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1993 - Mr Major’s Press Conference in Copenhagen

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Copenhagen, given on Tuesday 22nd June 1993.


PRIME MINISTER:

In some ways this was a refreshingly different sort of summit. I say that because it did face up, in a way previous summits I do not believe have done, to the problem of 18 million people in Europe without jobs and the negative growth that confronts 4 or 5 of our partners this year. And I think that the discussion we had on economic matters was the most thorough and the most frank that I can remember in the period I have been coming to these summits.

We reached broad agreement on competitiveness and the importance of that for the future. We did not waste a great deal of time on Euro-theology, that was despatched to the sidelines where personally I believe it belongs. It was a time in this discussion to get down to some brass tacks, for us to consider what might actually be done to help get Europe back to work.

At the end of our discussions the Council has come out with a clear message, and I think the clear message is this - tackling unemployment and restoring competitiveness will be the top priority.

In his presentation to the European Council, the President of the Commission elaborated two facts known to many of us but brought out in discussion in this summit in a very stark way. The first of those was that Community unemployment has been on a steadily rising trend throughout the last 20 years. It has risen and dipped with growth and lack of growth but the underlying trend has been a rising trend of unemployment since the early 1970s. The second stark fact is another unpalatable fact for those of us in Western Europe and that is the reality that the Community's share of the world market has been falling throughout the last 10 years.

I agree with the diagnosis that the President of the Commission set out, even though I do not agree with all the remedies that he proposed in his paper. But I do think he was absolutely right to put the Community's need to compete at centre stage of our consideration. The simple reality is that if we do not compete and compete successfully, we will contract, and that means less jobs and it is as simple as that.

We agreed in the summit on a number of measures designed to improve Europe's economic prospects. First, we agreed it was vital to keep inflation low for sustainable growth and cost competitiveness. Second, as we agreed at Edinburgh last December, we agreed again to give priority to growth and investment in our public expenditure programmes. Third, we agreed to expand the European Investment Bank infrastructure lending facility from 5 billion ECU to 8 billion, I personally would have been prepared to go a little higher than that, but 8 billion was the figure that we settled upon. And fourthly, it was agreed that we had to get fiscal deficits down right the way round the Community, without which much of Europe will be in no position to get its interest rates down and of course for many European colleagues that is still an acutely important matter.

We touched on some other sensitive issues in our discussion. We are all facing the problem of the rising cost of social provisions. All of us, without exception, want to protect the elderly and the vulnerable and the cost therefore of overall provision has to be kept under control so we can pick the right priorities and deal satisfactorily and comprehensively with those priorities.

I have argued strenuously, and I have to say with a great deal of support, that the Community has to keep down the cost of jobs so as to help those people without jobs, those people who need new jobs. And it was for that reason that I have argued against what I think is quite muddle-headed meddling which has led to directives like the working time directive. I would like nothing better, across the whole Community, to have the Community as a whole described as a paradise for foreign investment. Alas that is not yet the position across the whole Community.

But getting Europe to take competitiveness seriously, I think we have done that at this summit and I think that is a start. And there are two very important elements to follow. Over the next 6 months we are going to work on structural reforms to combat unemployment, to scrutinise non-wage costs, to boost flexibility in labour markets, to improve training and education. Those are aims for all of us and I hope that will lead to a genuinely radical report from the Commission at the December Council. All of us will examine the proposals put forward by the President of the Commission, we will comment on them, agree with them, disagree with them and add other things to them. And I hope the sum total of that will be a radical report in December.

We also, both in the conclusions and in the Council itself, spent some time on subsidiarity on its various aspects. And we have here another very welcome dose of realism. We are pushing ahead, with very strong support from France, from Germany and from a number of other member states. This morning the Commission produced a list of areas where, as a result of subsidiarity considerations arising from previous agreements at summits, they have decided not to legislate, legislation that would have happened, that now will not happen because of the new atmosphere created by subsidiarity.

We are still examining existing legislation that should either be removed entirely, axed, or perhaps in some cases amended, and I expect we will have a significant list of specific measures in December. There are differing traditions in each country, especially on labour market measures, and they must be restricted. I do not think we should seek uniformity for its own sake.

On the external side of our discussions we discussed GATT. If we want growth then we need an agreement to the Uruguay Round, we have waited too long for it. Year after year we have expected an agreement by the end of the year and year after year the deadline has been extended yet again. We need to go a long way in what is now a relatively short time if we are to get a comprehensive Uruguay agreement this year. I remain convinced that we all stand to benefit from a successful end to the Uruguay Round.

Let me highlight three other external points before turning to Bosnia, each of them takes a big step forward towards a long held goal that Britain has been concerned with. The first is very clear cut. We have now set a very clear target for the enlargement negotiations and I hope we will see Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden in the Community by 1 January 1995, earlier than many people expected, and the Community in my view will be stronger for their membership. Secondly, we have agreed in our discussions in the last two days that the 6 countries of central and Eastern Europe will join the Community. To help them down the road to membership we will develop closer political links and open our markets more rapidly to their goods, and that I believe is desperately needed from their point of view. Thirdly, a word about Russia. Russia's weight and its international standing is important for all of us and that is reflected in the new proposal, a British proposal that I made during our discussions, for six-monthly summits with the President of Russia between the President of Russia and the Community.

Let me now turn to our discussions on Bosnia. I think many of you heard last night, from sources that I cannot possibly guess at, that we had a lively debate on Bosnia last evening. That is certainly true and all of us of course are deeply anxious about the situation there, it has noticeably deteriorated on the ground in recent weeks, the vulnerability of the Muslims and the risks to those who are helping them worry all of us, but especially those of us with first-hand experience and the commitment of large numbers of troops on the ground providing humanitarian relief.

I expressed the view last night, and reiterate it today, that I firmly believe that now is not: the time to abandon negotiations and to adopt the council of despair which lifting the arms embargo would represent. Lifting the embargo would lead, I believe, to an even bloodier war but without at the end of that producing the prospect of a better settlement that can only be obtained by negotiation.

The European Council has not made that fundamental change to our policy. The declaration on Bosnia-Herzegovina rightly does not call for the embargo to be lifted, indeed it reaffirms our confidence in Lord Owen and Mr Stoltenberg whose determination in the cause of peace is remarkable and rightly is widely acknowledged. So we have encouraged them to pursue further a fair and a viable settlement.

I would underline the vital point, and it is a vital point for all of us, that that settlement must be acceptable to all three constituent peoples of Bosnia Herzegovina. We shall not accept a territorial solution dictated by Serbs and Croats at the expense of the Bosnian Muslim if a settlement can be found which meets these criteria, which is based on the principles of the London Conference and the Vance/Owen plan, and which is accepted by the Muslims as offering fair and viable conditions and the prospect of an early end to this terrible war, that must be the best outcome. I for one believe we should continue to pursue that outcome, not move precipitately to lifting an arms embargo which amongst other matters would pour more arms into an area torn by warfare, would increase the bloodshed, would increase the risk of the war spilling out of its present boundaries, would open wider the risk of a third Balkan war, and perhaps very speedily indeed, if not immediately, would also lead to the total end of humanitarian relief in Bosnia. The time for that is not yet. I expressed that view last night, I reiterated that view this morning and I am happy to confirm to you in public that that remains the position we have taken.

Let me just sum up this summit. Rows of course, and there has been the occasional exchange over the last couple of days, rows make catchy headlines, they are quite good fun for those who participate in them and for those no doubt who report them, but shared realism and determination are to me the story of what this Council has really been about. The best Community debates are not about institutions, they are about practicalities, and the debate that we have had in the last day and a half has been a very practical debate, a debate about developing a new economic approach, an approach designed to cut red tape and regulation and help create new jobs, a debate about: significant progress with enlargement, enlargement to the north and enlargement also to Austria, and the prospect also of subsequent later enlargement further east. The debate has also been about a new relationship with Russia and one that I personally believe is merited and welcome.

These are big changes, especially big changes if you compare this Council with those of just a few years ago. What it seems to me has happened is this, under the pressure of serious economic problems across Europe the Community is taking an increasingly pragmatic approach, it is addressing today's needs and not tomorrow's dreams. I believe that is the right way to go.

It may be a little late but it is very welcome that the Community are now doing that. And I think to that extent we may look back on this summit in the last couple of days and regard it as a watershed in the way the Community addressed its business and its future.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph):

You haven't mentioned this request in the final communique for member states to comply with the UN Secretary-General's request for more troops, which rather surprises me. Does Britain intend to send more troops to Bosnia? If not, where will those troops come from? Do we expect Germany to pay for the dispatch of more troops, for instance? And do you agree with President Mitterrand that if troops are not sent, then the embargo should be dropped?

PRIME MINISTER:

Those questions, I think Boris, are really for Germany and for others, not for me. We have our troops there, we have made our contribution and I don't envisage that changing. Others felt across the Community that perhaps they could make a greater contribution but it is not for me to say what they would have to do.

We have made our contribution, it is a very substantial contribution, it is there, it has been there for months, it has been doing an excellent job. If others believe they may be able to make a further contribution, I welcome that if they can. Certainly, we would all like to see the extra troops there that are needed for the safe areas plan; perhaps some of those can come from Community countries, some perhaps from countries beyond the Community but Britain, I think, has made its contribution.

QUESTION (Steve Doughty, Daily Mail):

Prime Minister, should negotiations towards a fair settlement in Bosnia fail, are you prepared ultimately to consider the lifting of the arms embargo?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a rapidly-moving scene. I don't like the counsel of despair that it would fail. If, at the end of the day, it fails we will have to look afresh at what the situation is. At the moment it hasn't failed, there are negotiations that can still continue. I think that is the right way to go ahead. To judge what might happen beyond that would be to play a part in helping the negotiations fail and I for one would not wish to do that.

QUESTION (John Palmer, The Guardian):

Prime Minister, half an hour or so ago, the Danish Presidency and the President of the Commission made it clear that as a result of the discussion at this summit there would be no question of any rolling back of the Community's social dimension let alone any existing social legislation. The Presidency said that would send a very negative signal to wage-earners in Europe. Are you reconciled now with having lost the argument for the roll-back on the Community's social aspirations in view of your arguments on competitivity?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we have not the lost the argument about the roll-back; that is a curious interpretation of the discussion over the last couple of days. You have been attending these summits for a long time, John, you have been attending these press conferences for a long time; when before in all the long years in which you have endured these great occasions have you seen the European Council actually address the difficulties across Europe of rising social costs leading to lack of competitiveness? The answer is you may have heard it from the British, you may occasionally have heard it from one or two other nations but that is about all. On this occasion, it went right the way round the table and the fact of the matter is if you look around the Community, Italy, France, Holland, a whole range of other countries are actually taking action on social costs for precisely the reasons we have set out and that everybody acknowledged in the debate.

Nobody is suggesting that there is no social dimension to the Community. Nobody is suggesting, except those at the extremes of argument who wish to squash sensible debate, that we would wish to end the social provision that exists in the Community. I am not saying that and nobody else is saying that. I wish people would address the matter sensibly.

What we are saying is that if we go on piling cost upon cost upon cost in the European Community, there can only be one effect and that effect is that we will become less competitive in Europe and what we will export most will not be our goods but our jobs and one of the striking aspects of the Delors presentation was firstly that rising line of unemployment over the last twenty years in the Community, secondly the declining line of competitiveness and thirdly, the fact that across the Community there is a strikingly high number of people with modest skills who are unemployed for very long periods indeed.

The point that I am making is this so that it is not misunderstood by anyone: we have to look at the social requirements of people who are not in work. Our first priority must be to get as many as we can of the 17 million European citizens without work back into jobs. That should be our first priority - I don't want that rising to 20 million or beyond as people have forecast and if we simply look at ever-increasing social provision for those in work, we will do so at the expense of being able to help those people out of work. I don't want to be misrepresented or misunderstood by anybody. That is the British position and I hope it is entirely clear.

QUESTION (Raymond Lloyd, The New Internationalist):

The British Government has justified its low acceptance rate of Bosnian refugees in part on the grounds that it was desirable that they stay as close as possible to their homeland. Now that these homelands are disappearing by the day, will Britain now accept as many Bosnian refugees as, say, the 10,000 Hungarian refugees given asylum in 1956 and 1957?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think, if you take the British record over a lot of years, not only in Bosnia but in other areas, that anybody can legitimately criticise Britain for not taking its share of people who found themselves in difficulty around the world or playing its part in helping them on the ground so I have no further change of policy to announce today.

QUESTION (Graham Leach, BBC):

Chancellor Kohl a short time ago was referring to the great moral issue at the centre of this Bosnian crisis, the fact that the Bosnian Muslims are in the weakest position of the various parties there to defend themselves and he is clearly hosting the view of deep unhappiness about, this new proposed settlement which he believes is being dictated largely by the Serbs and the Croats.

How much moral disquiet do you have that the focus of the negotiations now is merely or appears merely to be salvaging what you can for the Muslim population?

PRIME MINISTER:

My moral disquiet was actually evidenced last August when we were the first to put troops in to deal with the humanitarian effort. My moral disquiet has been there throughout the whole of this episode.

One has to understand the reality of what has happened and what the options are. With the collapse of the old Yugoslavia and indeed the collapse of the discipline exerted by the old Soviet Union, the genie of old hatreds came out of the bottle in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There was brutally a choice. We - by "We" mean not just the European Community but the rest of the world - perhaps through the United Nations could have decided to put in several hundred thousand troops - for that is what it would have meant - to hold the combatants apart, Heaven knows for how long, six months, a year, five years, ten years. We have been in Cyprus for 28 years. Nobody was prepared to do that; it would not have been a practicable military proposition without huge loss of life and there was no enthusiasm for doing it. Many great states still don't have any troops on the ground there.

Once that was pushed to one side, there was only one effective route to take; that was to seek humanitarian aid to minimise the suffering and minimise the loss of life and I would argue that that humanitarian assistance led by the British and the French - the French have been remarkable and the Spanish have done very good work there as well - has saved an unknown number but a huge number of lives over the winter. Allied with that, we needed to seek a political settlement. It is very easy to stand back and say: "Why not do something else?" but there was no other way to deal with it other than to seek a political settlement and that is what repeatedly we have been doing.

I set out my reasons a few moments ago why I am reluctant to see the arms embargo lifted and I think they are compelling reasons - I won' t reiterate them again today. I still believe the first prize both for Bosnia as a whole and for the rest of the world is to maintain the humanitarian aid, not destroy it with a single gesture, and to see even now whether we can achieve a satisfactory political settlement that will bring the fighting to an end.

There is a moral issue. The first moral issue is to stop the killing. We must all make our own judgement about how that is best done and I have set out my judgement quite clearly.

FOREIGN SECRETARY: [Douglas Hurd]

There has been a danger from the very beginning of this of exaggerated expectations of what people outside the former Yugoslavia could do and therefore exaggerated criticism when they don't do it and the British Government, whether in the Security Council, in NATO or here in the Community, consistently said from the very beginning that it is not possible for outsiders to impose a just and durable peace. It has to be negotiated. The only possible way of imposing a peace would be, as the Prime Minister said, in effect to declare Bosnia and perhaps indeed Croatia as some kind of UN protectorate or colony and keep troops there for year after year. No-one is proposing that.

There have always been limitations on what we can do from outside and much of the criticism and disappointment has been from people who did not at the beginning understand those limitations. What we have done is, as the Prime Minister said, provided a political framework, provided pressures, sanctions, to encourage those concerned - and particularly the Serbs with their special responsibility - to negotiate, provide humanitarian help and keep people alive. Those are the things we have been doing and within their limits we have been doing them successfully.

Now it has moved on a stage in the sense that Lord Owen reported two nights ago to the foreign ministers that it looked as if the Serbs and Croats were considering a plan, beginning to put forward a plan. It is not for us in this Community to endorse that plan; we have not done so, it is not our plan. It is not for us to tell the Muslims that they should accept that plan; we have not done so; we made that clear to President Izetbegovic yesterday. But it is for them to consider - this is what I asked him - whether they should in fact find out, discuss and explore the possibilities. Whether they will do that or not I don't know but it is reasonable that they should.

One could imagine a situation, as the Prime Minister said, where it all collapsed, it was too dangerous to keep British troops there, the UN effort could not continue, negotiations collapsed. That is a different situation which is why in the Washington statement we did not exclude harsher measures but to end the arms embargo now, to involve the withdrawal of the UN effort, stop the effective effort of keeping people alive, in fact arm Croats as well as Muslims and Serbs, those are the consequences of the lifting of the arms embargo now and because those consequences are fairly clear a very substantial view here was that we should not change our policy.

QUESTION (Japanese Newspaper):

What sort of message or guidelines is the European Council to take to Japan for the economic summit and G7 in a few weeks time although Japanese politics are in turmoil?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a difficult thing! The European Council did not discuss a collective view for the G7 summit though a number of European members, France, Germany, Britain and the Commission itself of course will be there but we didn't over the last couple of days agree a concerted line for what we might discuss in Japan.

There is a good deal of preparatory work still going on as I am sure you will know and I think it will be a few days yet before positions are taken. It was not discussed in the last day and a half.

QUESTION (Peter Snow, BBC TV):

Are you going to fully participate in the creation of the European Monetary Institute with a view perhaps to participating in the ECB at the end of it?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is agreed in the Maastricht Treaty that everyone, whether they are operating within the Exchange Rate Mechanism or not, remains within the European Monetary System so of course we contribute to the decision-making.

As to when we will return to the Exchange Rate Mechanism, we have made it clear that it isn't imminent; it will probably be some years before we are able to do that. I have made that clear, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made that clear and that hasn't changed at all as a result of our discussions in the last day and a half.

QUESTION (Peter Snow, BBC TV):

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes. If by "in that" you mean will we have a say in where it goes, what it does and in the governing of it, the answer is Yes.

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky TV):

Prime Minister, I was wondering if you are now in a position to deny categorically the allegation made in the "Guardian" that the Tory Party received £7 million from the Saudi royal family before the last election. I was also wondering if Mr. Mates is still a member of your Government and is going to stay there.

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer to the first point is that the story is total fantasy from beginning to end. The Conservative Party doesn't accept money from foreign governments or from royal families and it hasn't done so. I don't know what the sources of those stories were. If there is any firm evidence, I hope someone will bring it to me to see. I don't myself deal with these matters but I am assured that the story is utterly and completely unfounded.

As far as Mr. Mates is concerned, I made the position clear this morning. Nothing has changed since then.

QUESTION (John Sergeant, BBC TV):

Do you accept, Prime Minister, that it is part of your responsibility as Conservative party leader to make sure that the party is funded from proper sources and wouldn't that task be made much easier if it was made a condition of giving large donations to a political party that the donor's name should be made public by the party?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Conservative Party is funded by individuals, by companies and by its own party activists. Overwhelmingly most of it comes from its own party activists. There are people who donate money to the party who require anonymity. That is the position, has always been the position and I don't see any logical reason for changing that position.

What we have seen in the last couple of days goes back really to the last question. It is very easy for the most extraordinary stories to run around rather like the one that appeared this morning which I am assured, though I don't have a direct responsibility for these matters, is totally untrue. I appreciate that it is always possible for quite absurd stories to be put up, run around and given a good deal of publicity but the fundamental choice is this; political parties could of course be funded by the state. That is really what the Labour Party would like because their only funding at the moment comes from trade unions many of whose members are not supporters of the Labour Party though nonetheless their money no doubt goes to the Labour Party; they have no organisation in the constituencies to speak of, they have no means of raising money in the constituencies and businesses are so hostile to their policies no-one would give them twopence halfpenny so clearly they are very much in the business of making sure there is state funding. They are very keen on state funding; they have always liked more. I don't like the principle of having our political parties principally funded by the taxpayer compulsorily - I don't like it - and I have to tell you that I don't think the taxpayer would like it either.

That being so, I think a free and open democratic party should be funded in the way we have traditionally been funded. We have made it clear we don't accept money from foreign governments, we don't accept money from foreign royal families. In the event that any money handed to us turns out to be tainted, we will return that money but people who contribute to political parties do have a right to anonymity just as they have a right to anonymity if they contribute to charities or other things. That has been the position and I see no logical reason for changing it.

QUESTION (BBC Hungarian Service):

Could I just go back to one aspect of Stage 1 which hasn't been touched yet, that of enlargement? As the UK is one of the supporters of enlargement, can I ask you Prime Minister whether you envisage that some of the six former socialist countries or indeed some of the Visegrad Four can be granted full membership earlier than others and if so, have you got a preferable candidate?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think any of them are remotely ready to come into the Community now. I wish they were because Britain is a foremost supporter of having them join the Community but the fact of the matter is they aren't economically ready to join and it will be some time before they are. It was for that reason that we wanted to ensure that they had Association Agreements, it was for that reason that we wanted to open some of the trade barriers so they can export more easily to us and help make themselves ready to join the Community.

As to whether they could join individually or whether they have to join collectively, I think it is inevitable that they will join individually. Whatever the past thought may have been that they will all come in at the same date, the fact of the matter is that one or two of them will be ready for membership of the Community in advance of the others and I for one would not then wish to close the Community door on them. If one is ready and the others are not, I think we should let that one in and then the others as and when they are ready to join the Community but I have to say to you I think it is some years ahead.

QUESTION (Michael White, The Guardian):

I know approximately where the allegations are sourced in this morning's "Guardian" report, Prime Minister and accept that they should be taken seriously. Therefore can I, in the light of your remarks this morning, press you a little further?

You said that yours was a democratically-funded, largely domestically-funded party but the difficulty with your position is that so much of your funding admitted and reported in the annual accounts isn't readily accountable for so therefore can I press you a little further?

You said this morning no donations from the Saudi Government, you said this afternoon no donations from the Saudi royal family. I wonder if your knowledge of the situation goes far enough to enable you to say no donations came from either private individuals or corporations in Saudi Arabia which though it is an ally of ours is scarcely a democratic ally of ours, and if you consider that to be fanciful, I wonder if I could extend the question a moment and say what is in the public domain is that your colleague, Mr. Heseltine, was taken ill in Venice at the weekend. The DTI thought he was going to be in Germany and he was meeting with Lord McAlpine whom I think we all know is not a kissing cousin politically speaking of Mr. Heseltine. Do we know what he was doing with Lord McAlpine?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have absolutely no idea. I don't know what sort of "Guardian" you now represent but the concept that Michael Heseltine shouldn't spend a weekend in Venice with his wife and meet someone he has known for twenty years seems to me rather an extraordinary proposition.

If you have evidence of the sort that you printed this morning in the "Guardian" bring it to me and show it to me. I am assured that your story this morning was total and utter fantasy. If you think it wasn't, until you are sure bring the evidence to me and see. I make that offer to you. You bring the evidence to me, I will examine it. Just let us have a little less innuendo and a little more fact. Bring the evidence to me, Michael, or don't print it!