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1994 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference in Chartres

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Mitterrand, held in Chartres on Friday 18th November 1994.


PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I will start by giving you some elements of our conclusions and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will then add to these remarks.

This was the 17th Franco-British summit. This Chartres summit was mainly geared to a certain number of European questions which are important, some of the really important international problems, on the development of the war in Bosnia, for example, and also matters of defence. That is not a comprehensive list, there is more, but I am telling you what the main themes were.

On the European matters, we ran through the main issues of the day, the preparation of the Essen European Council meeting, the European summit, also the orientations of the up-coming French Presidency. Of course work has started, in fact in depth thinking has been started too and representatives of the Prime Minister and myself have discussed these matters at length and therefore we are completely ready to start the next phase on 1 January next.

And we think it is essential to inform our British partners of this and of course our British colleague added his own remarks. The preparation also of the intergovernmental conference in 1996, this is a very important date and the preparation for this has been somewhat delayed by a series of political events in the domestic area. And lastly, but I repeat this is not an exhaustive list, we also talked about the future enlargements of the Union.

I think we agreed in considering with the Prime Minister that the urgent thing was to consolidate what we had already achieved. That does not mean that we refuse to examine the way documents should be changed, that text should be changed and practices and customers too, each time that is necessary. But it would perhaps be a mistake to try to move yet even further forward without having consolidated what we had already achieved. That being said, we remain entirely open to suggestions from our partners.

On international affairs, as I said before, the discussion was mainly-on Bosnia. I imagine that you have questions on that, therefore I will keep my explanations for later on.

On defence, first we have clarified a decision which I think is very important and significant for the future, on the setting up of a Franco-British Euro-air Group. The purpose of the exercise is to train, to prepare in other words, our Air Forces to work together, to get them used to this, and in particular with regard to humanitarian operations and peace-keeping and peace-making operations. For example, there was a statement made in [indistinct] by the Western European Union in which these points were mentioned. And I think this project, because we want to move forward in pragmatic terms, a Europe .of defence, this group will be established in the UK at High Wycombe. The first Commander of the group will be a French Air Force General.

And then another subject was the prevention and settlement of conflicts in Africa. But I have noticed, and I was very happy to note, Prime Minister, if I may say so, I was delighted to see that we have to some extent emerged from the situation that we were in in 1904, it is a bit late in the day but we have made progress. So we decided anyway to pursue cooperation between the two countries and with particular regard to preventive diplomacy. The idea is to give logistic and other support to the African countries which in the framework of action carried out in particular by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), on the basis of a mandate from the United Nations, or to the extent the OAU would ask for this, we have just emerged ourselves from a meeting with our African partners and I am delighted to see the cooperation among us, among these two countries which have great experience in Africa, that such cooperation is moving forward, and I particularly appreciate the contribution of the UK in this respect.

Next, cooperation as far as armaments are concerned, well you are already informed of this, the tripartite frigate with Italy, the UK, France, the so-called new generation, also known as the Horizon Project. That is the vocabulary, our British friends are always at the front of the pack, but these are important things. So this is very satisfactory, I think more forward, than the military for the future FLA, the future large aircraft. Here obviously transport capacity has to be developed and on a European basis. This aircraft is the object of the project and several other countries are already associated, including Germany, Italy and Spain.

It has been agreed to set up a study group, trusted with the task of looking specifically at the possible participation of the UK in this project. But I want to emphasise in speaking to our British friends, and in their presence, the precise importance that we attach to this project.

In the nuclear field we have reasserted the intention of both sides to strengthen cooperation between our two countries. I made a remark earlier which is not a restrictive remark, because I personally very much intend to see the development of more and more cooperation, which will be the very foundation of European security, because can you imagine European security without the support of nuclear forces, that would be illusory. Nuclear deterrence remains an essential element of our defence policies and the more our defence policies are one single defence policy the better that would be.

In economic and financial affairs I just mention in passing, the most striking feature was confirmation of the economic recovery under way. It appeared necessary to emphasise the implementation of the measures decided in Naples on the debt of the poorest countries, 67 percent was the figure mentioned.

Also, because curiously there is some talk of this, the question of the ratification of the GATT agreement, a discussion of this. It is not that we have become less enthusiastic spectators of all this, but what has been achieved has been achieved and has been done. And our officials have spent enough time and trouble to get these agreements through, it would really be rather a pity to have to come back on all this, I think it is in everyone's interest.

So those are the few remarks I wanted to say at the outset before asking Mr Major and Mr Balladur if they would like to add a few words which would add to my brief summary of what we have done.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it will be apparent from what the President of the Republic has said that we have had an extremely productive summit, not just in the discussions that I have been privileged to have with the President and Prime Minister, but those which my colleagues have had with their counterparts in a range of different areas.

Can I firstly say how grateful I am to the President, to the Prime Minister and to the people of Chartres for their hospitality on this occasion, it has been a delight to be here and also extremely useful.

Let me pick up some of the points that the President has made. What has been apparent from our discussions today is that the interests of Britain and France coincide in a very wide range of areas, we have reached specific agreements today on a number of matters. Let me add a point to some of those that the President has mentioned.

We have agreed today on the formation of a Franco-British Euro-Air Group. This is a natural development I think from our long-standing defence cooperation. The group's headquarters will be at High Wycombe in England. The first Commander of the Group will be a French General and thereafter command of the group will alternate between British and French officers.

Britain and France are the only two European members of NATO with the capability significantly to project military power overseas. And the new group will allow us to coordinate our Air Forces so that we can set up more speedily combined operations in peace-keeping or in humanitarian missions.

We have also agreed to work together in another area where we have a self-evident joint interest, and that is of course in peace-keeping in Africa. In September in the South African Parliament I announced an initiative to help African countries develop further their peace-keeping capabilities. The French government, quite separately, had put forward very similar ideas. What we have agreed today is that our approaches are compatible and that we will now take them forward together with our African partners.

We discussed also military matters, as the President has said. Specifically on military transport aircraft, I explained to the President and to the Prime Minister that British requirements fell into two quite different parts. The first was that part of our present Hercules fleet is very near the end of its operational life. We shall need to decide very soon whether to refurbish these aircraft or to buy a number of Hercules 0130J replacements to meet our immediate needs. But secondly, and as a quite separate matter, we shall need to consider our longer term requirement for similar aircraft and we are interested in exploring whether participation in the future large aircraft project would be a possible way of meeting this longer term requirement. And so to help in this I have today agreed with our French hosts that a group of senior experts from both our governments should be tasked to study possible British participation in the future large aircraft, it is without commitment but I think it is entirely right that we should examine it carefully to see the extent to which our military and our economic needs might coincide, and the extent to which, provided they do and a satisfactory agreement can be reached, that we may proceed together in this particular project.

In the fairly wide ranging discussions we had on Europe I underlined one very high priority for Britain and was delighted to find that this was fully shared by the French government. I refer to the absolute necessity to crack down on fraud, waste and mis-management in the European Union that has been set out so clearly in the Court of Auditors Report over recent-days. Fraud in the European Union is not a fresh problem, it is not a concern that has just suddenly arisen for us, we had examined it before, we have looked at it before. The Maastricht Treaty gave the Court of Auditors new powers to uncover fraud and we intend to back the Commission fully, and the Court of Auditors fully, in using those powers. There is no doubt, following the Court of Auditors report, that there is a job to be done. First, we would like to see the Commission step up its flying inspection squads to detect fraud and fraudsters. That is an area where there should be no qualms whatsoever in any quarter about backing the Commission in the work that it has to do. And secondly, as I set out in my speech in Leiden some months ago, the European Parliament as a whole needs to act on fraud and I propose to pursue this with the President of the European Parliament. And third, we will insist at Essen that the Council acts on the Court's special reports on particular areas of the budget and we wish to see member states cooperating in taking tougher action against criminal fraud, and I believe that is very much in the interests of taxpayers right across the European Union and particularly of course in Germany, France and Britain, the three largest net contributors to the European Union budget. And fourthly on this issue, we are in fact already in touch with the German Presidency to see how we can use the Essen European Council to add yet further momentum to the war against fraud, and I was delighted to discover today that our French colleagues not only agree with us on the need to take action like this, but also will regard this as a matter of importance to them in the French Presidency that begins on 1 January next year.

We discussed, as the President said, a wide range of other domestic and international matters, the President mentioned Bosnia, there were many others he could have mentioned as well. I think rather than deal with all those at this stage, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have in a few moments time. So I will end my comments at this point.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I asked Mr Balladur, the French Prime Minister, whether he would have anything to add, he said not for the time being. We will therefore proceed to the traditional exchange of questions and answers. But I would like to say, not simply for reasons of courtesy, how grateful I am to the British delegation and to Mr Major, the British Prime Minister, for the way they have approached and undertaken the Franco-British talks. I have found that the climate that has prevailed today has been of the best that I have seen in the past few years and I wish to thank them for that. I wish also to thank Chartres, Mr George Le Moin [phon] its Mayor, for the welcome they have extended to us which has placed the summit in a context which, despite meteorological difficulties, has been particularly pleasant, and maybe accept our expression of gratitude.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Mr. President, with reference to Bosnia, following the American withdrawal of the embargo monitoring unit, it would appear that the Americans are considering therefore the possibility of lifting the embargo on weapons to Bosnia. Do you subscribe to this or are you thinking about whether French troops should continue to be part of UNPROFOR?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

You may be right, you may be going a bit faster than events but if it is true that the Americans have announced that they wanted to change their line on Bosnia, in other words they are moving towards lifting the embargo and in that direction, it is by no means certain that they will actually go as far as providing weapons. According to some information we see in the press that would appear to be the case but that being said it is by no means certain, it may not happen at all.

It is very difficult to talk with you about information which we actually don't have and at present there is a curious ambiguity between the reality of what the American forces are doing there as American forces and the same American forces as members of NATO and therefore at the disposal of the UN. This sort of dual use of troops, will this last or not? I don't know.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

As the President said, part of the question is based on information we don't at the moment have. It is certainly the case that we do not favour lifting the arms embargo, that is undoubtedly the case, we think lift is a last resort: We are determined to ensure that it does not come to the situation where the embargo is lifted.

We are in Bosnia as indeed France and other colleagues are in Bosnia to do a particular job; we are there to escort humanitarian aid and UK troops will stay there while they can do a useful job without unacceptable risk.

What concerns us about lifting the embargo is that the logic of lift is that there will be more war; the consequence of that is that there will be more suffering. It is our judgement that a settlement will only come from negotiation. What concerns us is that lifting the embargo would unravel the approach that we have followed so we hope that it will not come to that.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I can but confirm what has just been said. I didn't go into an explanation myself but we already had occasion to talk about this; with the French press, France is very much against - and the Foreign Minister has been explicit on this - the lifting of the embargo and it is difficult to announce conclusions and decisions that we don't yet know about but it is certain that the problem of the presence of French forces - and we want them to stay with the international forces - will arise inevitably if there is a lifting of the embargo and maybe we will have to talk about this at a later stage.

QUESTION:

A question to you, President, and the British Prime Minister as well:

Ultimately, given the information you have today, have you not reached the conclusion that you will not be able to withstand the American decision for much longer and will you take on the responsibility of keeping troops there, be they French or British, in situ especially if they are likely to come under fire from both sides?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I think I had already answered that question before you asked it. Will we be able to hang on for long? I don't know. Our position is that we are certainly not going to leave our soldiers there caught between the two fires which you were mentioning.

There is a question of principle; will that situation arise? We don't know. Secondly, if it does arise, obviously the logistic and technical implications are quite considerable but now we are talking about the political aspect of the military options. It is clear that it doesn't seem to us to be compatible to be on the one hand encouraging the people who are making war to make more intense war and then at the same time to leave our Loops in between them as sort of buffers which would be a purely fictitious situation. This in fact simply adds to what John Major said really on our behalf in a way and it is a difficult embroglio and obviously the answer is negotiation and we haven't finished our negotiation yet.

QUESTION (Nick Gowing, Channel 4 News)

Could I ask you both what pressure you now plan to put on both the American Administration and the new American Congress to ensure your worst fears do not come to pass, that you are forced into this position of deciding whether to keep your troops in Bosnia or not?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

This isn't a new problem or a new position. The position the British Government have taken over the lifting of the arms embargo is not a novel one, it has been known in Washington and known to Congress for a long time. That is the position and we will continue to sustain that position for the reasons I set out a few moments ago.

We sent troops to Bosnia to do a particular job. It is very easy to look at the difficulties that still exist in Bosnia and forget what those difficulties might well have been if British troops, French troops and other troops had not been in Bosnia over the past two-and-a-half to three years. It is difficult to estimate what might have happened to the fighting, difficult to estimate how it might have spread, difficult to estimate how many people alive today might not have been alive but for the activities of the UN protection forces as a whole so clearly we sent them to do a particular job. I wish to see them complete that job.

Self-evidently, we must look at the safety of the troops and their capacity to do their job in future. The right way for us to address that is for us to continue to argue what we believe is the rational case for proceeding with negotiations to try and find a settlement and for not lifting either collectively or unilaterally the arms embargo and we will continue to argue that case.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

We are awaiting confirmation. There is no divergence of interpretation between the British and the French but there is a certain amount of information that we haven't really got yet that we need in greater depth. It is clear that it is easier for the Americans to withdraw their troops from Bosnia than us because they haven't got any there anyway!

QUESTION (Robin Oakley, BBC):

Prime Minister, given the uncertainties surrounding America's future role in NATO and given the announcement today of the Anglo-French initiative, do you believe the time has come for urgent action in developing a European defence identity as something that should happen perhaps before the 1996 IGC, what form do you think it might take and do you have fewer reservations about a European defence dimension that you have about a European social dimension?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

Let me pick up that point in some detail - uncertainties about the American position in NATO. I don't believe there are any uncertainties about the American position in NATO. NATO remains the bedrock of our defence in the West and I think it is going to remain the bedrock of our defence in the West. Only within the last year or so President Clinton has re-confirmed his determination to leave 100,000 American troops on the mainland of Europe for the defence of Europe so I think nobody in looking at other areas of collaboration should doubt the primacy of the NATO Alliance, the permanence of the NATO Alliance or the importance of the NATO Alliance; it is absolutely fundamental to our future defence in the West and I do not believe anything can shake that.

What does not follow from that is that there is not separately and in alliance with NATO - of which Britain, France and other western European countries are members - a capacity for further collaboration between western European NATO allies and that is what we have been doing in Bosnia of course, Britain and France in particular. It is what we anticipate we may well be called upon to do in the future in areas of peacekeeping and humanitarian aid; it is what underlies the decision today to establish the joint structure that we proposed.

But defence is not a zero sum game. Because Britain and France are able to make greater cooperation wholly desirable - improved cooperation in my judgement - that does not in any sense detract from either our individual commitment to NATO or our joint commitment to NATO. It isn't zero sum - it is a better use of our collective capability to defend ourselves within NATO and in some aspects as NATO partners bilaterally.

QUESTION (Paul Taylor, Reuters):

Mr, President and Mr. Prime Minister, how close are you would you say on the future of European institutions as they will come to be discussed at the 1996 intergovernmental conference and do you believe that 1996 should be a new re-founding act for Europe or a rather more modest incremental development of what was agreed at Maastricht?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I think that there would not be much point in repeating what has been said in Maastricht; the important thing is to do what we are supposed to do. If you look at the progress made in reality concerning the decisions at Maastricht I don't think that we need an order of priority there but I think it is more important to implement what has been decided than to think up yet new ideas. Of course, any interesting suggestion will be looked at with interest by France but I think the priority is to first of all implement what we have already decided.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

I entirely agree with that - the President made that point earlier in his remarks - that one needs to consolidate and deal with what was decided at Maastricht. I know there are some people who believe that there is - if I may borrow a Chinese phrase - likely to be a great leap forward in 1996. I don't believe there is going to be a great leap forward in 1996 and I don't know of any European head of government who does.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

Mind you, it would be quite a leap forward to put into practice what one has decided to do! [Laughter]

QUESTION:

President and Prime Minister, I would like to come back for a moment to Bosnia. Do you not think that your public opinion will be surprised that President Clinton should have taken such a decision without informing you in some way or another insofar as you are often in touch with him, he is a privileged ally of yours, and the US is part of the Contact Group or do you explain this decision only in terms of American domestic policy?

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

You know as much as I do about that, probably more on the problems of internal political affairs in the United States. It is clear that Mr. Clinton is faced with a new situation; he has a Congress that has been very clear about its intentions on Bosnia so I think the two issues can't be separated from each other. It is difficult to say that because for months, even years, this debate has been going on and I think no-one was presumably taken by surprise in learning of the decisions taken in Washington but it is true that things have taken on a sort of new course and it seems to us to be a rather sort of brutal, sudden change of course, it is perhaps even a dangerous turning. It hasn't been decided collectively, that is true, but that is the way things are and I am trying to be as clear in my answers as you were in your question.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

I think much of the question spreads beyond "Sharpguard" and perhaps looks at other things that haven't been decided so to that extent the question is based upon a premise that at the moment is not reality and in my experience the relationship and the consultation between the United States and her western European partners has been very good, is very good and I have no doubt is going to remain very good in future and I think, frankly, people have made rather too much of the particular issue of "Sharpguard"

The work that "Sharpguard" was doing continues, other Western European Union navies are participating, there are eleven countries currently involved. The decision made by the United States has been overdramatised I think in some areas. It won't significantly the operation and there were only two United States ships involved. I think to draw, as perhaps the questioner had in mind, rather wider conclusions from that is to draw conclusions that are not justified by the reality of what has happened.

QUESTION (Richard Dowden, The Independent):

Are the announcements made today about defence cooperation simple bilateral cooperation in interesting important areas but of no more significance than that or could they be the foundations and building blocks of a future possible European defence force?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

If I may pick up the point that underlies that question, Richard, it would be a suggestion that suddenly, uniquely and extraordinarily, Britain and France had decided to cooperate on some defence matters. I have to say to everyone present that that isn't the case. The cooperation on defence matters between Britain and France is very substantial and has been very substantial for a very long time. We perhaps have more joint ventures and collaboration with France on defence matters than anyone else; that has been the case for a very long period. These are important developments but to draw the conclusion that these are developments of a wholly different nature from what we have seen before is I think going too far.

We are looking as far as the future large aircraft is concerned at the possibility, all other things being equal, of a venture in which we will collaborate; we have done that before, there are other ventures going on at the moment that the President mentioned and that is very good. Certainly the establishment of the air group is a new but entirely rational development building on the cooperation that we have had before so rather than regarding it as some startling innovation I regard it as a further example of a growing level of defence cooperation that we have been privileged to enjoy with France for a long time and. I hope it will continue to grow.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

And in that respect I pointed that many of these projects have already been agreed to by a number of European countries so this isn't always a specifically Franco-British approach in all fields. That being said, there is something specifically Franco-British in expressing the hope that it will serve European defence.

QUESTION:

A question, Mr. President, that may be of interest to your prime ministerial guest but to do with domestic policy. It has been suggested that a new referendum be held before we move on to economic and monetary union in 1997. I would like to hear your views on the matter.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

Do you only mean mine?

SAME LADY:

And the views of the British Prime Minister which might be interesting as well but not the French Prime Minister. [Laughter].

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

It would be an impertinence to comment on French internal politics - not now nor in the future - but it was a very good try.

PRESIDENT MITTERRAND:

I think as far as referendums go, one mustn't overdo these things. On that in particular, the decision has been taken by the French people themselves so I don't really think that the matter is open for discussion quite honestly and as this concerns the very distant future anyway and I will certainly refrain from getting too much involved in that particular debate.