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1992 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Jacques Delors and Prime Ministers from Visegrad Group

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with Jacques Delors and the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Group. The press conference was held in London on Wednesday 28th October 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

Perhaps on behalf of President Delors and myself I can welcome again our guests from Hungary, Poland, the Czechlands and Slovakia for this historic first meeting in Lancaster House. Just four years ago a meeting of this sort would have been thought, and would have been, wholly incredible.

Today we have had the opportunity to discuss a whole range of issues largely connected with the relationship between these countries and the European Community both in the short term and the long term ambitions that we have in the Community and that the countries have for eventual full membership of the European Community.

What I think our meeting has demonstrated today is the Community's support for the new democracies of central and Eastern Europe, it symbolises the wish that we have to work together with them to build a strong relationship.

We have agreed a joint declaration of the Community and its member states and Hungary, Poland, the Czechlands and Slovakia and there is also a joint statement from the President of the Commission and from me. Both documents will be available to you but let me just explain the background for the meeting and mention a few key points.

For the countries present who see the European Community as the cornerstone of their restored place in Europe, this meeting has provided an opportunity to make their case for early accession to the European Community. All the countries present have certain things in common, they all share a common commitment to democracy, to human rights, to market economies and to liberal trade. And to underpin these the Community have given technical assistance and where appropriate balance of payments assistance through the Group of 24.

But I think all of us recognised that more was needed. The Community therefore signed association, sometimes called Europe agreements, offering open markets and cooperation backed up by technical assistance. Trade liberalisation has already begun and it has been agreed that we will discuss further measures later this year. All of us present recognised the importance of free trade. The Community is determined to make a success of the Europe Agreements, to develop them, to improve them and to help prepare the countries represented here today for eventual full membership.

What we have considered today are ways to give substance to the agreements and how to help the countries towards membership, we have also looked at specific ways to strengthen practical cooperation under the agreements. We have therefore agreed a number of proposals: proposals for assistance to help achieve a free trade area between the countries; proposals for encouraging links between our local communities and democratic institutions; proposals for giving managerial, industrial and training experience in the Community to managers from each of the countries present; and stronger links between the European Parliament and the parliaments of each country here today.

The Commission has been invited to report to Edinburgh with further ideas for developing cooperation. We have also had useful discussions between the Foreign Ministers on Yugoslavia and between Heads of Government on the former Soviet Union. The joint declaration on political dialogue formalises regular discussions between us on major international issues. This is the first time we have institutionalised such an agreement and I think it will be an important move forward for everyone who will take part in those discussions.

Let me finally just add a personal note to our discussions today. The Community went through a turbulent period in the run-up to the French referendum. Since then however the Birmingham summit, the recent agreements reached in Denmark and today's meetings all demonstrate that the Community is now getting back on the path to a more open, outward looking future. I very much hope and expect that we will be able to consolidate this progress at the Edinburgh Council in December.

QUESTION (Polish TV):

I have a question for the Polish Prime Minister. Are you satisfied with the result of this summit?

MS SUCHOCRA:

I want to say that yes I am satisfied with every meeting of what is called the Visegrad Group of countries, every meeting that takes place between the Visegrad Group and the European Community countries. I do feel that every step forward, every step towards reaching the European Community is of the greatest possible importance to us. Today's meeting proved to be of very great importance because indeed we managed to make it quite clear what are the dangers, the threats, that do exist on each side with regard to our joining the Community. I feel that such meetings should be continued in the future and we on our part suggested that the next meeting of a similar type, that is between the European Community and the Visegrad Group, should be attended by Ministers of Transport, of Environment and of Finances to discuss matters that are of importance to them.

QUESTION (Radio Free Europe):

Prime Minister Major and M. Delors, the German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, on Monday said that the conflict over Gabcikovo Nagymaros could endanger the goodwill of the EC concerning economic support for Eastern Europe, do you two share these sentiments?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a matter that is under discussion at the moment, it will stay under discussion and I hope it is a matter we will be able speedily to reach an agreement with. It is clearly complex, it is clearly very important, but I have no doubt that with satisfactory goodwill on all sides we will actually get an agreement. Let me say we have had meetings chaired by the Commission that have been taking place in London in the last 24 hours. We have made some progress, meetings are continuing as we speak. I hope the parties may, may, be able to reach agreement today on a process that will reach a settlement. There will not be an agreement today but I hope we may be able to reach agreement on a process that will lead onwards towards a settlement.

So we have not wasted our time on the difficult problem of the Gabcikovo Dam today, there has been a good deal of discussion amongst officials and also some discussion amongst Heads of Government as well. It is a dispute which has threatened relations between countries whose developing ties with the Community we are marking at today's summit. So I am very pleased therefore if the summit has helped to achieve progress and so far as one can tell at the moment it has helped, though we are not there.

QUESTION (Hungarian News Agency):

Is there any opportunity that you might come up by the Edinburgh summit with some approximate tentative timetable of the integration of the central European countries to the EC and with the qualitative conditions of their integration? Can you imagine any more formalisation, formal political security membership of these countries in the EC than the political dialogue before tackling the more intricate question of total integration involving the economic side?

PRIME MINISTER:

We spent some time today discussing the question of eventual accession of the countries present. There should be no doubt that that is the objective, the association, the European agreements are a stepping stone towards it but is a stepping stone towards an objective of full membership of the European Community. What we are in process of doing at the moment is making an assessment of precisely what that means and that assessment is being prepared by the Commission and will be presented for discussion amongst the Twelve at the Edinburgh summit. What may spring immediately from that I am not sure, I cannot promise a timetable springing from that.

What I think is going to be much clearer is the criteria that are necessary for membership and that is a point that was specifically asked for by a number of the Prime Ministers present here today that we should set out as clearly as possible what the criteria will be so that it is more possible to determine domestic policies and also assess progress towards full membership. So that is the way we would propose to deal with it up to and at Edinburgh. Beyond Edinburgh of course we will need further consultation in order to take the matter further.

QUESTION:

I have a couple of questions, one to Prime Minister Major and one to the Polish Prime Minister. Mr Major, we understand there was a discussion of the matter of the cooperation between the EC and the Visegrad Group but will you be bringing to the Edinburgh summit any concrete definite proposals specifically in the economic cooperation area? And to the Polish Prime Minister, I understand that there was at least a couple of economic requests or hopes that Poland had regarding a one billion ecu grant and also finance for some structural projects, have you been able to make any progress today with these two requests?

MS SUCHOCKA:

My answer is very simple because this problem has not been discussed during the plenary meeting today, maybe it will be discussed during the meeting of the Ministers of Finance so I think the better response will come from the Minister of Finance. The problem was discussed during our visit to Brussels and I think that M. Delors [indistinct].

PRIME MINISTER:

On the first part of the question you will find part of the answer of course in the statement from President Delors and myself in which we talked both about specific measures that help and also about the Europe agreements. Beyond that of course we would need to develop matters within the Community through ECOFIN and in further discussion, but that is a process that we are engaged upon, whether the process will be concluded by Edinburgh I cannot yet say.

QUESTION (John Sergeant, BBC):

Prime Minister, in your opening statement you talked about the Community getting back on path, are you now confident that the Danish demands can be successfully negotiated without having to renegotiate the Maastricht Treaty itself or do you accept that may only become clear at the Edinburgh summit?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a danger of a semantic misunderstanding. I have now seen an advance copy of the papers that Denmark will make available to people tomorrow and will present formally to many Community members next week. The Danes are not asking for a renegotiation of what is in the Maastricht Treaty. What they will be asking for are some additions and clarifications to the treaty and we will attempt to reach a framework for agreeing that at Edinburgh. I have not yet had a chance to study all they have to say in detail for I only saw the document a few hours ago. But I am clear upon several points. There is no intention of renegotiating the treaty itself, there are clarifications that the Danes require to the treaty, that the Danes make it clear they want to move towards a second referendum so that they may ratify the treaty.

The other point upon which I am clear though I have had no chance to consult other European members of the Community today is that there is a great will amongst the Community to seek an agreement that will enable Denmark to ratify the treaty, but I will be able to respond in more detail to your question when I have had a proper time to study the documentation and I have not had that yet.

QUESTION (Czechoslovak News Agency):

I have a question to the Czech Prime Minister. Are you satisfied with the level of trade between central and Eastern European countries and the European Community and how would you judge the progress made here in London?

CZECH PRIME MINISTER:

Whether I am satisfied or not with the volume of trade between my country and the European Community it is not that relevant, that trade is low and it is in the interest of our businesses and of the businesses of the EC to increase the volume of trade. The problem is what the governments can do, what the institutions like the EC can do and in this respect definitely we need to liberalise trade, we need to dismantle the existing barriers and we echoed the issues this morning during our discussions and I am pretty sure that the discussions were very useful in explaining many things between us and I hope we will take it into consideration in the future and some progress will be done.

QUESTION (Michael Brunson - ITN):

Prime Minister, you are effectively talking here about enlarging the Community but the Danes are in effect, are they not, questioning the new rules? Would it not be better for you in this country to put off ratification of the Maastricht Treaty until the Danish position at the very least becomes clear?

PRIME MINISTER:

What is an ambition of British foreign policy and I think right the way across the Community for some years has been the enlargement of the European Community, the enlargement to the EFTAn countries Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, and then beyond that, the enlargement to Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Czechlands and Slovakia.

We want that for a series of reasons. We want it firstly because we think it is economically desirable to enlarge the size of the Community but also because we think it is desirable in strategic, military, political and other terms to enlarge a free open market and to enlarge an area in which there is general and complete security. It is the extension and security of democracy in the Community.

If I may draw your minds back a few years, it is not all that many years ago when we were actually wondering whether Spain and Portugal would be safe for democracy or whether they would slip back into some form of totalitarian regime. The more we can widen the Community, the more we will be able to ensure democracy extends itself further across Europe. That is good for the security of everyone in Europe and it is also good for the economic well-being of people across Europe.

One criterion that is necessary in practical terms for the extension of the Community is the agreement to the treaty that was agreed at Maastricht. That is going to be a necessary preliminary to enlargement. I want, therefore, for that reason and for other reasons to see the treaty agreed and then for us to proceed to enlargement. I do believe enlargement is not just a matter of domestic political interest; it is of very wide-ranging historical interest that we are actually able to achieve that and I think we do need to lift people's eyes to the wider vision that actually sits there and is a good deal more important than many of the details that appear either in the Maastricht Treaty or indeed in any other European treaty we have signed.

QUESTION (Polish Press Agency):

Prime Minister Major, I would like to ask you, Sir, to clarify one point. You used the words "eventual accession" or "eventual membership". How far is it certain in the Declaration, please?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the implication, the presupposition, is that as soon as the applicant countries are ready to join the Community, the Community will be prepared to accept them. That is the presupposition. What we can't at this moment do is put a precise timetable to that and that is not just the Community being difficult. There are very relevant economic circumstances that suggest that any country joining the Community needs to be economically ready to join the Community because the moment it does so, it is exposed to the full market forces that exist within the Community. That is the real reason for making sure that applicants are economically ready.

The purpose of the Association Agreements and the political dialogue and cooperation is to assist in bringing every applicant country into a position where it can become a full member of the Community but I can't put a date to "eventually" at this stage. When we can, we will but it is impossible yet.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, you promised the House of Commons last month that you would not bring the Maastricht ratification legislation back to the House until you had a clear definition, a settled order of subsidiarity in place and the Danes had a basis on which they could put the Treaty back to their electorate. Neither precondition has yet been satisfied. Why have you dumped that commitment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think that that is accurate. You quote from the third paragraph. There are several paragraphs in the speech; if you read them all collectively, you will see that what we had in mind was knowing how people are going to proceed. We do know how the Danes are now going to proceed and we will have to proceed as well as the Danes do. We will have to proceed in parallel. Our parliamentary procedures are very lengthy and very complex, perhaps as lengthy and complex as anybody in the Community. We now know how the Danes are going to proceed. I think that is right.

As far as subsidiarity is concerned, we have made quite a lot of progress. In fact, since I made the statement that you quote, at the Birmingham summit we reached for the first time a clear-cut political declaration upon subsidiarity together with an agreement that we would reach firm decisions on subsidiarity at the Edinburgh summit. That isn't just a British ambition. The Commission are working on detailed proposals at the moment, so are the Presidency, so are a number of individual member states so all these matters are proceeding in parallel and I think are proceeding quite satisfactorily.

QUESTION (BBC World Service):

I would like to ask a question of the Hungarian Prime Minister. Mr. Antall, you referred in your speech and during the conference to the fact that Hungary would like to be a member state of the European Community by the end of this decade. I would like to ask you what is the basis of your optimism?

MR. ANTALL:

Hungary has obtained the associate status, that is we have signed the Association Agreement. Austria, Sweden and some EFTA countries will probably become fully-fledged members by the mid-90s and I think the criteria which Prime Minister Major and President Delors referred to and the criteria we have ourselves proposed will have to take shape first and they will set the sort of conditions which each of the applicant countries will have to satisfy. For this reason, we do not emphasise years or dates, be it 1996, 1997 or whichever other year. What is more important for us is to consider the internal development within the Community, for example the Maastricht Agreement, and at the same time we also have to consider our own development so that they converge by the end of the decade and this is the basis for my optimism.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can I ask you on a personal level, if you did lose next week's vote on Maastricht, would you stay on as Prime Minister or would you call a general election?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think that we are going to lose the vote next week. When one looked at the Second Reading of the Maastricht Bill there was a huge majority in the House of Commons for the Bill. I know there has been something of a furore in one way or another about various matters but I think the substantive position of Britain's position in Europe and the importance of that and the relationship of the Maastricht Treaty to that is becoming increasingly understood.

I think for a variety of reasons people have concentrated on the things that Britain did not agree to in Maastricht - the fact that we would not sign up to a single currency for reasons I have recently explained and that we did not agree to a Social Chapter - and because that has been the subject of principal discussion in the United Kingdom, an assumption has grown out of that that the Maastricht Treaty is wholly negative for the United Kingdom and that we are just concerned about what we get out of it. But that is not true and there are some matters in there that are very positive and of very great importance to the United Kingdom. Let me perhaps illustrate them for you.

For the first time ever we have got written into a European treaty a method of cooperation between member states on an intergovernmental basis outside the Treaty of Rome, outside the jurisdiction of the European Court and outside the competence of the Commission. That is a wholly new and, from the British point of view, benevolent way in which the Community can develop.

Secondly, we have been able to circumscribe some of the ways in which the European Court of Justice was able to get creeping competence with its Court judgments by clarifying precisely what responsibilities they have.

Thirdly, although it is a dreadful jargon word and I know that, the reality of what subsidiarity means is that it will bring many decisions much closer to the people who are affected by them and as I indicated a moment ago in an earlier answer, we will have a detailed menu of subsidiarity provisions before us at Edinburgh for decisions to be made by all the Heads of Government and that was agreed at Birmingham.

That is an illustration of the positive points in the Maastricht Treaty that are relevant for the United Kingdom and welcome to the United Kingdom and have been elements of policy that have been sought for many years.

QUESTION (Polish Section of BBC):

M. Delors, we heard a few minutes ago a fairly clear commitment from Mr. Major towards eventual membership of the Visegrad Three countries to the EC and another commitment to enlargement. Could we hear a similar commitment from you, M. Delors?

M. DELORS:

Yes, absolutely! No problem. It is a question of efficiency but first the Commission is at the service of the Community and not the contrary and under the leadership of the British Presidency the Commission is asked for a report at Edinburgh on the criteria for further enlargement to the Eastern and Southern European countries and we must work on this point. Personally, I am very much in favour of the enlargement of the Community - there is no doubt about that.

QUESTION (George Jones - Daily Telegraph):

Prime Minister, on the Danish question, if the Danes succeed in securing additional clauses or opt-outs tacked onto the Treaty, particularly on the question of European citizenship, will you seek to get them extended to Britain as a way of reassuring your own backbenchers and other people who are concerned about the Maastricht process?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the question of citizenship, the particular illustration you give, is one that was a pretty significant factor in the Danish referendum, people were very concerned about that.

As was made clear, of course, in the Declarations at the Birmingham summit there is no question of any citizen of the Community losing the citizenship of their domestic country. A Danish citizen will remain a Danish citizen, a British citizen will remain British.

The essence of what was regarded as European citizenship was twofold: firstly, that it was subsidiary - it did not affect the citizenship of the individual country; and secondly, it was there simply to illustrate the fact that everyone in the European Community, irrespective of their citizenship, was entitled to certain benefits by virtue of being a member of the European Community.

So it is not a matter of huge importance except emotionally where I think some people have feared that a European citizenship would subsume the individual citizenship of member states. There is no question of that happening. There is no question of the British, the French, the Germans or any other member state in the Community ever being other than a citizen of the country that they are a citizen of now.

QUESTION:

I would like to ask a question of Mr. Meciar and Mr. Klaus. Do you still have the strong commitment that you would like to go to the European Community together - that is the first part of my question. The second part is are you ready to go to Krakow in November and make this meeting successful?

MR. KLAUS:

As regards the first question which means whether we want to join the European Community together, this is for me the future which I don't want to forecast. We know that we have to prepare ourselves for being equal partners among European countries and whether it will be the same day or the next day is absolutely irrelevant for us just now.

As you probably know, we succeeded two days ago in signing some fifteen treaties within the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, somehow building the basic stones for future cooperation between the two countries and we hope the cooperation will be successful. We will try to minimise losing the benefits of the mutual economic space on the territory of the current Czechoslovakia. In this respect, I am quite optimistic and quite confident and I hope Mr. Meciar as well.

As regards the November meeting in Krakow, we will have to think about it because it is difficult now to sign something on behalf of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republics and I am not pretty sure whether in November we shall be able to sign it on behalf of the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic so we are not in a hurry to do it just now because of technical and legislative reasons, not because of the substance of the Treaty.

MR. MECIAR:

We handed out our memorandum where we claim that we take on the commitments of the Czechoslovak treaties. Concerning quotas, we handed out agreement that the quotas will be divided between the two republics. Now the question is how the European Community will approach this. We don't find it necessary that all the conditions that were already reviewed be reviewed again.

The agreement in Poland which will negotiate some issues of closer cooperation of the Visegrad Four countries is the subject of review but the Slovak Republic is not prepared in November to sign this agreement even though we find it is a very important document.