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1995 - Mr Major’s Press Conference Interview in Cannes

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Cannes, held on Tuesday 27th June 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

I am sorry to be late and to have kept you waiting but I have just had a lengthy meeting with the Taoiseach on Irish matters, hence the delay in this press conference.

Let me say something about the European Council over the last couple of days. Six months ago at the Essen European council we took a number of important decisions on jobs, on growth, on competitiveness, on subsidiarity, on deregulation and on enlarging the Community. And to a very large extent those decisions reflected the policies and priorities that the British government have followed for some time.

At Cannes that trend, I am delighted to say, has been continued. There has been a very strong emphasis in the discussion and the conclusions on flexible job markets, on keeping inflation low and on keening fiscal deficits down.

In our discussions yesterday I underlined the importance of enterprise in creating employment. Small, growing businesses are where most of our future employment is going to come. Across the Union about 70 percent of jobs are in small businesses and that percentage is likely to increase in the future.

I think there are some lessons that we have to learn from that. Since we are predominantly in the business of job creating, we need to free small businesses as far as practicable from red tape, from the stranglehold of regulations, whether here from Brussels or in our individual nation states, that seems to us to be the most effective route to job creation and it is why in the United Kingdom we are abolishing something like 1,000 regulations in the current year.

Our agenda is to encourage enterprise and I think that is very closely echoed in the discussions over the past 2 days. As a result of those, the Commission has been asked to report back, as soon as possible, on ways of spurring the growth of small businesses, medium sized businesses, and of getting rid of more of the administrative burdens that they still have to face.

The Council has demanded also a more rigorous application of subsidiarity, or to put that in plain English, returning to the nation state decisions which best can be taken there rather than at the level of the European Union.

A good deal of progress has been made and I congratulate the commission on that progress. In 1990 the Commission proposed 185 pieces of primary legislation, new primary legislation. In the current year so far that figure is down to 11 pieces of legislation, a very remarkable difference even taking into account the changed circumstances of the single market.

The Commission was tasked a couple of years or so ago to overhaul its existing rules and regulations. It has now been asked to speed up that process and tasked with reporting to Madrid in 6 months time on how far it has got. In both the summits last year, at Corfu and at Essen, we talked of the importance of agreeing the Europol convention as speedily as possible, and I believe we need that convention to tackle cross-border crime and in particular drug trafficking, and I think there is a universal agreement about the importance of that aspect of its work.

We had quite a lengthy discussion on this last night over dinner for some 2 hours, I think in European terms hard pounding is the expression that comes instinctively to mind, and I am very pleased with the agreement that has subsequently been reached. I had to say to my European colleagues on Europol that I was not prepared to accept, as they were prepared to do, that the European Court of Justice should have jurisdiction over the Europol Convention. And the reason I couldn't do that is that I don't believe that convention, which I strongly support because of the aims and intentions of it, that convention must not be a back door for enlarging the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice into the third pillar which is an intergovernmental pillar at present and which I intend to ensure remains as an intergovernmental pillar. Europol will potentially deal with very sensitive matters, matters of criminal intelligence, matters of criminal law, and the Maastricht Treaty laid down, beyond any doubt whatever, that these matters should be handled government to government, outside the structures of the Treaty of Rome, and I believe that is the way it will need to stay in the future.

So we agreed today the Europol Convention without any European Court of Justice jurisdiction and we decided to return to the question of dispute settlement, in whatever way it may be done, a year or so from now. Though I should say that l said to my colleagues both last night and this morning that the delay of a year should not encourage anyone to anticipate any change in the United Kingdom position on admitting the European Court of Justice to the Europol Convention. I made that clear last night, I reiterated it this morning, and I believe it is a very important point.

At Essen we secured an action plan to fight fraud. Today we have cemented another weapon into our armoury to do so, and that is a government to government convention which will complement new European Union regulations.

Let me say a word on one other issue. I think there has been what I regard as a very welcome and certainly a growing awareness of some of the difficulties and complexities that will be faced as the European Union moves towards Stage 3 of economic and monetary union. I have been saying, as most of you will know, for some time that I did not regard 1997 as a credible date to start and I think that is now generally accepted right across the European Union and that has now been discarded effectively as an introduction date. I have to say, and my colleagues know this is my view, that I am very dubious indeed about the prospect of 1999, the second treaty deadline, being reached. Certainly there is no chance whatsoever of all 15 states either being willing or being able to move to a single currency at that date, or for some time thereafter, though perhaps a small number would be able and willing, we shall to wait and see about that.

What I am pleased about is that the discussions we have had, at long last, have begun to recognise the very important practical consequences of the degree of convergence required to proceed to a single currency, and Finance Ministers have been asked to look much more closely at this and all the ramifications that would then follow. That is, in essence, the reality behind the work commissioned on economic and monetary union for discussion at Madrid at the end of this year. Of course, while this continues, the United Kingdom opt-out is fully preserved and more than ever, as the date proceeds and as we move towards decision days, the wisdom of being able to keep options open I think is daily being reinforced.

Let me say one other thing about the nature of the debate that we have had here at this European Council. I find it extremely encouraging the way debate these days tends to proceed. I think the kind of European debate over which President Chirac presided today would have been impossible 5 years ago in the European Union, the agenda has changed, I think increasingly it does tend to focus on the right issues, certainly it was absolutely right, absolutely right, to spend most of our time yesterday on employment-related issues because I suspect that is the biggest single issue of concern to people in every country of the European Union. So I think the Union has increasingly come out of the clouds and down to earth and I think it is a good deal stronger for that.

We had a good lunch with potential members of the European Union, the Eastern Europeans and some Mediterranean states as well, and the Baltic States, and it was instructive, looking around the table after luncheon in the room to see 26 nations there, which gives one a glimpse of what the European Union might look like in some years hence, quite how many I think one can’t say, by the time they are all there perhaps quite a few years. But it does indicate the extent to which there will need to be a change in the structures in some sense of the European Union, the habits of it and the way in which it operates in order to accommodate this much larger membership. Certainly the degree of centralisation that many people imagined a few years ago was inevitable, seems to me not to be inevitable, and indeed with a European Union enlarging to this sort of size, impossible.

So I think it has been a good European summit and we will try and take any questions you may have. Perhaps we could take questions on the summit first, if people have non-summit questions we will come to those a little later.

[Questions and answers not recorded]