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1996 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with President Jacques Chirac

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with President Jacques Chirac, held in London on Wednesday 15th May 1996.


PRIME MINISTER:

Can I say how very pleased we are to welcome the President here to Downing Street this morning. We have had the opportunity this morning of extremely productive discussions. I propose firstly to ask the President to report on those, I will then add a few words to that and thereafter we will take some questions.

I should mention to you, I think most of you will know this, but the President has to address a joint session of Parliament very shortly so I fear we only have a limited time this morning. So without any further delay I will invite the President to speak to you.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

First of all I would like to thank the Prime Minister, to thank Her Majesty The Queen too and to say how very much I appreciated the way I have been welcomed for this visit.

This morning we had a long conversation with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministers and our officials, and everyone will I think probably understand that the first subject that was discussed, because it is an urgent topical matter with many consequences, was the subject of BSE and the beef problem. And we have tried to make a very considerable effort in order to show real solidarity because there must be solidarity in a crisis of this kind in Europe and we want solidarity really to mean something, not just to be a vain word, and I hope this will come out clearly very soon, and perhaps even today in practical terms.

We also discussed together an overall range of European affairs, including the preparation of the IGC and the problems linked to the present evolution of Europe, developments, enlargement, the single currency etc. We discussed questions of military cooperation, bilateral military cooperation, which is an area in which there is very considerable convergence in matters of concern to each country and the proposals that have been made by England and France. We also of course discussed a certain number of difficult situations in the modern world, and in particular Bosnia, but also Burundi and a certain number of other problems.

And lastly we discussed certain bilateral issues, and in particular we took certain joint decisions relating to cultural affairs, or education affairs in particular for the exchange of young students for secondary school exchanges. This is the kind of thing we want to expand considerable. Also, a common policy on books publishing and translation.

So those are the matters that we have been talking about today and I would like to particularly mention the spirit of our meeting, which can be summed up in a word, this is a real dialogue, consultation for concerted action which between England and France, this is the kind of thing which must imperatively be strengthened still further. That is my ambition and I understand it also to be the ambition of the British Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Jacques, thank you very much. Let me just add a few words to that. Firstly, perhaps I can endorse what the President has had to say. The relationship between Britain and France is extremely close at the moment. In a large number of areas we have very positive and very detailed cooperation, in defence in particular, but in many other areas as well, and the President has mentioned the number of bilateral initiatives that we have finally agreed this morning, the exchange of students perhaps being a particularly relevant one for the relationship between Britain and France, but by no means the only one.

Of course there are areas of difference, and we have discussed those as well. We have discussed in particular this morning ways in which we might cooperate and look at one another's positions in the intergovernmental conference before it begins.

There are a wide range of areas where we have communal interests, and we have agreed that we will examine those and see wherever possible whether we can reach a joint position for the intergovernmental conference.

I am very grateful for what the President has had to say in his support for the Commission's proposal to lift the ban on gelatine, tallow and semen today. I think it is extremely important that we get the gelatine, tallow and semen ban lifted. I hope that will happen today. I am grateful for the very positive role that the President in particular has played in seeking to ensure that this comes about.

We have touched on a wide range of international issues as well: the expansion of NATO, a matter of some importance to both of us; we looked at the relationships and the changes that are happening in different parts of the world. But the predominant part of the discussion was based upon European matters and bilateral matters, as the President has set out just a few moments ago.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Mike Brunson, ITN):

Prime Minister and Mr President, if this partial ban is not eased today, how serious a problem is it going to be?

PRIME MINISTER:

We must hope firstly that it is eased today. We see no scientific reason for it not to be eased today, and if it were not to be eased today I think we would need to examine precisely why not and how that matter would proceed. But before I say more about that I think we had better wait and see what happens today.

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky News):

Mr President, if British beef is good enough for you to eat, why isn't it good enough to be traded freely within the European Community?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

This is a [indistinct] issue and it is in fact irrational. There is a fear, a fear of disease, a fear of illness, and it is very difficult to overcome that. And I think the British government has done everything it can, it has put all its resources to bear to convince the Commission and the European Union of the need to have a plan, a plan which will in the long term and without risk restore faith in beef consumption. And I would think that the British government is making every effort and I hope we will make progress. We must go ahead step by step. Today as we understand, the Commission is going to propose that the embargo be removed. France favours that position. This will apply to gelatine, tallow and semen, of course, subject to compliance with the technical conditions which the Commission has included in its proposal.

But it seems to me that these conditions are already in place and are being fulfilled by the British government, so there is no reason therefore for us not to support the proposal by the Commission. That would be a first step, a step in the right direction I would say. And in conclusion I would say that we think that this is a problem that affects the whole of Europe and it is up to Europe to express solidarity when solidarity is needed and I do hope that that strong solidarity will be expressed as of today.

QUESTION:

President Chirac, the British say that we supported you on nuclear matters, and in fact John Major was the only one to support you at that time, and now we look to you to support him on beef - is that a legitimate claim by him?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I don't think it is a problem of supporting one another, it is a question of solidarity on a position. I have told you what France's position is today, our position it seems to me is a reasonable one and it gives expression to the kind of solidarity that Europe must have with the United Kingdom in its present crisis that it is undergoing.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] have made some countries in the region to express the strong desire and wish that the United Kingdom, and mainly France as well, and Europe to play a major role in order to secure the peace that has been achieved so far. This matter has not been raised in your talks but will it be considered here in the future by the European Union as a whole?

PRIME MINISTER:

I should say that the President and I were in touch on a number of occasions, as were Mr Rifkind and Mr de Charette, on the subject of the Middle East and the particular problems in Lebanon recently. There was a very close relationship and if I may say so, the Foreign Minister played a very distinguished role at that time in trying to bring about the ceasefire that has subsequently occurred. Huge progress has been made in the Middle East, there is more to be done, there is no doubt about that. There is no doubt I think that the present position in Lebanon is a fragile position across the border and we are looking for further progress. There is a great deal of bilateral cooperation, particularly between our Foreign Ministers but also directly between the President and dealing with this particular problem. There are some areas where the European Union can play a role, but I think predominantly the role will be played by the members of the Permanent Five, by Britain, by France and by the United States operating bilaterally.

But that it is a very important matter is beyond doubt and that the British and the French governments are engaged is also beyond doubt.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] in the case of the embargo not being lifted tonight, would you contemplate to have the authority of the empty chair?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to indicate now what is going to happen in the hypothetical situation that you set out. If there is a bad decision today then we will make our position clear over the next day or so. But at the moment I very much hope that a sensible decision will be reached. There is no scientific reason not to lift the ban on gelatine, tallow and on semen, no scientific reason at all, and we have made that position clear. The position is really quite straight-forward. The Commission imposed the ban, the Commission have been discussing the matter with the British government. The Commission have now decided to propose that the ban is lifted. Upon that basis I see no proper justification for our colleagues in Europe not agreeing with that, now we must wait and see what happens later today.

QUESTION (Nicholas Witchell, BBC):

Mr President, have you heard anything from Prime Minister Major today to make you wholeheartedly confident that Britain will be, as you said at Buckingham Palace last night, a cornerstone in the construction of Europe?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

Our discussions on European matters are on-going between our two countries and the British Prime Minister is committed to participating actively in the future of Europe. I understand completely the positions on both sides, and the problems that we have, but we always settle our problems in an open and friendly manner. And for my part what I would like to see is these friendly discussions going forward so that we can hear the voice of the United Kingdom strongly in the European system. You cannot have the future of Europe built without a strong British presence and without Britain being heard.

QUESTION:

Mr President, we have heard talk about a menage a trois in Europe these days, we know the position of France, Germany and the UK, who is going to be in charge in this menage a trois?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

There is no leader, nobody takes charge in the political menage, not even in households generally. But I can say that France plays its role, as does Britain and Germany, we all do everything we can to harmonise positions. Reform is a constant endeavour, day to day effort, day in, day out, and we participate fully in those efforts.

QUESTION:

Today the Commission is bringing out a report on how the various countries in the EU are complying as far as debt is concerned, and therefore the implications that has for the Maastricht criteria. Do you have any comments to make on where the economy stands at the moment and being able to form a single currency, if we so decide, by 1999?

PRIME MINISTER:

The concept of the criteria at Maastricht was originally a British concept. There are good economic criteria, quite apart from their necessity were any nation states to go ahead with a single currency in 1999. I think we will all look at the Commission report with some interest. But as to meeting those sort of criteria, they are the British government's policy in any event to meet criteria like this for good economic reasons, and we will look at the report with interest. I think we will also look at the report as to how it indicates across Europe the economic readiness for a single currency amongst many of our partners.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

You shouldn't believe that the convergence criteria are the only element to be achieved to create a single currency. The convergence criteria are founded on good sense, on common sense, based on sound management of the economy. And one should note that the UK, which has proposed, and very wisely so several years back, have made the necessary proposals regarding the restructuring of its finances, is a country where unemployment has fallen. So there is a link between sound, wise, financial management and jobs. Other countries have not been as wise as the United Kingdom in past years and so they now face deficit problems and unemployment problems. Over and above any other consideration, of course we are making every effort to reduce deficits, to respect the convergence criteria, and we do this, also it is a means of more effectively combating unemployment.

QUESTION:

Mr President, would you say that following your conversations today, and those that you will have by the end of your visit, do you think that there will be rapprochement between the UK and French positions on the concept of the EU and the role of nation states in that union?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I would say that my concern, ever since I took office, is to ensure that there is the greatest level of rapprochement between British and French views. And I repeat, I want the building of Europe to be effective and I do not think that that construction of Europe can be effective without agreement with Britain. So we discuss and we make progress, I repeat reform, such wide-ranging reform in particular, is an on-going effort. It also involves enhancing dialogue and makes better understanding, and that is what we do, day in and day out.