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1996 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Klaus

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Prague with Prime Minister Klaus, given in Prague on Thursday 18th April 1996.


MR KLAUS:

Good Morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. Allow me to use this opportunity to thank Prime Minister John Major for his visit to Prague. We have had very long, very substantial and indeed very friendly, important, talks which took several hours. I believe we both are convinced that meetings like this are indeed very important in terms of building of confidence, in terms of development of mutual knowledge which is of very great importance, especially in today's Europe. And my last news, the great majority of the content of our talks was concerned with international policy, foreign policy, although we also informed each other about our domestic affairs. We have talked on such subjects as the European Union and NATO. I believe the United Kingdom is one of the countries which supports our admission to these organisations and with which we also share our ideas about the time schedule of these admissions.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I firstly thank the Prime Minister and the Czech nation for their hospitality not just to me over the last day, but to the enormously warm and friendly reception that The Queen received on her recent visit. I know from my conversations subsequently to that visit how much she enjoyed coming here and what a remarkable experience she found it. We regard the Czech Republic as an old and valued friend and I think that visit helped to cement the relationship.

The Prime Minister and I have met on a number of occasions in recent years and the opportunity for lengthy discussions over the last 24 hours has enabled us to look in detail at several areas of particular interest, most obviously the Czech Republic's determination to become a member of the European Union and also of NATO. As the Prime Minister indicated, we look forward to the Czech Republic joining us in both these organisations, and we took the opportunity over the last day of discussing in detail what that might mean and in particular, as far as the European Union is concerned, what is likely to come out of the intergovernmental conference and what that will mean for the organisation when negotiations for new membership begin. Although other issues sometimes seem to dominate the European Union agenda, there is no doubt that the prospect of widening the European Union and carrying it across central Europe towards East Europe is the most important issue facing the European Union at the present time, and an opportunity that has not occurred in the past, and may not occur in the future, unless the present opportunity is taken to widen the Union. And the sort of matter we discussed was how we could look at the individual stepping stones from the application to join, to the date of joining, to steadily meld together the interests both of the Union and the Czech Republic.

Although we spent most of our time on those two subjects, we did also look at a number of bilateral matters as well. We both noted with some satisfaction the growth in trade between our two countries and we both agree that the scope for further improvement still remains.

This was very much a working discussion, not in broad generalities but looking at the details of matters that will concern both of us in the future. I found it a very useful and worthwhile occasion and I hope that the Prime Minister did as well.

Let me just say finally that the only disappointment on this trip is that President Havel, whom I have met on many occasions in recent years, was abroad on this particular occasion and I was unable to see him, but I hope that will be rectified before too long.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

With regard to the fact that you are travelling to Moscow, and with regard to another fact that Moscow would like to promote something like participation in the political part of NATO, are you of the same opinion as Mr Solana that there is no such thing as a political participation only in NATO?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the purpose of NATO expansion is perfectly clear. We are looking at NATO expansion, but of course NATO expansion is not going to come rapidly over a long distance, clearly that will concentrate in the first instance on central Europe and I think will concentrate on the Czech Republic and adjacent countries. And we will need to take that in a measured and cautious way. NATO will expand, of that I am certain. But it will need to be taken in a measured and cautious way for two reasons. Firstly because the expansion of NATO involves obligations by NATO that cannot lightly be entered into, it cannot just be a paper exercise. If NATO is going to expand, the same obligations to new members must be extended as are extended to the present membership of NATO. And secondly of course, the new members have their own obligations to NATO as well and they will need to be discussed and examined. So I think discussions beyond that on other matters, political elements of NATO, I think they are really not remotely for the present time.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can I ask you for your reaction to the IRA bomb that went off in London last night? And also [indistinct] Mr Santer today on the continued ban on British beef?

PRIME MINISTER:

If I can turn to the IRA bomb, at least I assume it was an IRA bomb but I don't believe they have yet confirmed that that is the case. It seems to have been an exercise for no apparent purpose other than to remind people that they still have the capacity to mount terrorist exercises. The implications of the bomb are clear. It is an indication from the IRA that they continue to be prepared to threaten the peace process and to threaten the prospects of a better future for all the people in Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom.

The implications for them are equally clear. Unless there is a ceasefire, a verifiable ceasefire, that is clear cut, then there will be no part in the peace process for Sinn Fein.

It seems to me to be a very odd time to have mounted this exercise when at this very moment in the United Kingdom we are introducing the legislation that will lead to elections and will lead to the prospect of all-party talks on the question of Northern Ireland, a particularly futile time for them to behave in this fashion. But what they must understand is what we have done - the British government, the Irish government, political parties - in the process we have set in train, is to open up the possibility for Sinn Fein to join the democratic process. But if they thumb their noses at the democratic process, they will not be able to stop it. The legislation will go ahead, the talks will go ahead, the process of seeking a permanent peace in Northern Ireland will go ahead, and those discussions will go ahead without the participation of Sinn Fein and those people who support bombing exercises like last night. That must be crystal clear to them and I hope that they don't misunderstand that in the slightest.

And I think there is just one other point to make. All around the world people recognise what has been done to try and bring a permanent peace to Northern Ireland. If Sinn Fein and the IRA want to turn themselves completely into pariahs in every part of the world, then this sort of continued exercise is precisely the way to do it. But they will not derail the plans that we have in mind.

On the second point about BSE and the European ban, the European ban is unjustified, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind about that. The national bans were imposed, then a European ban was imposed, and since then we have the evidence of the scientists that British beef is safe. We have the assertion from the World Health Organisation that British beef is safe; we have the assertion from the Agriculture Commissioner that he would eat British beef and British beef is safe; we have the same assertion from President Santer that British beef is safe. And on the back of that it defies logical belief that the ban continues in the way that it does. And I will express to President Santer and my other European partners, whom I will see in the next few days, precisely the sentiments that I have expressed over the last few moments.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] NATO and the EU [indistinct] was it an exchange of information or are there any concrete results?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it was not just a question of exchanging information, it was a question of looking at the practical measures that will need to be taken as the Czech Republic move towards membership of the European Union. I think there is a good deal of misunderstanding about precisely what needs to be done and how we move from the present situation, where the Czech Republic is an aspiring member of the European Union, and the date when they become a full member. And the sort of thing that the Prime Minister and I looked at in detail was how we can deepen and improve the relationship in that intervening period. Are there ways in which the European market can progressively be opened to the Czech Republic? That is but one illustration of a number that we looked at. How can the economic and political dialogue between the Czech Republic and their partners in the European Union be improved before full membership. So these were practical issues.

It was a working meeting, it wasn't a meeting to take final decisions, that is a matter for the European Union as a whole, not just for one member state. But it was an opportunity to exchange views on how the United Kingdom, who strongly supports the widening of the Community and in particular the membership of the Czech Republic, how we can help to play a role to speed that up, to bring that about, and how we can work with the Czech Republic to deal with improving the relationship between the European Union and the Czech Republic in the interregnum before there is full membership. So very much a working meeting along those lines.