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1993 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with French Leaders

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Balladur, made in London on Monday 26th July 1993.


PRIME MINISTER:

We have had this morning a series of discussions. I have had the opportunity this morning of discussions with President Mitterrand and the Prime Minister. During the time we have held those discussions eight of our Ministerial colleagues have been discussing their own particular areas of responsibility. At the conclusion of their discussions the whole team came together for a plenary meeting and then had the opportunity of discussing matters again over lunch.

When I became Prime Minister some time ago one of the particular objectives I had was to develop relationships between Britain and France. It seemed to me that our countries had a substantial pool of common interests, there was a great deal of scope for cooperation waiting to be tapped. I think what today's summit shows, with a much larger participation I think than we have ever had before amongst other Ministers, is that we have travelled a very long way down that road of cooperation.

Today's summit follows months of intensive work, Prime Minister Balladur's visit to London in early May, my own visit to Paris at the invitation of President Mitterrand later on that month.

Let me set out in very brief terms prior to your questions some of the results of those discussions.

May I turn first to foreign policy. I think it is undeniable that we are working more closely today on international problems than ever before. We have discussed Bosnia at different meetings today, we have agreed that the key points that support the efforts of Dr Owen, and Mr Sholtenberg to reconvene the negotiations in Geneva this week. We clearly are concerned to help Sarajevo, to support UNPROFOR' s efforts to create a ceasefire, to restore water, to restore power and to secure access for the relief convoys. We also want to sustain the humanitarian relief efforts as long as conditions permit and to accelerate the implementation of the safe areas resolution, including the provision of air support.

We discussed a number of matters relating to the European Community, including of course the joint Franco-British exercise on subsidiarity. France and Britain have now agreed a list of 24 items of Community legislation, many of them substantial, that need to be repealed, withdrawn or amended. Examples of that include tax directives on stock exchange transactions, directives on drinking water and pollution which in our judgment are much too detailed and much too prescriptive. Both our countries will also be collaborating with Germany which has drawn up a list of substantial items of its own. The aim of this work is to present the results of it, jointly, to the European Commission in the autumn as part of the preparation for the December European Council decisions.

We have had some discussions this morning also on joint defence interests. We set up last autumn the Franco/British Joint Commission on Nuclear Policy and Doctrine, the objective is to coordinate our approach to deterrence, to nuclear doctrines and concepts, anti-missile defences, arms controls and non-proliferation. We have decided today to make this Joint Commission a permanent standing body with a substantial amount of work to continue into the future.

We have looked also at joint defence projects, we reviewed collaboration in defence projects, Britain and France at the moment are working together on 21 separate projects, some of them also involving other countries as well. We have more British projects with France than with any other single international partner.

We discussed also briefly the Channel Tunnel and I am pleased to announce that Her Majesty The Queen and President Mitterrand will jointly open the Channel Tunnel on 6 May 1994.

We discussed also science and technology, we have decided to reconvene a Franco/British conference to explore fresh approaches to science policy. I think it will be a wide ranging conference, it will look at questions such as technology transfer, how to ensure that research leads to better product development and far better public explanation of scientific questions.

We also looked at the question of D-Day and its 50th anniversary. Next year is a very remarkable part of our joint history with the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Britain and France are planning to commemorate this historic event in an appropriate way, there will be very substantial celebrations to commemorate that and Ministers have been appointed in both countries to supervise the preparations. Those Ministers will be meeting shortly in order that we can bring those preparations to fruition. I expect we will be able to announce details of the commemorative events in the autumn.

We have covered a range of other issues but rather than running through them in great detail I will try and pick up any points of interest to you in the question period we will have shortly.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I will not add anything really to the list of issues that have been discussed, what you have heard is a very complete list and this gives you an idea of the subjects we have talked about. It will be for you to ask the questions you want to ask.

So I think it is more a question of the general spirit and atmosphere that I would like to talk about. We have had great pleasure in coming here to London and meeting our British partners and exchanging with them our positions and thinking and arguments on the problems on which we have diverging opinions and also we have been able to note that there were more and more points on which our views were the same.

In the field of foreign policy where our two countries have very long standing experience going back many many years, in Europe in particular, well there it was easy for us to reach common conclusions. On the new problems that are coming up, new in relation to this generation, in relation to history, in other words the setting up of the European Community and its consequences, its impact, its effects, and the development of world trade, on those matters we still have to define more closely our actual positions but we are delighted with the efforts that have been made successfully by the British government in order to enable the development of the Maastricht agreement. Of course each country will operate according to its own style and on the basis of the text which is the basis of the European Agreement.

What has just been said about the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, well we all know what we owe to the United Kingdom and on the French side we will do all that should be done in order that people representing political and military spheres should meet with the warmest and the most grateful welcome possible. It is an important date, it was an important date in the relationship, as you know, which have become now very friendly relations, which became very friendly relations between our two countries at the beginning of the century.

M. BALLADUR:

At this stage I have got nothing further to add to that, thank you.

QUESTION (La Tribune):

Did you talk about the EMS this morning and has Mr Major any views on the chances of its survival and has Britain any particular interest in the EMS? On the French side, can we be told if the chances of escaping shall we say the British model with a more competitive currency at a lower rate of interest with more creation of jobs, is that likely to happen, or are the markets going to impose the same thing on France as it imposed on Great Britain last year?

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly spent some time discussing this matter this morning and I think the statement issued this morning by France and Germany, the Franco-German statement, reaffirms support for the existing parity and close cooperation within the European Monetary System. I do not think it is in anyone's interest to have continuing currency turbulence in Europe, it damages the prospect for economic recovery in everyone's export markets so I hope the possible turbulence will settle down, but I have nothing further to say than that.

M. BALLADUR:

I would like to add something on that. Firstly, you asked the question in a way to elicit a certain response, I have never heard of a more competitive currency, a reference to that, what is important is that economies be competitive with one another. In France we have achieved good results on that, we are very much attached to monetary stability, we do everything we can to try and ensure it, and I note that the Prime Minister has just said that the English too want this monetary stability maintained in Europe and that they do not consider that there would be any advantage in greater instability.

QUESTION (....Liberation):

What did you discuss on GATT? How did both sides look to the future in the negotiating process on trade agreements?

PRIME MINISTER:

We had some discussions on the Uruguay Round this morning and our Agriculture and Trade Ministers also spent some time discussing it; it is clearly a matter of immense importance. All of us are agreed on the importance of the GATT Round and of a successful outcome on agriculture. We know that France has some particular difficulties with the Blair House Accord and it must be examined in more detail by the Community, hence the request for a Joint Council in September and I think in particular the constraints which Blair House would impose on internal management of the CAP, on growth in EC exports, erosion of Community preference, those are problems that France have raised and that the Community will have to discuss.

We all agreed that a durable and balanced agreement is necessary. I know in the discussion between Agriculture Ministers that Gillian Shepherd emphasised that in our view the Blair House Accord was a good one for the Community but these are matters we need to discuss. What is a matter of agreement between us is the overall desirability of a satisfactory and balanced GATT agreement.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

We come back to an idea which already has been expressed at least a hundred times but I think should be reiterated with strength and that is that the GATT negotiations - world trade negotiations - are not only on agriculture. I think that one of the mistakes made by people who started the discussions - I have in mind particularly our American friends - way back in 1985 was that they were totally obsessed with agriculture and that gave the impression that people wanted to get agreements which would be good agreements where it was possible for that particular country to find that beneficial leaving out areas where one might not be able to reach such favourable agreements for oneself. This was Mr. Reagan's sign of the times - the way we interpreted it anyway. That is why France is talking about a global comprehensive agreement.

To come back to agriculture itself, the important thing is that the agreement should be a balanced agreement. You can't have an agreement which is one-sided. If there is a compromise solution found, it must be beneficial to all the parties concerned.

Concerning Blair House, this is a point of friction naturally because we think that the agreement needs to be revised because it happened under conditions which we think questionable. In any case, the only thing that really counts is the political decision, the actual political decision taken by the countries concerned; that carries much more weight than the purely technical discussions that take place beforehand. That is why we are quite prepared to say and repeat that an overall balanced and lasting agreement would be a good thing for international trade but it would be a bad thing if it turned out that those agreements were based on a grave injustice that we just don't want which I think people can easily understand.

QUESTION:

Can I just add a further question? Can one say that there has been progress today on GATT?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

It seems to me that there has been progress on two areas, firstly I feel that we better understand one another - at least I for my part better understand the British position and secondly I think we agree and consider that a meeting of Foreign and Agricultural Ministers should be held in September which will be very important and it will be there that we will be able to discuss agriculture and the general organisation of world trade so we must prepare very actively for that meeting in September. Our British friends have agreed that that would be an important date.

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky News):

I wonder, in view of the reported comments in the Sunday papers this weekend, if Mr. Major could tell us how much longer he thinks he is going to be able to cohabit with some of his Cabinet and what advice the President and M. Balladur would give on cohabitation with ideological opposites. [Laughter].

PRIME MINISTER:

It seems to work very well.

QUESTION (David Langton, Bureau of National Affairs):

Of course, no illegitimate questions from me at all!

On GATT, last week we had the Director-General, Peter Sutherland, hoping to knock out a conclusion by the end of this year. Have you got any good or bad news for him?

Secondly, the French Foreign Minister, Alan Gerait [phoentic], was calling for trade policy instruments to be strengthened. Did you discuss the strengthening of trade policy instruments today, particularly in relation to, say, US anti-steel dumping provisions?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

Yes, we did. Mr. Major asked me questions about that and I gave him a certain amount of detail about what we would wish. The problems, as I said, will be dealt with in the documents that we will send to Brussels in the forthcoming weeks.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have to find a solution to anti-dumping and countervailing actions - there is no doubt whatever about that. I expressed the view this morning that the long-term solution to problems of international trade in steel lies in the conclusion of a multilateral steel agreement and we will continue to stay in touch to discuss that particular matter.

QUESTION (Tony Bevins, The Independent):

Have you apologised to the bastards, Mr. Major?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have been discussing Anglo-French matters this morning, Tony, Anglo-French discussions.

QUESTION (Keith Rockwell, Journal of Commerce):

Mr. Balladur and Mr. Major, was there any discussion of the EC's policy with regard to the import of Japanese cars and was there any discussion at all of Britain's role in all of that, whether British-made Japanese cars might be subject to any further restrictions?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that wasn't discussed in our discussions this morning and don't believe it was raised when the Trade Ministers met.

QUESTION (Carol Walker, BBC TV News):

Given the attack on the French base in Sarejevo, was there any further discussion about the possible use of air strikes?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

It is a subject that we started to deal with several weeks ago when the so-called "safe areas" were decided upon within the UN and the point being made that respect for such safe areas is for mainly Muslim citizens in Bosnia and that the protection of such zones could require means that would be used in order to protect the populations if they were threatened and this is what is happening right now in Sarejevo in particular.

QUESTION:

I would like first of all to ask you about the latest escalation in the Lebanon and the latest Israeli aggression of the sovereign state of Lebanon. How do you see the effect of this on the peace process in the region?

My second question is addressed to the French President, M. President, changes in immigration in France have created an atmosphere of uncertainty among the immigrants in France and in particular among Arab immigrants and North African immigrants. Are you aware of this new atmosphere in the immigrant community and do you envisage any change that would take account of this situation which is unstable?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the first point, we did not discuss Lebanon this morning. On the second point, I will let the President respond directly.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I would have preferred to have answered the first question as a matter of fact but when people fight each other on both sides of a frontier you ca n’t expect the sovereignty of each country to be fully respected and once that situation obtains then it is very natural that both sides have to accept the consequences of such a conflict and that conflict will necessarily make the peace process more complicated. There is an inherent contradiction in all this which is pretty obvious.

On the immigration legislation, you are talking about French political affairs there and I have not come here to London to talk about internal French political matters - that is rather the same as Mr. Major's answer a moment ago when there was some mention of the necessity of talking about our Franco-British meeting and avoiding a sort of British-British discussion or a discussion internal to Britain as we say Franco-French on our side. You say the same thing? Anyway, I don't think that the immigrants in France when they are in a completely lawful situation that is accepted, when they have been legally admitted to France following a certain number of procedures which on labour matters come under the Ministry of Labour and it can be the Ministry of the Interior when it is a question of permits and so on so foreigners who are living in normal conditions, when they are legally present on French soil, must be treated normally.

If they are not present legally on French soil - if they are illegal immigrants - then they can hardly expect to be treated exactly in the same way so it is their natural fate to be taken back home sooner or later. Now there the discussion does start of course within France and with other countries to see what safeguards and guarantees should be granted to these men and women because they deserve respect even if they have gone against the law and we have to see with other countries too what should be done in order to respect their own individual human rights but this is an internal French affair quite honestly and there is no point in having a discussion among ourselves here in Great Britain.

QUESTION (France Two):

Mr. Prime Minister, have you discussed the future of the EBRD and is Britain going to support a French candidate to support M. Atteli [phoentic]?

M. BALLADUR:

The future of the EBRD for the moment is a matter of choosing a president for the institution. As you know, France has an excellent candidate and for the rest you must ask Mr. Major what his views are.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

If Mr. Major allows, I will recall some memories perhaps which are more personal memories for me than for him because at the time when the various seats and headquarters and offices were negotiated among a number of international bodies, including EBRD, it had been understood that if the headquarters were to be in London then at least the first presidency and the first term of office would be a French presidency. If it isn't the same president nevertheless I think it would be right and only natural that it should be the same country and this would be accordance with the original agreements.

PRIME MINISTER:

[Inaudible] excellent candidates. The Community are seeking a unified candidate. We have expressed our view to the President of the Community and I hope will reach a conclusion shortly.

QUESTION (George Jones, Daily Telegraph):

Could I ask the Prime Minister and the President, given what looks like the imminent collapse of the Exchange Rate Mechanism and all the turmoil there has been in France over Maastricht and in the British Parliament, whether they think the treaty is still relevant or should probably be torn up and the Community should start again on a more realistic and perhaps lowered-expectation treaty for European union?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think the treaty should be torn up. The British Parliament has passed the treaty, it is now an Act, it has got Royal Assent subject to one outstanding court case which I hope will be swiftly cleared away and it will come into effect and I welcome that fact self-evidently since we have just taken it through Parliament. I think there is much in this treaty that is good for Europe and good for the United Kingdom and I believe it was right to take it through the House of Commons.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

On my side, of course, I submitted the Maastricht Treaty to a referendum in France, in other words it is the French people that voted and who chose finally what to do and there was a political battle which was a pretty difficult one where some important and very often excellent arguments were expressed on both sides. This was a national debate of considerable magnitude but the rule of democracy was applied and France adopted the Maastricht Treaty by popular vote and now the Maastricht Treaty is our rule. I was in favour of it, as you know and therefore I was delighted that this was the decision taken and the decision that was taken I would not say was more important than a vote by Parliament because I am very much in favour of representative democracy - France is a representative democracy. Because under our legislation a referendum was perfectly possible, it was a very important way of getting this really firmly established in our history and this has been done and is behind us and the government also very much hopes that the agreement will be successful.

Your somewhat hasty definition, if I may say so, of the fact that now the time had come to tear up the treaty and that the EMS is completely excluded I think is subject to examination. We are precisely working through this and it is difficult but France's determination is unquestionable and we think that the future of Europe is important. We have different conceptions very often on this but we certainly will coordinate our efforts to the same goal and in my view at any rate it would be very harmful and very sad if the remarkable progress made among the Twelve should be brought into question whereas the prospect before us is that in a few years now we will have a single currency.