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1993 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with the Swedish Prime Minister

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, held in Harpsund on Friday 13th August 1993.


PRIME MINISTER CARL BILDT:

Could I start by saying "Welcome!". I have rarely seen such a distinguished and numerous collection of Swedish journalists this early in the morning so far away from Stockholm! Let me also say thanks to John and Norma Major for coming here and for making it possible to have such a nice and such a fruitful visit as I think we have had.

We have now concluded a couple of days of formal as well as informal discussions covering a rather wide range of topics. We have discussed quite extensively of course the situation in former Yugoslavia and the joint initiative that we took the day before yesterday is now from our side well under way. We are ready to go into Sarajevo at more or less a moment's notice and we are now awaiting clearance from the UNHCR. I think the Swedish Air Force aircraft is ready at Ancona and I believe the same to be the case on the British side. It has been working can I say on the Swedish side very smoothly. I am impressed by what has been done by all of the relevant Swedish authorities at such short notice.

We also discussed developments in the process of European integration including the enlargement negotiations. We are united I think or share the same views on the need for a larger, more open, less intrusive Community in the future.

We also discussed the situation in the Baltic countries where we have issued this morning a joint statement which I guess you have seen and the highlight of that is of course that we are concerned by recent strains that we have seen in Baltic-Russian relations and we call upon all sides to deepen the political dialogue and work towards a settlement of the outstanding disputes; in particular, we ask Russia to fulfil without further delay its commitment under the CSE Helsinki Final Act to withdraw the remaining troops from the Baltic States - this must be done without linkage to other issues. We also urge Estonia and Latvia to continue to build upon the recommendations by the CSE and by the Council of Europe when it comes to developing good Community relations with the non-Estonians in Estonia and with the non-Latvians in Latvia. We also express our joint will and eagerness indeed to continue to help them in the building of true independence and in the development of good relations with the Russians. I would guess that this is also going to be a topic for the discussion that. I am going to have here tomorrow with the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Kosyrev.

Let me just say it has been a very useful visit. We have, think, an outstanding bilateral relationship. If there has been one difficulty during this visit it has been how hard it is to improve upon a relationship that is already so good but we have tried and I think we have achieved some amount of success and I think that is symbolised both by the joint initiative we took on Sarajevo at the beginning of the visit and on the joint statement on the Baltics that we have done now as the visit comes to its end.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

Let me first thank Carl and Nir [phon] for their hospitality in Sweden; it has been not only a very worthwhile but a very enjoyable couple of days as well. Some time ago, Carl accepted an invitation to attend the Conservative Party Conference in October and I will look forward to welcoming him there in due course.

I won't reiterate all the points that have been made thus far except simply to say that I endorse them. If I could say just a word firstly about the joint initiative on Sarajevo, we were both responding to the High Commissioner for Refugees' plea for help for 41 seriously injured patients. That operation, both on the Swedish side and on the United Kingdom side, is now well under way, The British medical teams have now been assembled and I expect they will be flying out from Stansted to Ancona at around 4 o'clock this afternoon; they will then he in a position to transport the patients to Britain just as soon as they are ready to travel and that, of course, is a matter that is under way locally in Sarajevo. At the moment, the High Commissioner for Refugees is still assembling details both of the adult and of the child patients that they wish us to receive. I should say that the Overseas Development Association plane will also be taking out a substantial stock of antibiotics, anaesthetics and other urgently-needed drugs for the hospitals in Sarajevo.

Let me make a further point about this as well. This is by no means the end of the operation. If needed, there will be a second plane standing by to bring out more patients when the United Nations staff have fully identified those and their relatives; this may take a little longer than originally envisaged and if that is the case there will be a second plane standing by to help.

I should also make clear that the Overseas Development Association Senior Medical Assessor is currently in Zagreb but he will be in Sarajevo on Monday and will provide advice to us on what further supplies and arrangements are needed and if further medical supplies are needed, we will examine what we can do immediately to help in arranging for them to be provided.

The Prime Minister spoke of the other discussions we have had during the last couple of days; just a brief word on those, if I may.

Firstly, on European matters, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, we share the same vision of a larger, more open and less intrusive Community. We want that larger Community because it extends the area where trade will bind nations more closely together. We want that more open Community because that will mean more jobs and more prosperity for all the people within the Community. One-quarter of Britain's and Sweden's income comes from exports. Both Swedish entry and that of all the EFTAn countries will in my judgement help bias the Community in the future towards more openness and more free trade and I think that bias would be very welcome.

I had the opportunity yesterday morning over breakfast of meeting a very impressive group of Swedish businessmen; it was a private meeting but a very worthwhile one. There were a number of messages I took from that meeting but I think the most important one was their complete conviction about the vital importance of concluding the Uruguay Round, the trade negotiations, by the end of this year. That, as you know, is a view that I very strongly share and it is my view and I think the Prime Minister's view as well that that should be one of the Community's highest priorities in the next few months.

We have both spoken of a less intrusive Community. I think when the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty are in place we will be able to put more flesh on the bones of that dreadful word "subsidiarity". That I think will be extremely helpful for everyone.

We have discussed a range of other matters, the Baltic States, the position in Russia, a number of bilateral matters as well. I won't reiterate all the points that have already been made but would conclude on this point about Sweden's negotiations to enter the European Community: I believe it is in Sweden's interest to enter but I also believe it is in the Community's interest that Sweden should enter and I very much hope those negotiations will he satisfactorily completed and everything else satisfactorily concluded for Sweden to join the Community on 1 January 1995.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Mr. Prime Minister, which stumbling blocks can you see ahead in these negotiations for Sweden in Brussels?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I think that is a matter for the negotiators rather than me. There are always, in negotiations like this, a large number of difficult matters that need to be determined. You have of course twelve nations already members anxious to protect their national interests and Sweden quite properly will wish to protect their own vital interests when they join the Community so some of those negotiations will be quite tough, budgetary contribution clearly is one but there are a series of matters I think that are very familiar to people in Sweden. I believe all of them are capable of a solution. Negotiations will be hard but then they always are hard on occasions like this but I see no reason to suppose they can't be satisfactorily concluded.

QUESTION:

What are the delays in putting the aircraft into Sarajevo to collect the injured people? Is it UN red tape?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No. The delay is assembling the patients in Sarajevo and making sure they are medically ready to travel and in the case of some of them where they need relatives to travel with them, that the arrangements can be made for the relatives to travel as well. It is a logistic difficulty. There are a great many logistics to overcome in Sarajevo to get the patients together. That is the only cause of delay.

In terms of the availability of the aircraft and medical equipment, as both the Prime Minister and I have said, both on the Swedish side and on the British side that will be ready very speedily.

QUESTION:

When do you expect the injured people to arrive in Sweden and arrive in London?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I can't be absolutely certain about that. I hope over the weekend but I will know more about that later today I hope.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, this statement on the Baltic States, does that reflect a fear that if the different Baltic States don't handle relations with their Russian minorities in a sensible and democratic way you could end up with another Bosnia just over the water from Sweden?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No, I don't think that we believe that that is likely. What does concern us is the desirability of the Russians meeting their commitment to remove their troops out of the Baltic States as speedily and as comprehensively as possible and secondly, of course, of ensuring that the Russian citizens who will continue to live in the Baltic States are treated fairly. We know there are tensions, we know there are difficulties; what we are saying is that those need to be seriously addressed and overcome very speedily.

QUESTION:

You don't see it as a tinder-box?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No, I don't see it as that sort of tinder-box, no.

QUESTION:

Do you think it is realistic for Sweden's negotiations to be concluded by 1 January 1995?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I do indeed. I don't see that a longer timetable would be likely to lead to a more satisfactory conclusion. My experience of the Community over the last few years is that the best way to get an outcome is to set a deadline and I think that probably applies to other organisations as well as the Community. I am quite certain it is a realistic proposition to negotiate within that time frame and that is the view of the Community as a whole and I believe it is the view of the Swedish negotiators and the Swedish government as well.

QUESTION:

You both said you shared the vision of a more open Europe, a more open Community. I would like to ask Prime Minister Major when will Britain abolish border controls or will you ever?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We are talking about trade when we are talking about an open Community. We have special arrangements on border controls; an island is different and I think that is generally recognised. We are talking about the desirability of open trade and I think in terms of the prosperity and growth of Europe that is very important; it is one of the reasons of course that the conclusion of the world trade talks is so very important for Europe. Europe tends to concentrate a great deal on the agricultural aspect of those trade talks but of course what is often overlooked as people do that is the very great importance to Europe of the industrial and commercial agreements that have already been reached in the Uruguay Round; they are vitally important to the future prosperity of Europe.

It is also important I think for the general development of free trade in Europe for two reasons: firstly, the jobs and prosperity point that I made a moment ago but secondly - a quite different point and perhaps a moral point in a sense - most of the European nations are relatively generous with overseas aid to less-developed and very underdeveloped countries. I think that is right and they should be but it is an oddity that on the one hand Europe is providing aid to those countries and on the other hand Europe seems to be closing its markets to exports from those countries which would leave them for ever dependent upon overseas aid. That is a second reason why there is a great imperative to open markets and free trade.

QUESTION (SAME LADY):

But does that mean that the Fourth Freedom - freedom for people - doesn't apply for Britain?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No, it doesn't mean that at all.

QUESTION:

Do you accept with regard to what you said about the Baltic States that they, the Russians, have a very practical problem in providing accommodation for the troops that you want withdrawn?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I think they have referred to that practical problem; I think there is some reason to believe there is a practical problem there. What we are saying is that it needs to be addressed and we think there can be movement on both sides, certainly assurances as to Russian minorities in the Baltic State and perhaps the Russians looking more expeditiously at removing their troops from the three states as well.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

The practical problem, if I might add, is a rather limited one. If you see that in relation to the movement that is there of different military units around in Russia and from, say, Western Europe or from Central Asia or in and out of the Caucusus, the need to provide accommodation for the remaining troops coming out of the Baltic countries is a very very small portion so all of the practical problems there tends to be a tendency in certain Russian quarters to use that as an excuse and I don't think that is acceptable.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Major, you said you and Prime Minister Bildt share the vision of an open, larger and less intrusive Community but Britain has made exceptions from the Maastricht Treaty on the social dimension so don't you share the vision of the inner organisation of the Community?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I think you need to understand why I refused to accept the provisions of the Social Chapter. What is the greatest problem facing the whole of Western Europe at the moment? I guess most people faced with that question would say it is the need to provide jobs through growth and to increase prosperity. What we do see over the past: twenty years - and I think this illustrates the point very clearly - is that the amount of growth in Western Europe as a whole and the United States as a whole has been broadly the same but how many jobs has that created? In the United States, the same amount of growth has created four times as many extra jobs as have been created in the European Community. Why is that? The answer predominantly is the social on-costs of one sort or another that prevail in the European Community. It is not sensible to the people who are unemployed and who want jobs to introduce new provisions that will make it more difficult for them to get employment in the future.

That was the case, it is the case and that is why I have consistently opposed the provisions of the Social Chapter and still do.

QUESTION:

Have you been discussing the future of the European Monetary Union and what could be done to solve the problem?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

Well we only had two days! Others have tried for longer. We discussed present difficulties but we didn't on this occasion advance specific solutions. It may be necessary to take some time to pause and reflect.

QUESTION:

As two Prime Ministers who both have floating currencies, do you conceive a situation where we might have to go back to, say, having the Gold Standard or some way of bringing order to the fold to increase the power of governments individually and collectively against the problems caused by all this huge amount of money which can be moved around by large investors and speculators and so on?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

That is not a matter we discussed over the last couple of days. Clearly we have to reflect upon what has happened to the Exchange Rate Mechanism. I said after Sterling left the Exchange Rate Mechanism last September that I thought there were fault-lines in the system. Many people at that stage said: "We don't think there are fault lines in the system, it is a particular problem with Sterling!" Well now of course it is clear to everyone that there are fault-lines in the system and it was not simply a problem with Sterling. Now we need to examine what, if anything, may be done to deal with those fault-lines.

What is certainly true from the point of view of business is that stability of exchange rates, whether through successful economic management in a floating situation or through some form of management of rates, is something that business cherishes and helps the movement of goods and trade so I think the politicians must examine how best to achieve that but I don't think I have a snap judgement to offer you on that this morning.

SAME MAN:

What about the Gold Standard?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No, I don't think that is likely.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, you recently revived your proposal for a hard ECU alongside the existing currencies. Did you discuss that question and if so, what is the Swedish opinion of it?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No, we didn't discuss the hard Ecu and I read with some interest that I revived the suggestion. I think every country is actually looking at what series of options may exist in the future. I haven't placed the hard Ecu back in the middle of the European debate again; it is in the European debate, it was put there some time ago but I haven't especially floated it again; I read with some interest that I had but I haven't.

QUESTION:

Do you think that Great Britain is moving towards a faster economic recovery right now?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

Yes. I think we are moving towards recovery. Recoveries are always patchy. You get a series of statistics that are extremely good, then occasionally you get some that are less good and think that will be the pattern of the United Kingdom recovery as well.

Over the past five months or so, the overwhelming volume of statistics have been pointing in the direction of recovery and growth of some significant size this year but rather larger next year. That seems to be the position. It is bound to be patchy. I think it is patchy but I think there is no doubt whatsoever that the United Kingdom economy is now back on the road to growth.

QUESTION:

Do you think that Carl Bildt should learn anything from your way of handling the financial problems?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

You had better ask Carl that!

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

You have to draw on the experience of all different countries. You can't really compare the economy of one country with the economy of another country totally but I think it is very clear when you look at the figures coming out of. the British economy that among the European economies the British one is the one that clearly is in some sort of recovery and I think that is encouraging not only from the British perspective but also from the wider European perspective because we clearly need some countries to recover from the economic problems that they are having now.

We are starting to see the same signs in Sweden although we are behind. We see industrial production picking up, we see orders coming into industry. When I talk to leaders of industry now after the summer, after the vacation, when they see what is happening in the markets they are fairly encouraged with the interest rate coming down so I think that we will see Sweden developing into recovery along the lines of Britain but we are somewhat behind no doubt.

QUESTION:

Have you been discussing any kind of European strategy when it comes to solving the unemployment situation?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

The European Community discussed that at some length at Copenhagen and we are submitting proposals towards growth and how to deal with the particular present problems of Europe for a White Paper that the Community will produce later on this year. Britain is submitting her own proposals, other countries will be doing the same and I hope we will be able to discuss that in detail at the Brussels summit in December.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

In addition to that, we are going to have a meeting of the Nordic Finance Ministers and the Nordic Prime Ministers to see what we can do from the Nordic side to join with the European initiatives that are necessary. I think it is very obvious that the economic problems that we are having throughout Europe and primarily the problems that we are having with growth and long-term employment need also European solutions. We can't just act as nations individually; we have to pool efforts and develop joint policies and that will have to be done within the framework of the Community but not the side of the Nordic nations we are going to try to do whatever we can to join in.

QUESTION:

Mr. Prime Minister, you are also a Conservative Tory Party leader. Your Parliamentary group in the European Parliament has joined the Christian Democratic parliamentary group. How do you see this merger, and do you also consider your Tory Party both as a Conservative and a Christian Democratic party?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

My party in the United Kingdom is a Conservative Party and remains a Conservative Party.

As far as the European Community is concerned, I very much wish to see a right-of-centre European Parliament rather than a left-of-centre European Parliament and all the right-of-centre parties have joined together in a loosely-knit arrangement but it is a loosely-knit arrangement, not a marriage; it doesn't imply complete uniformity of every aspect of policy and it doesn't imply uniformity in any other respect as well but certainly there is a great deal of common ground between the parties and to that extent they have this loose arrangement and the Conservative members of the European Parliament have joined their other right-wing colleagues.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

But I don't think it is proper to say that it a purely Christian Democratic political grouping because it does include parties coming from different political traditions; they are somewhat different in the Nordic countries, in Britain, in Germany, in France. Take a country like Greece, it comes from a different tradition but joins into the European Peoples Party so it is a grouping that brings together the major forces of the centre-right in Western Europe and as such is important but you can't put a specific ideological label to it.

QUESTION:

Yet they call themselves Union of Christian Democratic Parties.

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

No. That is another organisation. The Union of Christian Democratic Parties does exist and that only includes Christian Democratic parties. If you talk about the group in the European Parliament, the European Peoples Party group, it does include other parties as well that are not members of the Christian Democrats and I don't think are seeking membership of that union either.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Bildt, do you share Prime Minister Major's opinion on the social dimension of the European Community and what importance does this have for Sweden?

PRIME MINISTER BILDT:

I think it is important for Sweden that there is a social dimension to the Community in the sense that the Community also tries to develop policies to get growth back and employment and all of that; that is what is normally in the Swedish debate referred to a sort of social dimension. But we also think that broadly speaking welfare policies of different sorts should be national. I don't see any reason why a lot of the social welfare policies that we have developed in Sweden - rightly or wrongly, we can have different points of view on those and there is a heated debate going on in the country - that they should be made into European policies. We should solve at the European level only the questions that can't be solved on the national level and I think that most of the social policy issues are better dealt with at the local, regional or national level.

QUESTION:

What is the current state of play as you see it between the Americans and the Europeans as regards the use of military action? I think Mr. Christopher was saying the other day it is a top priority for US security to halt the advance of the Bosnian Serbs.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We reached an agreement, as you know, at the NAC a few days ago and that agreement stands, it remains the same.