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1995 - Mr Major’s Press Conference Interview in Majorca

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Majorca, held on Saturday 23rd September 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

We came here this weekend without a set agenda, without pre-prepared positions, with the opportunity of having a look at some of the problems and opportunities in front of Europe over the next few years. And I have to say I think the meeting was all the better for not having been pre-prepared and not having large scripts in front of one on each and every subject that might be raised. I think we have had a much better, freer, franker exchange of views than I can recall on many occasions in the past. And by frank, I do not use that as a euphemism for rows. It has not been a bland meeting, it has been a very good meeting, but it has certainly been conducted in an excellent spirit on every side throughout the weekend. And I think that Felipe Gonzalez has had a very considerable success in calling this meeting and having so many things examined so thoroughly.

Let me just say very briefly a few words about the three component parts of the meeting we have had over the last day or so. Yesterday we spent the majority of the time discussing the challenges and the opportunities that lie immediately ahead of the European Union. The old slogans and the old prescriptions won't do any longer. We are now coming to a position where it is not sufficient just to hold out an aspiration of doing this or that at some stage in the future. We are now reaching the position where clear-cut decisions will need to be taken on a whole range of things - enlargement, a little later the single currency, the financial perspective again at the turn of the century and of course the matter we discussed this morning, defence architecture and all the other matters that will be discussed in the IGC. I think most of you know what I had to say yesterday so I won't bother to repeat it on this occasion, though I am happy to take your questions on it in a few moments.

Last evening over dinner we had a discussion that divided into three parts: firstly, a discussion on Russia, the internal position, relationship with the European Union, prospects for its future; secondly, a discussion on the Middle East, again its relationship with the European Union, prospects for the peace process in the Middle East, relationship with particularly the Palestinian authority, I think a number of people are very concerned about the difficulties that they face; and the third part of the discussion last evening was on Bosnia and the prospects for moving from the present position to a ceasefire right across Bosnia and then after a ceasefire a settlement, and then what would happen after the settlement.

No-one should assume that if we get a ceasefire and then a settlement that that is going to be the end of Western Europe or United States involvement in the former Yugoslavia, self-evidently it will not and we spent some time discussing those matters last evening. Again, rather than elaborate on a very complex discussion I will answer any questions you may have.

This morning I was asked to open a discussion on defence and security architecture in Europe, clearly an important part of the Intergovernmental Conference. Things have changed more dramatically, I think, than most people realise until they sit back and think about it over the last few years. Ten years ago, if we had met here, we would not have been discussing the future architecture of European defence, we would have been discussing the difficulties there were between East and West, SS20s pointing in one direction, Cruise missiles pointing in the other. So we have come a very great distance in the last 10 years or so, but we need to look at the problems that lie immediately ahead of us.

The fall of the Iron Curtain creates the prospect of re-uniting Europe and of enlarging our institutions, but it has also created quite a substantial arch of instability, from the north-east down to the south-east, from the Baltics to the Balkans. And those were the areas that we were actually discussing this morning and how we adapt to that new environment, how we extend and develop both the security and the prosperity that we have, NATO enlargement being a key part of that discussion this morning.

The over-arching objective, self-evidently, a Europe whole and free. Beneath that general aspiration a great many difficult and tricky decisions to be taken, some of them to be taken perhaps at the Intergovernmental Conference, others to be taken over the years ahead, bearing in mind always the sensitivities and the importance of Russia and also of course of the Ukraine. So those really are the areas of discussion we have been involved in over the past couple of days.

I should say also, in the high-ways and by-ways of those discussions I have had three separate discussions with the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, on circumstances and prospects in Ireland. It was not an occasion for us to come here and make clear cut decisions about what was going to happen in the immediate future. We have been looking at the present situation, trying to discuss the best way in which we might proceed. We have determined some ways that we may examine a little more carefully in the future. We have decided to look more carefully at what we have called Strand Three of the process, that is the relationship between east and west, between Dublin and London. And by and large we had a pretty satisfactory series of exchanges. I should just say, because people tend to think that whenever the Taoiseach and I get together we do nothing but discuss the peace process in Northern Ireland. Of course that is of great importance to us and we spent a great deal of time discussing it, but we also discussed other European Union and bilateral matters as well.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Robin Oakley):

President Chirac has indicated he wants to see the IGC concluded quickly, Chancellor Kohl has suggested it could well be delayed until the second half of 1997, taking it well beyond the next British general election. Which camp do you belong and do you fear that your veto has been weakened by the election timetable?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't think the British capacity to veto if we think it is necessary has been weakened, whatever the timetable may be. I am personally relaxed about the timetable. What concerns me is the substance of the discussions. We will have a clear cut British position on a range of matters and it matters not to me whether those matters are determined before the election or after the election, I am relaxed about that. But we have many complex matters to do. I don't think this is going to be a very short and speedy affair, this Intergovernmental Conference, it has got a great deal to look at. It is not going to be earth shattering in its implications, I don't believe. Many of the matters to be discussed are quite detailed, quite difficult, and they will probably take quite a while. But I don't wish to put an artificial constraint, either a short term constraint or a constraint of delaying decisions to put it out a long way. I am relaxed. We will take the decisions when we are in a position to take them and the British position will not change, whether we are this side of the election or the other side of the election.

QUESTION (Judith Dawson, Sky News):

Going back to your meeting with the Taoiseach, are you confident that you will be able in the near future to announce the date of another summit?

PRIME MINISTER:

We did not discuss the date of another summit. I should say that the Taoiseach and I speak a good deal more regularly than most people realise and I would think our offices are probably in touch almost on a daily basis. I do not know when we will reassemble for a formal summit. But the lack of a formal summit will not stop the discussion and the developments going on, that will continue. As soon as we are in a position to have a summit, we will have one, but I do not wish to set a date for it today, and neither did we discuss a date at all over the weekend,

QUESTION (George Brock, Times):

You talked about the enlargement of both the European Union and NATO. From your discussions which of these two organisations would you prefer to see enlarged first and did you get any impression about which way it would happen?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think anyone knows yet is the strictly accurate answer to that. I think both of those enlargements are going to proceed by stages. Anyone who thinks there is suddenly going to be a date upon which the European Union is going to dramatically expand, I think misjudges the complexities of expanding the European Union. The present intention is that discussions with the Visegrad countries, and possibly with one or two others, will begin 6 months after the conclusion of the intergovernmental Conference. So there is broadly a date, I guess, sometime by 1993 at the latest they will begin the enlargement discussions with them at that stage.

As far as NATO is concerned, that is not of course just a matter for the European Union and we did not discuss the specific timetable for the enlargement of NATO in detail over the weekend. But again, NATO I think will enlarge incrementally. There is not suddenly going to be a date upon which there is a huge and dramatic enlargement of NATO, that is not how I believe it will work. I think it will enlarge at a relatively relaxed speed and it will begin to enlarge from the centre of Europe, moving eastwards.

QUESTION:

You said just now that the negotiations with the Visegrad countries would begin 6 months after, is that an agreement that was reached here?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that has been the understanding from a couple of summits ago, it is not a novel piece of agreement, that has been the working assumption for some time.

QUESTION (John Palmer, Guardian):

I was interested to hear that because certainly the other governments say the only formal agreement on 6 months is Cyprus and Malta, with the timetable for the others left open, but you say there is a political consensus that that will be the case?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is certainly my understanding, yes. My understanding is that we are going to start looking at this 6 months after. How soon they get in, of course, there is no agreement upon how soon they get in. But there has been very considerable pressure from the Visegrads to continue discussing and I hope we will be able to do it six months afterwards, and I have not heard anyone veto that, my understanding is they will be able to do that.

QUESTION:

Could you elaborate on how far you pushed forward the thinking on European security architecture and do you now envisage the very real likelihood that at least some East Europeans may find themselves in the EU and in the WEU before they are in NATO, is that now because of Russian attitudes more likely to happen.

And also, you are quite relaxed about the timetable for finishing the IGC and you say it will not make any difference to British policy, do you have the assurances of Mr Blair about that as well?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't need them, he won't be here to discuss it. So I was referring to British Conservative government policy before the election and British Conservative government policy after the election, and I shall look forward to discussing it you on both occasions, both before and after the next general election. It is something we will both look forward to.

On the earlier point. It is not possible to say whether they would join WEU or the European Union before NATO, it simply is not possible to say. I certainly would not rule out that in some circumstances there would be an enhanced relationship with NATO before the European Union, but that is not a view we have agreed and discussed. But it is certainly possible that it will fall out that way. It is at the moment too early frankly to say.

QUESTION (BBC Wales):

In your bilateral discussions with Mr Bruton did you talk about the public concerns in Ireland and in Britain about the dangers from nuclear power stations?

PRIME MINISTER:

The question of WILFA [phon] was briefly mentioned but it was not a substantive discussion. Beyond that we didn't, no.

QUESTION (Tony Bevins - The Observer):

Could you give us your assessment of the risk of allowing the deadlock in Ireland to continue for much longer please and can you also tell us what areas you are looking at with Mr. Bruton for breaking this deadlock?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the latter point, I don't think it would be wise to go into that in detail at the moment.

On the earlier point of how risky is the deadlock, I think that too many people read too much into each setback and there is a great danger that whenever there is a setback like the postponement of the summit, up pops someone to say as surely as Christmas comes around every year that the process is in crisis and all sorts of dreadful things are about to happen. I have heard that before on a number of occasions and the reality that there is an undertow that all the politicians have to take account of whether they are British, Irish, Northern Irish, Sinn Fein, whoever it may be, and that is the huge undertow of public opinion in Ireland that wants this process to continue. No-one is readily going to be able to say they are going to stop this process without having to answer not just to history's judgement which I think would be severe but also to the judgement of people today in Northern Ireland so when people jump up and say: “This is in crisis, the peace process is doomed!" and other nonsense of that sort, I think they are entering into their own negotiating position rather than stepping back and understanding the realities of what actually is going on at the present time.

I remain optimistic about the process. It isn't going to suddenly produce a conclusion. Anyone who thinks that we are suddenly going to wake up one morning, rub our eyes and have a final agreement to the problems of Northern Ireland misunderstands both the nature of our discussions and the nature of the problem. The solution will evolve. You may notice movements as you go along, others you won't but the changing perception of what people demand to which the politicians have to respond is continuing all the time and anyone who goes to Northern Ireland today and compares the atmosphere in Northern Ireland, the way of life in Northern Ireland, the economic activity in Northern Ireland, the aspirations in Northern Ireland to twelve or eighteen months ago will find a wholly different situation and frankly, this old-style oratory doesn't help and we really ought to be looking together to find a way through the present setback and I will continue to do that. I know John Bruton will, I think many of the Irish politicians will as well in the north and I hope and believe we will find a way through.

QUESTION (Paul Meray - Reuters):

Are you concerned about comments from Gerry Adams that he feels the process could slip back into violence if there is not progress fairly soon?

PRIME MINISTER:

Who is going to be violent? Mr. Adams says it can slip back into violence; whose violence will it be? It doesn't have to slip back into violence if Mr Adams doesn't want it to slip back into violence, that is a matter that is in Mr. Adams' hands and I hope he will tell us that it isn't going to slip back into violence. It isn't all that long ago that Mr. Adams was saying to us: "Violence is ending! We are on our way to a settlement!"

I don't think this suggestion that you slip back to violence every time something doesn't proceed at a rapid pace is remotely helpful. When Mr. Adams next says that, I suggest the people to whom he says it ask him: "Who is going to return to violence? Are you, Mr. Adams, going to return to violence? Are the IRA going to return to violence?" That is the question Mr. Adams needs to answer and on the basis of what Mr. Adams has been saying in the last year his answer to that question should be no and if it isn't no, how does he explain all the things that he has been saying over the last twelve months?

QUESTION (James Mates - ITN):

Prime Minister, on a different subject can I ask you about Chris Patten's remarks that Hong Kong British passport holders should be given the right to live in the UK. Do you agree with these remarks? Did he discuss them with you before he made them? Is it going to be Government policy?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't seen the remarks and I will comment on the remarks when I have seen them and when I have discussed them with Chris. I have not seen them, I have been here, I don't know when or how they were made or in what context so I am not in a position to discuss them at the moment.

QUESTION (Sarah Holmes - The Independent):

Prime Minister, has there been any progress at all in deciding what the name of the single currency should be?

PRIME MINISTER:

None whatever. It wasn't mentioned.

QUESTION (Sarah Holmes - The Independent):

Can you tell us what your favoured thought is at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I can't. I haven't given it any thought at all. The name of a single currency that may be some time ahead doesn’t frankly seem to be the most important issue. The most important issue is what are the implications of a single currency and I spend a lot of time thinking about that but I confess to you in the privacy of this meeting I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about the name of the single currency yet and as I said, it simply wasn’t mentioned.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley - BBC):

Prime Minister, you have said that the European Union has got to accommodate itself to a world in which some members will be in a single currency and some will be out. What precise accommodations do you think are necessary?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am pointing out that the position of the European Union has changed and what I have said I have not said for the first time this weekend though it seems to have struck more of a chord this weekend. It is a message I have delivered elsewhere and to my colleagues in Europe on a number of occasions in the past.

Let us look at what most people think is a possible future. Many people will say to you that a small core of the European Union may be able to go ahead with a single currency in 1999 or perhaps a little later. Let us take as a base for discussion the belief that that might happen, that half a dozen might go ahead.

There are fifteen members now, half a dozen go ahead, nine don't. Within ten years, there could be as many as twenty-seven members of the European Union. If six have gone ahead, what about the other twenty-one, what is the relationship between them going to be? What happens if one or other currency that is not part of the inner core devalues against the inner core? What do the inner core feel about that? They are very worried about that. Do they have a mechanism for dealing with that? They do not.

What happens about the fact that the inner core, might integrate more speedily than elsewhere? Have they considered either the political or the economic implications of that? The answer is they haven't considered that.

What are going to be the circumstances in which countries not in the inner core might subsequently join the inner core? That, too, is undetermined.

What happens to the direction of structural funds and the determination of structural funds? If the idea of a single currency is that it would help improve integration and growth, are those countries going to make a greater contribution to the structural funds of the less well-off nations in the European Union that wouldn't be sharing in that extra spurt of growth?

There are a whole range of other questions like that. I could spend twenty minutes listing for you the questions that have not yet been examined.

We know the aspirations for a single currency, people have set out what they seem to think are the advantages of a single currency but the realities of what it means, how it would be bought out, what its market impact would be, what it would do both to the political and the economic structure of the European Union have not been fully examined and the whole basis of it thus far is that the European Union has tended to move forward broadly together - easy when you have six members, less easy frankly with fifteen, almost impossible when you get to nineteen and then twenty-seven - and this is why for some time we have been talking - it is a dreadful jargon phrase and I apologise for it - about "variable geometry". The concept that fifteen or nineteen or twenty-seven countries would move together on a broad front at a united pace in the same way, at the same time, with the same objectives simply isn't economically or politically credible.

The European Union has to address all these questions and decide how it is going to deal with them and it was those questions and others that I put to my European partners in the discussion yesterday. It was not an attempt to cause a row, not an attempt to create a blockage in discussions; it was laying before them practical questions that will need to be examined in the near future and I am delighted to say that there was very general agreement that those matters did need to be examined before irrevocable decisions were taken.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley):

Could you ever envisage as Prime Minister leading Britain into a single currency in the period you would expect to be in that office?

PRIME MINISTER:

That begs several unknowns, Robin. Firstly, I think it is too early to say. I will look at the circumstances. As I have always said, I do not think a single currency is imminent. Some people believe it may happen for some in 1999 - well perhaps. I am not certain about that, I think there are very real difficulties that we British have been talking about for some time that have not yet been properly examined and I think the Monetary Committee discussions that have been taking place will begin to sharpen some of those difficulties so although there is an aspiration for 1999, I think at the moment that is what it is, an aspiration.

QUESTION (John Palmer):

Just a clarification on your last answer to Robin, Prime Minister. The Commission, as you know, are already looking at just the questions that you have raised with your colleagues today and their preliminary conclusions seem to embrace the strong view that non-participating countries, basically a minority of the fifteen, should remain committed to convergence irrespective of whether they are in and secondly, that exchange rate stability should be helped to be assured by a re-entry into a strengthened EMS for countries who choose not to participate in EMU.

Do both of those strike you as practical answers to the questions you raised?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me take the three points:

Firstly, the convergence criteria. We invented the convergence criteria, it was British determination that got the convergence criteria into the Maastricht Treaty. The convergence criteria are first and foremost sensible and practical economic aims so of course people should continue to aim for the convergence criteria of low inflation and the other things that go with it. The answer to that is self-evidently yes.

On the second point, frankly, I would be very surprised if it was a majority of the fifteen that were able to move ahead in the first tranche going to a single currency. I wouldn't be surprised, I would be absolutely dumbfounded if that turned out to be the case.

Thirdly, the monetary relationship between the inner core and the outer ring. One of the ideas that has been floated is that the inner core of course will be a single currency so within the inner core there is no exchange rate fluctuation, there is only the one currency. Outside, the proposition is that there should be a strengthened EMS in order to maintain the value of the external outer-ring currencies against the inner core. Well, a strengthened EMS didn't turn out to be all that successful in the early 1990s! One of the problems that caused so-much currency turmoil then - and not only for the United Kingdom - was that the flexible Exchange Rate Mechanism that Britain entered became a more rigid Exchange Rate Mechanism as people moved towards the aim of a single currency - that was one of the problems.

Is it going to be attractive to the countries in the outer ring to find that they don't have what many of them would perceive to be the advantages of being in the inner core but they would have the discipline and responsibility of having to maintain the same exchange rate against the inner core without the advantages of being a member? I wonder how politically saleable that is going to be in all of the countries outside the inner core. It is, again, a worthy aspiration but when you get down to the reality of whether it is politically deliverable in all the countries of the outer core, then I begin to wonder about its practicality and these are the matters that needed to be examined.

On the substantive point, the convergence criteria are self-evidently right, we invented them, we adhere to them. I have no doubt, if we choose to, we will be in an economic position to enter. I don't have any doubt about that. I think we are entering into a future in which the inflationary psychology has changed and when we can look forward in the United Kingdom to a low-inflation future and a future of sustained growth and of course that will apply providing we follow sensible economic policies and the convergence criteria are precisely that.

QUESTION:

Do you think that might be practical [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it will not.