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1992 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Jacques Delors

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with Jacques Delors, held in Birmingham on Friday 16th October 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

Can I, before I turn to the substance of today's European Council, express my thanks to the City of Birmingham for their hospitality and for the use of these splendid facilities here today. It has been the first time that the government have had a conference of this sort in Birmingham and I would like to express my thanks to everyone concerned for the splendid way in which the organisation has worked.

May I now turn to the substance of the European Council and the reason it was called. Let me begin by painting the picture behind it. Last year nearly 60 percent of Britain's visible trade was with our European Community partners. Half of the external investment in the United Kingdom comes from within the European Community. Eight of our top ten world trading partners are members of the European Community. And I mention those figures to illustrate how vital the Community is for our prosperity, for our economy and for our jobs. And I think you will find the same picture in each and every one of the European Community nations.

In the last few weeks the very difficult situation of recession has been compounded by massive turbulence on the Foreign Exchange Markets. Those two things combined dealt a body blow to confidence, not just in the United Kingdom, but in many areas right throughout the European Community. It was above all confidence that we needed to restore. That was why there was a request from a number of European partners for the European Council we have had today and that was why I called the meeting.

Every single issue that we have discussed today has an important bearing on the successful development of the Community. And that is especially vital just three months before the single market comes into force; a market which could, when it is in force, bring around 5 percent extra growth in European Community GDP. And so the outcome of the meeting in the Birmingham Declaration and in our conclusions is of importance to our future and to our prosperity.

Let me start with economic and monetary cooperation. Firstly, we have reaffirmed our determination to reduce inflation, to control budget deficits and pursue open market policies, not I emphasise just for their own sake but because each of us in the Community believe that that is the basis for recovery, the basis for social and economic cohesion and the basis for the creation of new and lasting jobs.

Secondly, we have all put our authority behind the work set in hand by Finance Ministers following the recent turbulence in the currency markets. We believe that is important and we believe Finance Ministers and Bank Governors are the right people to carry it out.

Thirdly, we have endorsed the progress made by the Commission in negotiating a settlement of the Uruguay Round and we have given them authority to work for a conclusion to that round by the end of this year. And I cannot stress how important such a settlement would be for recovery - an extra 200 billion dollars in wealth created every 10 years - that is the scale of the prize that hangs there if we can get a successful outcome to the Uruguay Round.

Fourthly, we have in the Birmingham Declaration taken important steps towards giving the Community back to the people to whom it is answerable. That I think when people study the declaration will meet many of the concerns that have been expressed not just in the United Kingdom but in France, in Denmark and in countries right across the Community.

And fifthly, we have taken a significant initiative to set up our humanitarian aid to Yugoslavia.

In our discussions today right the way round the table there was a real sense that the success of the Community depends upon decisions being taken as close as possible to the individual Community citizens. President Delors in a presentation today highlighted a number of new commitments by the European Commission:

- firstly, Community legislation should be more limited, should be clearer and should be better explained;

- secondly, there should be more consultation by the Commission, we have in mind by White Papers and by Green Papers, a system of consultation very familiar to us in the United Kingdom and very welcome;

- and thirdly, a Commission work programme each year which national parliaments would each and all be able to discuss. And Commissioners also should be designated to liaise with each national parliament.

A common theme in the interventions by the European Community Heads of Government was that we should move together as a Community of Twelve, I emphasise that, a Community of Twelve, no inner core, no fast track, no slow track, no-one left behind, no inner groups, that was a constant theme of our discussions this morning.

In our discussions a number of practical suggestions were made as well. I illustrate perhaps just two. President Mitterrand suggested we should hive off some decisions which had gone too far and should look between now and Edinburgh for specific examples of issues which need not be dealt with at the Community level. Chancellor Kohl, if I may give another example, urged the need for decisions to be taken at the level appropriate to that decision. And everyone had in their mind in those remarks the sort of unnecessary interference which all of us - the Commission, the Council, all of us - must now do our best to stop.

All of that is set out in the declaration in what I hope will be seen by people not as legal language but as a simple straightforward easy to read guide to the sort of objectives we are going to seek. We are looking for a more open Community, a Community that respects national traditions, a Community which only acts where member states have given it the power to do so and then only when it is necessary to do so, a Community which has the lightest possible form of legislation with maximum freedom for member states.

Those are some of the principles we have agreed today and those principles that we have agreed today will be translated into concrete action by Edinburgh. Some of the work is in hand, more of it will be put in hand so we can reach firm decisions, not pious hopes, firm decisions by the time we get to Edinburgh.

In coming to Birmingham today the European Council has brought Europe right to the heart of Britain, I thoroughly welcome that. It is through Europe that the economic lifeblood of our country increasingly flows these days. We shall soon have a single market of over 350 million people in the European Community. Outside the Community other countries - Austria, the EFTANS, in due course some of the East Europeans - all wish to join the European Community. The market over time will get progressively bigger, progressively more valuable and progressively more vital to our national interest and the national interest of every European nation.

After the squalls of the last few weeks it was necessary for us to meet and re-set our course, re-emphasise what it was we were about. There are difficult times now in each country in the European Community. And so today's meeting was not just about the Maastricht Treaty, it was not just about subsidiarity, bringing things nearer to people, it was about reaffirming and re-ensuring an open Community that is open and viable politically and viable economically. That was what was in the minds of the Heads of Government, the Commission and everyone else present today and it was on that basis that we reached the decisions set out in our Council conclusions and in the three declarations - the Birmingham declaration and the declarations on Yugoslavia and on Somalia - which no doubt you have seen by now.

M. DELORS:

Ladies and Gentlemen, now the Prime Minister has two press conferences, one after the other, so I do not want to hold you up. May I just say that this exceptional meeting of the European Council was indispensable as the President of the Council has just stressed. It enabled us to raise the level of trust and confidence among the Twelve and to have a joint assertion to press ahead with the building of Europe on a basis which is understandable to the citizens of Europe and with a confirmed and resolute determination. I think that was necessary.

I myself expressed fears that given the events of the last few weeks a lack of trust could have emerged between member states and now I am reassured and today's discussion, particularly this morning, was extremely rich and politically useful. and I think it augers well for the future of the Community.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (James Blaze, Radio VIP International, Mexico):

Prime Minister, you talk about looking forward to a single European market in the future, Mexico has just signed the North American Free Trade Agreement which is involving Mexico, Canada and the United States, what is your reaction to the signing of the NAFTA and do you think that a single European market would mirror many aspects of that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly welcome the North American Free Trade Agreement, I think it is a great step forward, it will be immensely helpful for Mexico. It is an important part of the Americas initiatives that President Bush has followed with I think some success over the last couple of years or so.

In the single market in Europe, the single market has been something we have sought for some time. We are over 90 percent there. Of the measures that are necessary to complete the single market, 90 percent are concluded, a number are in the course of conclusion and we aim to complete the single market by Edinburgh at the end of this year. And the importance of it is it will remove barriers and it will open up a great deal of opportunity in terms of the United Kingdom, particularly for the City and elsewhere, but extra opportunities for each Community nation.

When I say we will complete the single market by Edinburgh, I do not necessarily mean that each and every one of the single market ambitions will be concluded, but we will be sufficiently close to each and every one being concluded for us to be able to declare the single market properly open for business, and I illustrated to you earlier how valuable that would be for growth of Community GDP.

QUESTION (Paul Reynolds, BBC Radio):

How confident can you be that you are going to conduct your affairs with greater openness in view of the fact that you refused to let TV cameras in for any stage of your proceedings today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think openness comes in many forms, it certainly comes in forms of greater openness in consultation and greater openness in explaining what decisions are, greater openness in contacts with national parliaments. Thus far we have not opened Cabinet discussions to television and lots of other things either. But I do not exclude the possibility of television being there for part of discussions in future, that is one of the matters we are examining, but we have to examine that and reach agreement with all our Community partners about it. My personal view is that I think there is a case for it and I think it would be very wise, for example, to have a general discussion, perhaps in the Foreign Affairs Council once a year where it was entirely open to the public, televised perhaps if televisers wish to televise it, in which we can discuss the principles of the Community, where we are going and matters of that sort. That is certainly something we will wish to continue to discuss with our European partners and I hope we will reach an open conclusion.

QUESTION (Vincent Hanna, A Week in Politics):

I was interested in your statement about the idea of a Commissioner being accountable in some way to each national parliament, does that mean that you envisage at some point a Commissioner appearing before Westminster or a Select Committee at Westminster and answering questions and taking part in a debate, that would be unprecedented in our Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not in the Chamber itself, no Vincent. Firstly I should make clear we are not talking about extra Commissioners, we are talking about a Commissioner being allocated who would have a particular responsibility for liaison with one national parliament. I would not envisage that that Commissioner would appear in the Chamber of the House of Commons or Lords, indeed in terms of our constitution they could not, but certainly that they would answer appeals perhaps to appear before Select Committees or Backbench committees of any of the parties at Westminster so there is a different and better relationship. One of the things that strikes me quite starkly about the relationship between national parliaments and the European Community as a whole is the lack of understanding between the two, the lack of coordination between the two, and I think this is one way in which we can improve it. Having said that, I think it would be appropriate to ask M. Delors to comment, for it was his initiative that we should actually look at this particular proposition, and I warmly welcome it.

M. DELORS:

It seemed to me that in order to involve national parliaments more in terms of getting them to express their opinions about the Community and get information about the Community, a lot would depend on national practices, relations between national governments and national parliaments and also there was the idea of convening a conference of the European Parliament and national parliaments now and again. But that is not enough. Whether you are talking about Select Committees in the House of Commons or parliamentary committees in other countries, I think it would be useful and that was the proposal I made for these Parliamentary committees to know that among the members of the Commission there is one person who is particularly responsible for liaising with that national parliament who could appear before a Select Committee in order to provide information they need when they need it. Now of course I would make it clear straight away that for example the correspondent from the Bundesbank would not be German and the correspondent for the House of Commons would not be British, it would be better that way because that way they would get to know each other better. After twinning cities we would have twinning personalities.

QUESTION (Mike White, Guardian):

British authorities lowered interest rates today, I wondered if that was discussed at all at the Council and whether President Delors thought it was likely to increase the probability that Britain will re-enter the Exchange Rate Mechanism quickly or delay that? Secondly, we had expected to hear a little more about the economic recovery plan and the ideas associated with M. Delors, what has the summit done for Europe's rising numbers of unemployed, including the British miners?

PRIME MINISTER:

The question of British interest rate levels was not discussed and neither in the form you put it was the second matter you raised. As to the rest of your question, I will be holding a domestic press conference immediately after this and I think that is more relevant to that press conference.

QUESTION (BBC Newsnight):

Did you identify any concrete areas of common ground where all countries agree that Brussels currently exerts too much power? And secondly, is there anything that you said about subsidiarity that takes the information in the Maastricht Treaty any further?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have sought in the Birmingham Declaration to give more flesh to what subsidiarity means. But if I may borrow a very old English saying, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and we will actually see that when we come to Edinburgh and when we will be able to answer the first part of your question and we will have a specific list of illustrations of the way in which subsidiarity will work. And also we will be able to respond to the point that the Commission are also examining and that is those areas of legislation that previously the Community has been involved in where perhaps in future it need not be involved in. We have to seek the agreement of all twelve nations, work has been going on for this for some time, it is intended that we can reach conclusions at Edinburgh and I hope then that we will be able to put a good deal more detail behind the question you ask. It is the right question to ask, we will be able to answer it at Edinburgh.

QUESTION:

On the question of the GATT your declaration seems to be positive and urges a GATT agreement by the end of the year. However, the American administration wish to achieve a breakthrough on the GATT by 3 November and this looks like it will not meet that request. Also the French President told us a few minutes ago that he had insisted that the term under the present mandate be maintained in the statement and that seems to limit the Commission's freedom. Can you give any reason why Americans should not think this is a backward step on the GATT rather than the forward step it looks like?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it is not a backward step, most certainly it is not a backward step, and there was complete unanimity in the European Council about the economic advantages of reaching a conclusion to the Uruguay Round, not only the advantages of reaching it but the very severe disadvantages that could follow if we did not reach it.

As to the timing, let me firstly say something about progress. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that in the meetings last week between the Community negotiators and Mrs Hills and Mr Madigan very substantial progress was made, not just in agriculture but in services, market access, financial services, a whole range of issues, far more progress than we have made in meetings for a very long time indeed. The negotiators believe more progress can be made. The end of the year is the target that has been set but it may be well in advance of that. The negotiators will be meeting again next weekend but of course that is the bilateral negotiation between the Community and the United States. They would then need to go to Geneva in order to sort out the details of their agreement with the other participants to the GATT agreement, of which there are a large number. But I think there is more optimism about the prospects of making progress today than there has been for some time and certainly a good deal more optimism than there was before the meetings over last weekend.

QUESTION (Dutch TV):

The Dutch Prime Minister has just said that the Danes are very close to a conclusion about Maastricht, in fact that they will come with concrete proposals within two weeks, can you now tell us when Maastricht will return to the House of Commons?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I have indicated some time ago that the preparatory debate that we have to have in the House of Commons before the committee stage can come back will be held shortly after the House of Commons returns. Once we have had that debate we can make a firm decision about the return of the bill to the House of Commons. But the bill will return and will go through the House of Commons in the present session of parliament.

QUESTION (Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph):

On the GATT, this is surely a French political problem more than anything else, you rightly allude to the progress made on Monday night and I wonder whether it was ever part of your strategy, given that both you and the Foreign Secretary have been at summits when the British Government has been quite ruthlessly isolated and voted down over an issue in the name of European Union, and that given under Article 113 of the Treaty of Rome it is possible to decide agricultural issues by qualified majority vote, did it ever occur to you that it might be advantageous at this stage to simply proceed to a vote on the question of agricultural subsidies with the French and vote them down at this summit or did you think that was not the way we did things?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have not got an outcome of the negotiations to determine yet. The negotiations on the agriculture element still continue, there are still some differences about import substitution and cereal production levels and export subsidies, there are still some differences in those areas to be resolved so it is not possible for us to determine how to reach an agreement until we have actually got an agreement that the Community collectively can decide upon. But it is the Commission that has the negotiating rights for the Community.

What was vital today was to ensure that the Commission were given a continued mandate, to continue their negotiations firstly with the Americans bilaterally and ultimately thereafter to go straight off to Geneva and see if they could conclude a GATT agreement. That is the mandate that the Commission has and it means that the negotiations for a GATT agreement remain on track and proceed. Once the Commission are in a position to recommend a conclusion to us then we have to decide how it is determined, how it is agreed by the Community and as you rightly say that can be by qualified majority vote.