the end of the Cold War has imposed its own burden, the burden of choice and the burden of responsibility. The fate of the peoples of Eastern Europe, of Russia and of the countries of the former Soviet Union lies first of all in the hands of the people of those countries themselves. It is not surprising that many in those countries and many outside observers are daunted by the political, social and economic challenge that they face.

For now they have to undergo a new revolution, not a revolution of barricades, of flags and slogans, not the exhilarating popular European revolutions of the 19th and 20th century which saw so much heroism among ordinary people and so much betrayal by their leaders, what Eastern Europe faces today is a new kind of revolution, a revolution in political attitudes, in methods of work, in economic and political institutions, in international relations. It is a revolution in which the old kinds of rhetoric and the old kinds of heroism are a positive disadvantage, a revolution without glamour.

Such a revolution cannot take place quickly, it cannot take place easily. To bring it to success will require patience and tolerance, it will require tact and understanding both within the countries of Eastern Europe and from their partners in the West.

But it is a prospect of hope as well as of apprehension. Look at the progress that has been made, even in countries with little experience in that most difficult of political arts - the art of democracy. Free and fair elections have become the norm, the norm in countries where 98.8 percent of the electorate once used to vote for a single candidate. Slovakia and the Czechlands have parted company peacefully and by agreement. President Yeltsin is the first Russian leader in the history of that immense country to be elected by popular suffrage. Russia voted again yesterday, so far we have only the early results, they suggest that the Russian people have renewed their support for President Yeltsin, for democracy and for reform. Those are the policies that have also attracted the strong support of the international community. As Russia moves towards reform she deserves our continuing support for her success is in the interests of us all.

Mr Chairman, economic change everywhere is gathering strength. Poland is the first country in Eastern Europe to regain economic growth. In the Czechlands privatisation is proceeding apace. Foreign investment is flourishing in Hungary. Estonia has established its currency. Even in places where there is little or no tradition of private business ordinary people are beginning to take advantage of new opportunities. They are working for themselves and for their families. Small scale business and agriculture are spreading in Russia and elsewhere. Larger enterprises are being privatised. Industries which were run by bureaucrats are being handed over to the people who best know how to make them work.

The grounds for hope, hope that the process of renewal and change can be brought to success are not trivial. The former communist countries of Europe enjoy solid assets, they are well educated, skilled in many of the scientific, industrial and technical skills which a modern industrial society requires. They are now well informed both about the problems of their own countries and about the possibilities of the outside world, they are free to meet foreigners, to travel abroad, to draw on the experiences of those in other countries who have benefited from the opportunities offered by a liberal, economic and political system.

And above all, above all the people of the former communist countries of Europe can never again be seduced by the Marxist lie, by the proposition that the state is capable of imposing prosperity and that it is worth in exchange surrendering political freedom and the right to think for oneself.

History could of course take a different path. Yugoslavia is an extreme and harrowing example, a country which was making good economic progress and appeared to the outside world to be shaking off ancient ethnic and religious rivals has dissolved into war and atavism. Much about the former Yugoslavia was unique to that country. I do not wish to suggest that I expect new, similar tragedies to break out elsewhere.

But Yugoslavia is far from the only ethnic conflict bedevilling the post-communist world, Nogorno-Karabakh, for example, must not be overlooked. These are warnings that we must not allow human passion and despair to escape from our control.

Those of us in Western Europe who have not suffered oppression, who have not suffered oppression and the artificial poverty which communism imposed on our fellows to the east, cannot assume the burden of choice and the burden of responsibility on their behalf. In the end it has to be the initiative of ordinary people and their common enterprises, freely entered into, which will bring the former communist countries of Europe through their present difficulties.

But we in Western Europe have a clear and inescapable moral duty: to demonstrate in practice our solidarity with those who lived under communism, who had the courage to overthrow it and who are now paying the price of its political and economic deprivations.

That is not simply a moral duty, it is a debt of gratitude to those heroic people in the East who fought for political change and who did so much to lift the terrible threat of a devastating war which hung over all of us and over our children.

We in Western Europe bring to our support for our neighbours to the East many instruments, international institutions, governmental programmes, business collaboration and the generous efforts of individuals. My own government has contributed 1.8 billion pounds sterling through bilateral and multilateral programmes to help the former communist countries. Others have been equally generous and we are mobilising our collective institutions as well.

The main collective institutions of Western Europe, like those of the former Soviet Bloc, were created in large part as a response to the threats of the Cold War. But unlike the institutions of the Soviet Bloc, they were freely entered into by their members. They have therefore survived the end of the Cold War and are beginning to adapt to the challenges of a world no longer conditioned by the old fears. The European Community is already strengthening its partnership with its neighbours to the East, it has generous technical assistance programmes in place. It and its member states together provide the lion's share of Western aid. And beyond that the Community, the European Community, is very conscious of its moral and political vocation to support democracy throughout the continent. It looks forward to welcoming countries from the East as it once welcomed those from the south, as soon as those countries become capable of bearing the political and economic burdens, responsibilities and rights of membership of the Community.

At Edinburgh last December, Community Heads of State and Government welcomed a far reaching report from the Commission on relations with our associate partners in central Europe. At Copenhagen we must take decisions. We need to tell the central Europeans clearly and unambiguously that we want them inside the European Union as full members. They may ask when I say to them it is up to you to make yourselves ready for membership, it is up to us to help you prepare for that membership.

That is why the Europe or Association Agreements are so important. They have come in for plenty of criticism, not least, Mr President, from time to time, from you. But let us not belittle what has been achieved. The agreements have substantially liberalised trade. Trade between the European Community and the Visegrad countries has already increased by some 18 percent. But the process of liberalisation needs to go faster. Your cherished desire, and mine, Mr President, is to liberalise trade throughout the continent. I welcome unreservedly the European Community's recent decision to set the goal of a free trade area with Russia. We must now work hard to put it in place.

We all have problems in opening up our markets in certain sensitive areas. But I believe the Community should practise what it preaches. Trade liberalisation is the most effective and permanent means we have to help consolidate political stability and economic growth. After all, exports from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia countries to the Community represent 50 percent of their total exports but only 2 percent of European Community imports. We cannot expect them to liberalise, moving towards market economies, if we do not lead by example.

Indeed we can afford to be generous. As consumers we all benefit from our own generosity. If the Europe Agreements are implemented imaginatively, if we open our markets, then accession at an early date should be a realistic objective.

NATO is another institution in transition. It no longer faces the threat to the East which was its main reason for being. Instead it is developing forms of cooperation with its former adversaries. Politicians from East and West meet in the North Atlantic Cooperation Council to discuss mutual problems of security. Russian Generals visit NATO military headquarters to talk about the problems of running down military establishments as the Cold War recedes into the past. There is even talk, so far highly preliminary talk, of the possibility of mounting joint peace-keeping operations in the disturbed parts of our common continent. It is all light years away from the terrifying confrontation of the past.

And in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, whose annual meeting we are celebrating today, we are specifically devoted to the proposition that all Europeans and all those outside Europe who have an interest in the fate of the continent have a duty to combine in partnership to ensure that the post-communist revolution in Europe leads to prosperity and to democracy.

The bank is still developing its activities, still learning from the experience of the two short years since it was set up. It has already contributed over 1.6 billion to western investment in Eastern Europe. It has already generated a total project value of 7.9 billion pounds sterling. That is a result for which the bank deserves credit. The bank must now go on about its task in the most cost-effective way possible, ensuring value for taxpayers' money, of building up its operations in the region to assist the transition to market economies and to foster the private sector.

I spoke a few moments ago of the importance of small business. The EBRD has just been asked by the Group of Seven Foreign and Finance Ministers, following their meeting in Tokyo, to establish a fund to promote small and medium size Russian enterprises. This was a key priority identified by the Russians. It provides the ideal chance for the bank to show its strength. In the end, however, it is not international institutions or governments alone which will bring the post-communist revolution to a peaceful, democratic and prosperous fruition. Politicians, officials and experts from outside drop briefly into the former communist capitals and dispense advice, often I believe without fully appreciating the immensity of the political and social, or even of the technical problems, which face advice, even when it is right and then risks being rejected.

No, in the end, what matters is the human element, the sense that we Europeans are involved together as equals in a common undertaking. The truth is that the political and economic tasks which face the former communist countries of Europe are tasks of unprecedented difficulty. There are no simple, no easy, no rapid solutions and none of us has a monopoly of the right answers. Even if the prime responsibility for coping with the post-communist revolution must rest with the people most concerned, we all have a common interest in their success.

That truth is understood by ordinary businessmen and ordinary people in both halves of our formerly divided continent. I am regularly amazed and moved by the number of professional people in my own country who are willing to make real sacrifices of their own time and money to help their fellow professionals in the East. I am struck by the number of Western businessmen who believe that they have a duty as well as an interest in seeking out viable joint projects with the businessmen who are emerging from the wreckage of communism. And. I know that their efforts are welcomed by their partners, by all those ordinary people in the East who are taking energetic advantage of their new freedoms to work effectively for themselves, for their families, for their communities and for their countries. For most of them - remember this - for most of them it is the first opportunity they have ever had to control their own fate.

Let me conclude, Mr Chairman, with this thought. It is the task of all of us here today, politicians, bankers, officials, to provide the political framework and the financial backing which will help all those people to achieve their aims. For it is by the efforts of millions of ordinary people that we shall recreate the ancient oneness of Europe and lay finally to rest the demons which have caused, and still cause, so much suffering in our common continent. In that cause we should work, and work again, until we have success and they have prosperity.