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1995 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with President Chirac

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Chirac, held in London on Monday 30th October 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Can I firstly welcome you to this press conference. This has been my seventh meeting with President Chirac in the last 6 months and on this occasion he has brought a very powerful team of his Ministers with him.

This morning our Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers, Finance Ministers, Transport Ministers, have all held separate discussions and subsequently reported to us about them. Collectively we have reached a number of wide ranging decisions.

Let me just firstly say that this morning the President and I visited RAF Strike Command at High Wycombe. And we did so for two special reasons. Firstly, to inaugurate the Franco-British Air Group; and secondly, to present decorations to General  and General Rose who worked so successfully for so long together in Bosnia.,

I think that that ceremony, both the inauguration of the Air Group and the joint award of Honours, illustrates the increasingly close partnership that is developing between France and the United Kingdom. It is a global partnership and that theme of global partnership has been the dominant theme throughout this summit. Let me set out precisely what I mean by that.

Britain and France are both European countries a worldwide outlook. We are the only nuclear powers in Western Europe. We each make a huge contribution to the overall defence of Europe. We are the largest European contributors to United Nations peacekeeping. We are Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and participants in the Economic Summits. And we both have obligations to parts of the world, like Africa, where we have long-standing and historic ties.

In defence, upon which we spent a great deal of our time this morning, the President and I have concluded that the vital interests of one could not be threatened without the vital interests of the other equally being at risk.

Step by step in defence, our approaches are moving closer together. In defence procurement, Britain has a wider range of joint projects with France than with any other country. We are discussing together the most effective structures for European defence, drawing on the lessons that we have learned In Bosnia.

The Franco-British Euro-air Group is one bilateral dimension. We have decided on another - new arrangements for the Royal Navy and the French Navy to exercise and to train together.

We have made important progress in deepening our nuclear cooperation. Our aim is to strengthen deterrence whilst retaining the independence of our nuclear forces. This deepening of cooperation will strengthen the overall European contribution to deterrence.

Our Armed Forces, taking all aspects together, are closer today than at any time in the last 50 years, and the President and I shall look for yet further defence cooperation.

We discussed the full range of European questions. We have a different approach to some of those questions, but we agreed to work together on a number of aspects at the Intergovernmental Conference. Subsidiarity is an area where we have a shared interest and concern. Subsidiarity - that is keeping or returning decision-making to the national level. We discussed, and have a common interest, in a more effective common foreign and security policy based on an intergovernmental agreement. We have a common approach to justice and home affairs matters and for the role of national parliaments. And we agreed to continue discussion on these and a number of other aspects that we are likely to face at the Intergovernmental Conference.

We spent some time discussing the removing of regulations and red tape. We both agreed that small businesses had a vital role to play in our economies as generators both of employment in the future and of growth. And we have decided therefore to launch a joint initiative to reduce burdens on business and will invite businessmen from both countries to contribute to that work.

Both of us have long, historic and very strong interests in Africa. We are launching today a joint initiative on conflict resolution and peacekeeping in Africa. We shall help African countries to develop their own capabilities and shall invite Western European Union partners to join us in sending advisory teams to Africa.

You should, I hope, find on your chairs a detailed note of further joint approaches which we will take in Africa. These include a number of matters which you may wish to raise in questions but will not detain you with now.

Let me just highlight four others of the many subjects we discussed.

The first of these is Bosnia. We will continue working closely together on Bosnia and will both make a large contribution to the peace negotiations and the implementation of a peace settlement.

Second, terrorism. I deplore the recent bombings that there have been in France. I have promised President Chirac every possible assistance and we have agreed on specific steps to enhance cooperation between France and the United Kingdom in dealing both with terrorism and with organised crime.

On United Nations reform, about which we both spoke at the UN meeting just a few days ago, we both want to see effective follow through to the work of the G8.

And finally, on a very positive note, we are launching the Entente Cordial Scholarship Scheme. This is an imaginative scheme that will be privately funded to help young people in Britain and in France to study in each other's language and in each other's country.

Those are just the sketchy headlines of what has been, I think we both believe, a particularly productive summit.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I have nothing to add to the substance of what the Prime Minister has said, I have nothing to change in what he has said.

As to the specific details, we shall be happy, both of us, to take questions from the press and I am very happy to welcome members of the British, French and other press corps as well.

But let me make one comment, if I may, to start with. I have been attending French/British meetings for many years now and I have followed how these meetings have progressed and I am most struck by the sea-change which has occurred in our discussions. In Franco/British relations today there is no trace whatsoever of a gracility of ill humour. I think it has become quite natural for us to talk about everything, to discuss everything frankly and openly, to discuss matters which bring us together as well as matters which can divide us. But there is no drama about it, it happens quite naturally and openly.

And on an increasing number of subjects all the time we have increasingly convergent views on these issues which are the challenges for our countries in the future. In other words, we have a greater and greater awareness all the time of the increasing solidarity of the destiny of our two countries, and that is extremely pleasant, this friendly atmosphere, this atmosphere of friendship which goes beyond us politicians but which concerns our countries and our systems. And I am very struck and impressed by this increasing closeness between France and Britain.

QUESTION:

President Chirac, particularly on the point of terrorism, do you think the British government is doing everything it can to prevent a spill-over from the Algerian war taking place in Britain and to stop Britain being used as a haven by Islamic radicals?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

As far as the fight against terrorism is concerned, I do not think, I am absolutely convinced that the British government is fully determined to do everything it can. I am convinced that there is excellent cooperation between the British and French services involved. And I have only thanks to express to the British authorities on these two scores.

I would add that the Prime Minister wished to go beyond even that and proposed to me a strengthening of our cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and he also proposed to me that we should strengthen our cooperation in the fight against drugs, and I thoroughly agree with him on those two counts.

QUESTION:

Could I ask you both what the significance to Anglo/French relations, and indeed to nuclear cooperation, you find in the British decision to back French nuclear testing over the protestations of the Commonwealth?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me respond to that point first. President Chirac had scientific advice about the necessity to test the French nuclear deterrent. I think on the back of that scientific advice it would have been extremely difficult for the head of any country not to have accepted that scientific advice and tested, as advised, his own nuclear deterrent. Upon that basis, I have offered the President my support for the action that he has taken. If one is a nuclear power there are certain obligations. Some of those obligations involve ensuring that the nuclear weapon is in proper order, that it is working as expected. And one does need in those circumstances to test, if that is the advice one is given. That is the advice the President was given, he accepted that advice. Frankly, I believe he had no choice and upon that basis I have offered him my support.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

Support for which I am most grateful and which is also part and parcel of the solidarity of countries of the European Union. But I would also like to say that I was fully aware of the reaction that international public opinion would have when I took my decision. But the decision was absolutely inevitable for the safety and the reliability of French nuclear weapons. It would have been irresponsible of me not to take that decision. That is the negative answer to your question if you like. But there is a positive answer to your question too, which is that I am now in a position to confirm that France, as the United Kingdom, will sign the full Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and that France and the United Kingdom have both said that they will support the zero option on on-site controls, no small tests, no tests whatsoever, that France and the United Kingdom have just signed the Protocols of the Ruratonga Treaty which next spring will make it possible to declare the South Pacific a nuclear-free zone. And therefore there will be no further problem of nuclear testing.

The United States, as you know, have agreed too to the zero option. In my recent discussions with the Russian President I understood him to say that that would be Russia's position too. I am not answering in Russia's place of course but I understood that would be his position. And I would not rule out China taking the same position too, and that would be a very optimistic and positive conclusion to the whole affair.

PRIME MINISTER:

The President, on behalf of France, the Americans and the British have agreed to sign the Protocols to the Ruratonga Convention. I think that is very welcome. What we can actually now see, not very far in the future, just a few months away, is an end to nuclear testing and the signature of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. That is now, with luck, just a matter of months away and I think that is great progress and I am delighted about that.

QUESTION (Jon Snow, Channel 4 News):

When you became President, one of the earliest public pronouncements you made, or one that was recognised worldwide, was the offer to send French troops to save the people of Srebrenica. The Dutch government has today published its findings over what happened in Srebrenica and sad reading they make. The Dutch Defence Minister says that the whole concept of the so-called safe areas failed dismally. Could I ask you both whether as members of the Permanent Five Security Council of the UN you accept any culpability, any blame, for what went wrong and the fact that we are now sitting in a situation in which 8,000 citizens of that area are either dead or missing?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

You are referring of course to events which occurred as I became President. I believe that the United Nations forces were not able to fulfil the role that they were supposed to play. And I think it was wrong in the past to accept that confusion between a military role and a humanitarian role and the result was that events of that kind did occur. Who was responsible? Certainly not the United Nations because the United Nations was not given to proper mandate to act. I think it was a collective responsibility, I think that the British and French governments realised that when they decided together to react to what happening, to change their policies and to set up together the Rapid Reaction Force. And a lot of observers made fun of the Rapid Reaction Force when it was announced initially, but it did make it possible to give the troops the resources they needed to attain their objective, which was a peacekeeping objective and which was I think behind the positive developments that we have witnessed since.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is perhaps sometimes a little too easy to overlook the reality that it is the British and the French, and their troops on the ground, who have played the biggest single role of turning what looked like at one stage a trans-Balkan war, and at another stage like the mass genocide and slaughter of huge numbers of people, into a position where across central Bosnia there is peace and where we can now look forward to the possibility of a peace right the way across Bosnia. That would not have happened but for the action of the British and French governments who sent the largest number of troops and sent the troops not only in the largest numbers but sent them earliest. There were also those countries who participated predominantly in the conferences that were held and that determined with the Rapid Reaction Corps to respond to some of the events that were occurring. So, no-one doubts the horrors from the early genocide and subsequently what occurred in the former Yugoslavia, but I think the British and French troops played the predominant role in mitigating the slaughter and saving lives. And I do not think it an exaggerated claim to say that but for the activities of British and French soldiers and their commanders, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people alive today who would otherwise have been dead. And I think in the scales of who did what and what the outcome was, that is something that should weigh heavily.

QUESTION (George Jones, Daily Telegraph):

Could you clarify this statement where you say you do not see situations arising where the vital interests of either France or the United Kingdom could be threatened - is that like the NATO declaration that if one country is invaded, could you tell us what it means?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I don't think I need to elaborate a great deal on this. We are very strongly linked politically, economically, culturally and geographically, and I am not referring to the Channel fixed link. I am referring quite clearly to the fact that we are very close to each other. But clearly one cannot imagine a situation where in the immediate future or in the foreseeable future a conflict might occur in which France and Britain would not be on the same side, we will clearly be on the same side, and I think we must draw some conclusions from that strategically speaking?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think really the point is quite straightforward. Neither the President nor I can conceive of circumstances in which in any way France was threatened militarily, in which the interests of the United Kingdom would not be seen to be similarly threatened. And equally the President can conceive of no circumstances in which the United Kingdom was threatened militarily that would not equally threaten the vital interests of France. And we thought it appropriate to make that point crystal clear on this occasion to exemplify the increasingly close cooperation we have in all aspects of defence.

QUESTION:

Mr President, 50 years ago, referring to somewhat complicated relationships with General de Gaulle, Winston Churchill said: “Of all the crosses I have to bear, the cross of Lorraine is the heaviest". I would like to ask the successor of General de Gaulle, whether this is a heavy cross to bear on your shoulders? I am referring to the increasingly Euro-sceptical policy of Her Majesty's Government or if that policy is a relief and a comfort for you?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I must say I don't know what Euro-scepticism is - is it a fad. And in every country of the European Union, not only the United Kingdom, there is such a phenomenon. So let us be realistic about this and if one is realistic, what does one see? What one sees is that there is considerable progress in European construction. There are areas in which France and the United Kingdom have a somewhat different approach. We discuss these differences and I say we discuss these differences quite equably and openly, it is certainly not a heavy cross to bear. And there are other areas in which our views are perfectly convergent, and the Prime Minister has told you what they are, everything which concerns the construction of a Europe which is closer to its citizens, on enlargement, on other issues. On these issues we have no conflict of views whatsoever. So let us not be ideological, we are pragmatic people. We are moving ahead at our own pace but very positively and without there being any misunderstanding between us.

QUESTION:

To come back to terrorism I have three somewhat distinct questions. First of all, the French government has stated that it is concerned about the fact that some Islamic fundamentalists may have taken refuge in the United Kingdom. Secondly, there is information to the effect that the SIS might open an office in London, the BBC announced this this afternoon. And thirdly, Abad Anas [phon], one of the founder members of SIS, is supposed to be in the UK and has made a request for political asylum. Can you comment?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

On the first question, my answer is no. There is no difference of view between us on that. On the other questions I have no comment to make. But I would refer you back to what was said earlier on which is that I consider that cooperation between France and the United Kingdom in the fight against terrorism is absolutely first class, it is efficient and I warmly welcome it.

QUESTION:

Could you tell us about what concrete steps have been taken to strengthen cooperation between the French and British governments in the fight against terrorism?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

When it comes to the fight against terrorism, it is not customary to announce publicly exactly what one is going to do, and I am sure you will understand that.

PRIME MINISTER:

I will just add one point to that. Although the President is entirely right in saying that we do not announce publicly what the cooperation is, let me just say two things to you. Firstly, the cooperation is already close; and secondly, the President and I agreed this morning on ways to make it closer yet. Terrorism is a scourge to all countries and we will work very closely in dealing with it, but I am afraid that we are not going to tell people precisely what we shall be doing.

QUESTION:

Did you talk about who might be the next Secretary General of NATO, whether it is clear that there will be a British candidate, and if there is not then can you both tell me what you think of the candidature of Ruud Lubbers?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me respond to that first. We did consider the possibility not of one, I saw one British name being floated in the press, there were in fact a number of British names that we considered. But we also looked at other names that were already in the field. Dr Lubbers is not yet a formal candidate, I should make that entirely clear. But were Dr Lubbers to be a formal candidate for the Secretary General of NATO, I think he would receive strong support from the British government.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

And you will hardly be surprised to hear me say that there again we share the same view.

QUESTION (John Craig, Daily Express):

Prime Minister, do you agree that Euro-scepticism is a fad?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there are many ways to describe Euro-realism, Euro-scepticism, Euro-philyism, Euro-phobism, there are all sorts of names. I think what is important is that one looks at the problems related to Europe with a clear and open mind and decides what is the answer most appropriate to the British interest and the European interest, and that is the way the government examines them.

QUESTION (Tom Carver, BBC TV):

Can both Presidents tell us what this new rapprochement that seems to exist is going to do for the much vaunted Franco-German axis that we have?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am grateful to be promoted to President but I fear it is not a title I can accept. I will leave the President to answer that.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

The Franco-German friendship, let me put it that way, is part and parcel of our destiny for reasons of history and geography that I don't need to elaborate on here. But also because we are two countries at the very heart of Europe it was always clear that Europe would never get anywhere unless there was a clear understanding between France and Germany. If there is no understanding between France and Germany, there will be no Europe, full-stop. But Europe is not only France and Germany, Europe is also a number of other countries and a leading country of course is the United Kingdom with its traditions, with its history. And the United Kingdom cannot be on the sidelines. Therefore the cooperation between France and Germany, the understanding between France and Germany is absolutely essential but it is not enough, there has to be something else and that something else is the British presence. Clearly that is a reflection of British interests. And I think France is in a position to facilitate that necessary synergies between the British view of things and say the German view of things. One always tends to imagine that there are very considerable differences of view, but when one gets down to them and when one looks at them very closely one realises there is no difference which cannot be reduced. And I believe that Franco-British cooperation, which is going from strength to strength every year and is gaining in strength at each one of our meetings, is one of the important points for a vision of a sound stable Europe developing strongly into the future.

QUESTION:

Did you discuss the Quebec referendum and what is the position of Paris and London?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

The referendum is going on this very day and you will hardly expect me, nor the British Prime Minister, to make any comment on that.

QUESTION (Magreb Press):

Why has it taken so long for the former dominant powers in Africa to launch the present initiative, that is conflict resolution and peacekeeping, and what prompted the move?

PRIME MINISTER:

I suppose one could always have done a good thing earlier. I think the fact that the President and I have discussed this on more than one occasion. We both in our own backgrounds have a direct interest in parts of Africa, it was a matter that naturally arose in our conversations some time ago and that we have subsequently taken forward. It clearly is important. If you look at what has happened in Africa over the last few years there are some people who will say, well it is very depressing to look at the problems in Africa. I think that is at best a half truth, and at worst a complete untruth. Because many of the changes that have taken place in Africa have been very beneficial. Many of the African governments are struggling very hard to turn away from bad economic policies to sound economic policies. Many of the African countries that were not democracies are moving towards being democracies. Of course there are some areas where things are not yet right, but a great deal of progress has been made and both the President and I would like to lend a helping hand, where we can, to that process.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

And I would just add one further point to that. There was reference earlier on to Euro-sceptics, now we are talking about Afro-pessimists. But I am neither one nor the other. And as far as Africa is concerned, I think that Africa is moving ahead in the right direction. And I fear that a lot of Afro-pessimists are in fact people who are trying to withdraw from Africa and trying to shuffle off the efforts which are necessary for the development of Africa. But I am optimistic for three reasons: firstly, Africa is moving ahead in the right direction; the rule of law is gaining ground; the management of public affairs in Africa is improving every year and that is I think clear when one looks at the increasing number of agreements which are entered into with the international financial institutions; thirdly, today African nations have understood that there are two things they must do - first of all they have to take into account regional interests and they also have to be involved in conflict resolution in order to avoid conflicts as far as that is possible. And those three developments I think are liable to give greater confidence to African peoples but also to Europeans who wish to participate in the development of Africa and that is why I am an Afro-optimist.

QUESTION:

You talked about advances in European construction thanks to excellent Franco-British cooperation, particularly on defence matters. But when you discuss matters like the EMS, the single currency, the IGC, is that not likely to hold back European construction, is that not pragmatism too?

PRIME MINISTER:

I mentioned some of the areas in terms of what is loosely called European construction. I am always wary when people talk of European construction, it means different things to different people.

As far as the Intergovernmental Conference is concerned, I set out a series of areas where it is clear already, before the Intergovernmental Conference begins, that there is a broadly common interest between the British position and the French position. There will not be unanimity on every issue between Britain and France, or indeed I suspect between almost any two countries in the European Union, total unanimity is a very rare proposition. But there is a good deal of unanimity and we will try and build on that in the Intergovernmental Conference. There will be some things that will be unacceptable to some nations and that is a matter that will need to be determined in the conference when it begins next year.

As far as Monetary Union is concerned, the British position on that is well known, our position has not changed. I set it out pretty clearly in the Maastricht negotiations when I obtained for the British the right to opt-out of a Single European currency if that is formed and if it is not thought to be in the British interests to join. That was the position and that remains the position.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

Just one comment as far as France is concerned. Let me first of all point out, if I may, that each time a debate of this kind gets going we are told that things are going very badly. But I think it is quite beyond challenge that Europe is progressing. Some people find that Europe is not moving ahead as quickly as possible, some people say not as well as possible, but basically it is moving ahead. Soon after I became President, France was the President of the European Council and I hosted a meeting in Cannes of 15 Heads of State and Government, plus 11 Heads of State and Government of countries which may one day become members of the European Union, and I have no recollection of there ever being a venture of this kind in history. Nobody thinks today that there could be such a thing as a war in Europe, if one excludes the unfortunate affair of ex-Yugoslavia. So I think that is real progress.

Once you have got that far, you have of course other issues to deal with - the Intergovernmental Conference, the need to adjust the European institutions to an increasing number of member countries. That is necessary. Well we shall be tackling that issue and we shall be thinking pragmatically once again about the ways in which we can succeed in that reform. And on several points France, the United Kingdom, Germany, see eye to eye, on other points there are differences. Fine. But that is what diplomats are there for and that is precisely why we agree on a certain period of time necessary to come to an agreement. But I don't doubt that eventually we shall come to an agreement on the best institutions which are best suited to the principles of each country and I hope that Europe will be enlarged, that it will be closer to its citizens thanks to the application of the principle of subsidiarity on which both British and French and Germans fully agree.

Then you raised the issue of the currency, a big debate on the currency. You are familiar with the position I took during the French debate on Maastricht, I came out in favour of [indistinct] today I have made it very clear that whatever efforts need to be made and of course those efforts have to be properly distributed in France, but France will meet the conditions which will enable it to become a member of the single currency on 1 January 1999 - that is the French option. And I don't think anybody can challenge today that France has the political will to do that because it is in our interests and we believe it is in our interests because it requires us to reduce our budget deficit and it is only by reducing our budget deficits that we shall be able to rise to the challenge of unemployment, and that is my objective, to fight against unemployment. Clearly fighting against unemployment means sound management and sound exchanges. France being what it is, I believe the single currency is a positive thing for France, it is something which will enable France to fight effectively against unemployment and to maintain social cohesion, which is something also which I have stated a great deal. And I would also say that it is a great French tradition, the single currency basically is an assertion of the stability of exchange rates, that is the objective of the single currency. And France's objective, France's view of things, has always been in favour of the stability of exchange rates. That was one of the major hobby-horses of General de Gaulle, whom you referred to earlier on, and it remains France's unwavering position on monetary issues.

The British Prime Minister has just recalled his position, which we are amply familiar. The United Kingdom, which does not have the same characteristics, the same constraints as France does, does not wish to have its hands tied. It wishes to keep full freedom to take that decision if and when it feels it is in its interests to do so. And I would observe that the UK will fulfil the criteria for monetary union if it wishes to embark upon it because its economic management is sound and reasonable. So the UK will have its hands entirely free to take the decision it feels fit to take and it will take that choice when it feels appropriate to do so. I am sure we will discuss it beforehand and I am sure the British government will discuss it with its British partners. We must respect the freedom of choice of the British government in this respect.

QUESTION:

Could you clarify something the Prime Minister said about global partnership. Does that mean that it is easier to have common foreign policy between countries which have a worldwide presence than within the 15 countries of the European Union?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, that was not what it was intended to convey. Though a common foreign policy, agreed by unanimity and not imposed by qualified majority vote, is a very attractive proposition for Europe.

Clearly collectively if the whole of Europe agrees to a foreign policy then we are in a stronger position than if any one or two countries themselves agreed. But the remark I made about global partnership was not particularly geared to one aspect of policy like foreign policy, but geared to the range of interests that I set out, and the President set out, that are common both to France and the United Kingdom. We are the only two European nations that are nuclear powers, that have a worldwide interest, that sit on the United Nations Security Council, that have long-standing historical interests in large parts of the world like Africa and it is upon that basis that we have a common outlook on many problems. And it was that common outlook, based on common background, common history and common interests, that led the President and I to conclude that there was ample scope for a global partnership. And as we have indicated in defence and other areas, there are large areas that illustrate in very practical terms the extent of partnership that already exists today between Britain and France and we have both reiterated our determination to sustain those areas of agreement and to build on them wherever and whenever we think it appropriate.