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1993 - Mr Major’s Press Conference in Paris

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Paris on Friday 28th May 1993.


PRIME MINISTER:

I just want to make a few introductory remarks and then I think we can really begin by taking the questions that concern you and I will attempt to answer them.

I came here this morning at the invitation of the President of the Republic who very generously gave me lunch. President Mitterrand of course has been the longest serving French President for over a century and as such he is listened to with very great respect and I greatly enjoyed my meeting with him again today.

I began the day earlier this morning with extensive talks with Prime Minister Balladur whom I had reacquainted when he came to dinner at Downing Street three weeks or so ago, we did of course know one another from the time we were both Finance Ministers some years ago.

I also had the opportunity this morning of a meeting with President Giscard d'Estaing, who flew in from Strasbourg, and we were able to spend an hour or so together just before lunch.

In each of those meetings we covered broadly similar, not identical, but broadly similar agendas. We looked at cooperation between Britain and France in international affairs, we looked at some of the main points on the European agenda and perhaps in particular the agenda that lies immediately in front of us on the Copenhagen summit, the Anglo-French bilateral that I will refer to in a few moments, and of course the European interest in the G7 summit at Tokyo later on in the summer.

Let me make one or two general points. The first point I make is one that I make with a great degree of pleasure, and it is this. There is at the moment a great deal of common ground between people and politicians in France and the United Kingdom, and indeed in Germany and other member states, on the future of the European Community. I welcome that, I think there is an increasing concordat on many of the things we need to do in the Community and I think that is thoroughly welcome. The Community went through a period in the second half of the 1980s when there was very dramatic growth right the way across Europe. Subsequently the growth across Europe has fallen away and many of the difficulties that people have faced economically in countries right the way across the Community, international events that have swept right across the continent, have often been blamed, in many cases unfairly, on the specific activities of the Community itself.

The second point I want to make is that I cannot myself recall a time when the relationship between the United Kingdom and France has been in better shape than it is at present. In many areas we have similar policies, we work together, we complement each other, we have joint interests. That is very welcome and I think we should maximise those joint interests in the interests of France and in the interests of the United Kingdom and both the President, the Prime Minister and I are determined that we will make the most of that.

Of course between neighbours there are areas where we have a different shade of view, areas where there are disagreements. That I think is inevitable between neighbours and where that happens we get a great degree of publicity about it. But when one looks beyond those occasional matters, people perhaps take for granted the fact that millions of French and British visit one another each year, live and work in one another's countries, build ships, cars, aeroplanes together as joint ventures. All that is happening and I welcome it very much indeed.

I think they forget also that we work together, Britain and France, in a unique relationship as members simultaneously of the European Community, the Group of Seven and the United Nations Security Council. That is a very vivid illustration of the extent of common interest that exists between Britain and France and the extent to which we do work together and need to work together in the future. I think people even take for granted the fact that we are now joined by the Channel Tunnel - a massive joint engineering triumph.

I have spent today discussing a range of matters with the President and the Prime Minister, they have not been discussing principally points of disagreement but points of agreement, points of how to develop policy further between us. we have had intensive discussion on how we can work together on issues of great importance to both of us, how to promote subsidiarity, that is to say the transfer of authority from the Community level back down to the nation state, how to promote enlargement of the Community to bring in the EFTAn states and in due course the central and Eastern European states, how to develop a closer relationship with Eastern Europe at the Copenhagen Council and how to cooperate even more closely in foreign policy, in defence and in security matters. So today has not been a day for short-term decisions but for long term planning about how to develop our joint interests together.

Mainly because of the electoral calendar, France and Britain have not had a formal full dress British/French summit since June 1991. But I can tell you today that I have invited the President and the Prime Minister to come with a team of senior colleagues to a summit meeting in London in July. It will be held on 26 July when we will have a very extensive agenda to cover.

I should also tell you that we have agreed this morning that the British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and M. Juppe will be meeting next week in order to take further the Washington agreement on Bosnia that was concluded just a few days ago.

So those are broadly the areas we have been discussing this morning, I will not go into detail, you may well wish to ask me details and as far as I can I will respond to that, but those are the general areas we have been discussing this morning and I think it has been a very useful series of exchanges.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Associated Press):

Today Alain Juppe has said that France has submitted a proposal to the United Nations calling for peace-keepers to be able to use force in Bosnia, what is your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that is one of the things that Douglas Hurd will be discussing with Alain Juppe next week. The British and the French position on Bosnia has been astonishingly close right from the outset of this whole affair, our analysis of the problem has been close, our commitment to put troops on the ground has been close, our commitment and determination on sanctions and other matters has been close and our general reading of the problem has been close. We propose to liaise with Alain Juppe about this matter and I hope we will be able to reach a concordat, that meeting will take place next week.

QUESTION:

There are two known areas where there is a degree of disagreement between France and Britain, two known areas connected in part with the European Community, the first is the social aspect by which I mean Britain's known refusal to accept the social facet of the building of Europe and the second is connected to the GATT negotiations, are the British and French positions getting closer together or are they still as far apart?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think understanding of the positions is certainly getting greater in both those instances. If I can say a word about the social aspect of Europe, the social structure and in particular the social charter which presumably is what you have in mind rather than the other social elements of the Community. If you mean the other social elements, the British contribution to them and the British acceptance to them is as great as any other country in Europe. But if you mean the social charter, it is certainly true that we do not favour the social charter, not as a position of ideology, I believe the social charter is mis-named.

It has a nice friendly ring if you call it the social charter. If you were to call it a potential job destruction charter I do not suppose it would be as popular across Europe and yet that is what I believe it to be. We in Britain have a different social structure from some of our partners in Europe and clearly therefore we have a different perspective on the social charter.

But let me put the point specifically about the social charter. The social charter will add to the employment costs of people in Europe. If it adds to the employment costs it must mean one thing above all, there will be less jobs in Europe. We have between 17 and 18 million European citizens unemployed. I just ask the question: is it sensible when you have 17 - 18 million citizens unemployed, to add to the social costs of employment? I think you will just add to the number of people who are unemployed. That is the first point and the first reason that Britain opposes the social charter.

The second reason is a European reason as well. Europe as a whole, all of it, faces much greater competition these days with Japan, with the United States, with the countries of the Pacific Basin. In a shrinking world for trade purposes we have to compete against those countries. If we, right the way across Europe, add to the social costs of employment and production we will diminish our capacity to win in those markets of the world, we will pile social costs on our employers and we will lose their markets to the Japanese, to the Americans and to the Pacific Basic countries.

And I ask again: is that a sensible thing to do with 17 - 18 million Europeans unemployed? I have to tell you bluntly that I do not think it is sensible and it was for that reason that I argued so strongly at the Maastricht Council for Europe as a whole not to adopt the social charter, I do not want to see Europe as a whole put itself at a disadvantage to the rest of the world and I believe that is what it is doing and I believe you see that in unemployment right the way across Europe. It is emphatically not a question of saying let us not give new rights to workers. It emphatically is a question of saying let us get more workers back into jobs that they can stay in because the European industries can compete. That is why I argued against the social charter in Maastricht, why I would not accept it in Maastricht and why I still say for Britain and for Europe it is wrong, it is a disadvantage, the time for it is not yet right.

On GATT, I very much want to see an agreement on the Uruguay Round, it has to be a fair agreement, I understand the difficulties that France faces. The GATT agreement extends across the whole range of industry and commerce, agriculture where I understand the difficulties in France, but there are many other industrial and other areas where a GATT agreement is very much in favour of Western Europe, very much in favour of jobs in Western Europe, prosperity in Western Europe, growth in Western Europe. And we have to find a way through this GATT tangle to reach a satisfactory settlement I believe within the terms of this year.

If I may offer you a second reason for pushing ahead for a GATT agreement it would be this. What is one of the characteristics of Britain and France? One of the characteristics of both our countries is that we are very generous with overseas aid to countries with whom we have had a long-standing relationship. We are prepared to use a great deal of money from our own taxpayers' revenue in order to assist those countries with direct aid.

What on earth, what on earth is the purpose of giving them aid with one hand and not agreeing a GATT agreement that opens our markets to their products with the other? It is counter-productive. We may salve our consciences by giving them aid and we leave them in a position where they are a perpetual recipient of aid whilst denying them the opportunity of coming into our markets and make their prosperity, on their terms, for their future.

Unusual for politicians to talk about morality maybe these days but I do not believe that is a moral policy and I think we should seek a GATT agreement for that reason. There are difficulties still in reaching a GATT agreement, they are not just French difficulties, I know France has difficulties with the Blair House Agreement, other countries have difficulties as well, the Japanese have difficulties, the Americans have difficulties with different aspects of the deal. I simply say that we need to continue to talk. Year after year we have gone to the G7 or some other great conference of Heads of Government and collectively agreed that we were going to have a Uruguay Agreement by the end of the year and year after year it has failed. I just think it is time that we actually reached a conclusion. It will to a greater or lesser extent be uncomfortable for all of us, including my country, but when you look at the recessionary situation around the world, particularly in Western Europe, and one looks at the difficulties that need to be faced, I think we all have to enter those talks with the determination of making them succeed. And in saying that I do not for a second under-estimate the difficulties that face France, I understand them, I just say collectively we must look and see how those can be solved across agriculture and elsewhere.

QUESTION (David Buchan, Financial Times):

Just two questions, one to follow up on GATT. Prime Minister Balladur said that you had agreed that your officials should put their heads together to try and advance agreement on GATT. Was that his initiative and what concretely would that mean? Would it be mainly focused on the agricultural side where he complimented Mr. Gummer's help?

PRIME MINISTER:

It followed on from the co-operation at the Agriculture Council that led to the agreement - which I hope will soon be clear is genuinely an agreement on oil seeds - just the other day. There was a great deal of Anglo-French co-operation. It advanced a cause that seemed lost.

Maybe we can extend that co-operation in other ways. There is, as I indicated at the outset, a good deal more Anglo-French bilateral work on a range of subjects than most people perhaps realise and what we want to do is to look at the component parts of GATT. You can't agree GATT by talking in generalities; you have to get down to the specifics. This is a "nuts and bolts" agreement. Everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, is hurt by the GATT agreement in one form or another. We need to look at those sore points and see whether we can find a way round them and I have great admiration for the diplomatic and political skills of the French and I believe we have quite a lot to offer in that respect as well so all we have agreed over our meeting this morning - and it followed on from the agriculture meeting - is that we will look together at these problems and see if we can identify a way ahead. we are not seeking a bilateral fix. Let me make that clear. We are pooling our resources to see how we can advance the general trend towards a satisfactory agreement.

QUESTION (David Buchan, Financial Times):

A quick follow-up: Prime Minister, you talked about this being a day for long-term planning. If this Anglo-French rapprochement were to continue until 1996, which is perhaps rather an ambitious hope, would you hope that in that year when there is supposed to be another intergovernmental conference in the Community, that this would help shape the agenda for that conference?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know why you think 1996 is an ambition. Unfortunately it is the disagreements that are magnified and the agreements that are not magnified but we have actually been working together for generations. I know British and French attitudes are perhaps marked by William the Conquerer coming over to Britain with a certain degree of malice aforethought and Henry II coming to France to conquer half the country and marry the rest but that was, frankly, rather a long time ago and we have been working together across a whole range of issues.

The rapprochement will go on. We have a mutuality of interests. That is real politics apart from the fact that it is something we would both wish to do. What that doesn't mean is that we are going to agree on every subject - of course it doesn't. There are even disagreements sometimes within individual countries as we have all seen. Of course there will be disagreements but the determination to look where we can at areas of common interest and see a way ahead I think will continue up to and way beyond 1996 and of course we will be discussing with our friends in Paris and also other friends in the Community what the agenda should be for the next intergovernmental conference. We are working on that subject now and I believe everybody else will be too.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, it seems in fact that you have now a new relationship between Paris and London and mainly on the question of Europe and the shape of Europe. Could you give us some details of that? M. Balladur this morning said that the two administrations will work closely now.

PRIME MINISTER:

You are wrong in thinking it is just European matters, it isn't.

There is a good degree of co-operation in international affairs, Bosnia for example, Russia for example; all the matters that go through the Security Council at the United Nations, the subject of increasing bilateral discussions between the United Kingdom and France. There is a very close defence relationship; we have worked together on a variety of defence projects; that remains the case; it will remain the case in the future. Britain and France are the only two nuclear powers in Western Europe. There is a good deal of collective work that we have done on that so there is a whole range of issues. The Channel Tunnel is a very practical expression of that.

It isn't just the development of the Community. Both France and Britain must work to a greater or lesser extent with all our Community partners on that but it is across a wide range of issues that we are seeking to develop perhaps further than it has gone before the relationship that exists between France and Britain.

Of course it involves European matters. We are both keen on making sure we get the right extension of the European Community, that we have the right arrangements when the new countries come into the European Community, that we look collectively at what actually happens after the 1996 meeting that we will have to refresh Europe and move forward. Of course we are looking together at all those things. We both have a very direct interest in it.

QUESTION:

Mr. Prime Minister, one of the fruits of Anglo-French co-operation has been this Washington agreement. This agreement has been rather received by the other European partners on two levels: one is that it is a way of promoting a kind of apartheid or bantostar in Bosnia; the second is that they didn't like hearing about it on the radio without any prior consultation. We are talking about common foreign and defence policy. How do you react to this criticism to the Washington agreement?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think a good deal of the criticism of the Washington agreement has been very ill-informed, to be blunt. The Washington agreement is an action plan. The Washington agreement is not a settlement that freezes the Serb gains and says they can keep them. It emphatically is not that. It is an action plan about how in practical terms we can develop policy. The objective of making sure that sanctions continue and that other policies continue until such time as the Serbs disgorge their gains continues so there is no change in that as Douglas Hurd has made clear, as M. Juppe has made clear. What it is is a practical way in which to proceed.

As to the concerns of other European members, what they agreed there was entirely in line with previous discussions there had been amongst the Twelve so I think the criticism that we have heard from that quarter is more based on inaccurate reports than accurate substance. I reiterate the point: emphatically not a settlement; emphatically not rewarding the Serbs for the present position; emphatically making it clear that this is the way that it is practicable to proceed in the short-term and that in the long-term we do not expect and do not wish the Serbs to keep their ill-gotten gains and that diplomatic and political pressure, sanctions pressure, is expected to continue and will have the full support of the British and French perhaps for a very long time ahead.

QUESTION (Nelson Grays, Reuters):

Could you tell us exactly how France and Britain could strengthen their relations in the military realm and especially as regards nuclear?

PRIME MINISTER:

Nuclear is more delicate for me to discuss here and we will need to have a great deal of discussion about that but we have had a good deal of military co-operation on the construction of military equipment and other matters in the past.

As military demands change - and they are changing at the moment in the 1990s - we may increasingly have to look across the Western European Union, across NATO, making sure that nations do most what they do best and that does mean we have a particular responsibility to look between Britain and France in the interests of Western Europe in particular at their contribution to NATO, at the right degree of co-operation between them. Joint exercises are the sort of thing we have done for a long time; the possibility of constructing joint frigates. These are all matters of co-operation that would be both in our military interest and very probably, subject to examination, in our financial interest as well and those are the sort of things we will wish increasingly to examine.

QUESTION:

You said that you had met with Prime Minister Balladur and indeed then with President Francois Mitterrand and I would like to know your views of this peculiarly French phenomenon known as "cohabitation".

Secondly, regarding Franco-British economic co-operation, you know that the Channel Tunnel is of signal importance to France and to the French. I would like to know what Britain's intentions are in that connection and in particular mention has been made of the possibility of France even investing in British railway networks.

PRIME MINISTER:

As far as cohabitation is concerned, I don't find that a strange prospect at all. The Conservative Party have been cohabitating on the Maastricht Treaty for the last few months so I see no particular difficulty in the cohabitation you have had in France.

On the question of the tunnel and the development of railway networks, we have decided that we will develop the railway network. I know President Mitterrand indicated delicately and with great charm that our trains might go a little more slowly perhaps than his. I would simply say we have some very lovely country to look at while they go slowly and I look forward to the development of those trains between now and the turn of the century and I am very delighted the decision has been made that we will proceed with the development.

I wasn't aware of the suggestion of French investment in those railways but perhaps that is a suggestion that has been made this side of the Channel rather than the other side.

QUESTION (John Sergeant):

You said this morning that there will be no change in the government's approach both to the ERM and to possible future cuts in interest rates but if there has been no change in economic policy and if that is not your intention, why did you change the Chancellor and what did you make of the fact that he did not send you a traditional resignation letter?

PRIME MINISTER:

The position on economic policy generally has been set out quite clearly and that doesn't change with a change of personnel. It is no more likely to do that than the government's desire for a home-owning democracy which has been there for generations will have changed with successive Environment or Housing Ministers; of course it doesn't change.

The policy carried out by the Chancellor is the government's policy, has been and remains the government's policy. It has been set out and articulated by Chancellors - very well articulated by Norman Lamont - and endorsed before he became Chancellor by Kenneth Clarke. That continues.

It is always necessary from time to time to refresh a government, to change it round, to put the right people in the right jobs, to push forward the agenda for the next few years, to make sure that is done as effectively as possible and that is the purpose of any reshuffle not least this one.

Secondly, as to why particularly now: we are about to begin discussions that move towards the first unified budget, a very dramatic change in British budgetary procedures, and it is necessary to have a new Chancellor in place to see that right the way through the preparation and presentation in November of the first unified budget. It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of decision and it seemed therefore the right time to do it before those discussions actually commence.

The third reason of course is that I have in my Party a lot of talented people who have not yet served in government, who have a great deal to offer my country, who deserve the chance actually to serve in government. I wanted to bring those into the government as well as giving a lot of Ministers outside the Cabinet predominantly, but some inside the Cabinet, the chance to widen their experience and look at other portfolios. I think it is in the general interest to make sure that they do that, that they have the widest possible experience because I think that helps in conducting policy in the particular Department in which they have responsibility.

Those essentially are the reasons for the reshuffle.

Regarding the letter, I think that is a matter for Norman but I don't think it can be very surprising, can it? I know Norman very well. He is a good friend of mine, he has been a good friend of mine for a very long time. We have worked closely together, we have shared the same policies, we have shared the same hopes, we have shared the same dreams about getting inflation down. He has taken a great deal of criticism as Chancellor - as any Chancellor of the Exchequer would have had to do over the last two years. He has taken very bravely with a great degree of courage a great degree of criticism. The fact that it has been necessary to make a change I understand must be very hurtful to him. Even politicians are human. I quite understand the fact that he wants a little bit of peace and quiet at the moment and I hope he'll get it.

QUESTION:

Could I just ask whether you have a feeling of relief now that you have finally got what must have been a reluctant reshuffle out of the way and will your new Chancellor now have the option of considering possible changes in Norman Lamont's last budget and specifically the VAT on home heat fuel?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't anticipate the present Chancellor changing what was in the budget that was approved by the Cabinet of which he was a member. I don't anticipate changes in that regard, no.

With regard to the sense of relief, tomorrow is always more important than yesterday. There are difficult decisions, difficult things to be done every day. There have been in the past. I have no doubt there will be other difficult decisions next week, next month and the month after - that is the business of government.

QUESTION (Libby Viner, ITN):

I would just like to ask the Prime Minister in what way you think Norman Lamont's departure will restore credibility to your government if in fact he was following exactly the same policies that the government as a whole wanted to follow including yourself?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is necessary sometimes to refresh the look of the government, to have a fresh face to look at things, to move the agenda forward. If one didn't do that, one would never make any changes in government and I don't think that is a credible position so have nothing more to say about that.

QUESTION (Libby Viner, ITN):

Do you think it was unfortunate, though, that the world heard of it from Mr. Lamont's mother?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is the reality, not the form in which they heard of it, that really matters, isn't it?

QUESTION (Philip Johnstone, Daily Telegraph):

Beyond being a fresh face, what other qualities does Kenneth Clarke bring to the Treasury that the previous Chancellor lacked?

Secondly, you say you wanted to refresh the government but by my reckoning you only brought four new Ministers into the government - two others have been Ministers before. Are you anticipating further changes in July at middle-ranking level as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I am not; no, of course I am not. I brought back some people who had talent who served in the government before, who lost their seats in Parliament and have now come back. They are still men who have a lot to offer the government and I was delighted to be able to bring them back. I think they will make a great contribution. I was able to bring in at the junior ranks of government and promote from one rank to another rank a number of people with very distinct potential for the future but refreshing the government is more than just bringing new people into the government. It is giving people in government who worked in a particular portfolio the opportunity to go and exercise their talents on another portfolio with the special advantage of the experience they have gained in their first Department. There is nothing fresh or novel about that. That is the way governments have been operating for as far back as we can trace and it is the right way in order to develop political policy and that is what I did in the reshuffle.

QUESTION (Judith Dawson, Sky News):

I didn't want to disappoint you by not speaking about the polls and the polls aren't looking frightfully good for either yourself as Prime Minister or for the government. Do you really believe that what you did yesterday will do the trick?

PRIME MINISTER:

The two things are not related and if I may say, Judith, I seem to remember you saying the polls didn't look very bright for me four days before the last general election.

QUESTION (Judith Dawson, Sky News):

Neither did they! [Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

Remind me of the result! [Laughter]

QUESTION (Jane Martenson, South Wales Echo):

Prime Minister, what good will the appointment of John Redwood do for Wales and does his appointment mean a shift in policy for the region?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it doesn't. In John Redwood, what I have done is given Wales an extremely talented politician who I believe will fight very hard for Wales. I think the important thing in any Secretary of State's position is to find someone who has real ability in order to carry out that particular job. John has a wide range of experience across government already. I believe he will bring that experience whole-heartedly to the interests of the people of Wales and I think he will do an outstanding job.

The first priority, frankly, in choosing people for any Cabinet is to choose people of very great ability. John Redwood in my judgement has very great ability and I think he will be of immense service to the people of Wales.

QUESTION (Paul Webster, The Guardian):

Just a very simple question.

PRIME MINISTER:

If only I had known! [Laughter]

QUESTION (Paul Webster, The Guardian):

Do any of your Cabinet speak French?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

QUESTION (Paul Webster, The Guardian):

Any of these new people? Does the new Chancellor speak French?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not sure about the new Chancellor speaking French. I do know that Mrs. Shephard, for example, is as bilingual - and maybe even trilingual - as anyone else in this room.

QUESTION (Paul Webster, The Guardian):

It is a curious thing that after so long in Europe that we have to have an interpreter for the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Do you speak French?

QUESTION (Paul Webster, The Guardian):

Of course I do!

PRIME MINISTER:

Excellent! Congratulations! [Laughter]