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1997 - Mr Major’s Joint Doorstep Interview with the Italian Prime Minister, Mr Romano Prodi

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint doorstep interview in London with the Italian Prime Minister, Mr Romano Prodi, held on Friday 31st January 1997.


PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon, thank you for being here this afternoon. Can I firstly say what a pleasure it is to have the Prime minister back at Downing Street this morning. We have had the opportunity over the last three hours or so to run across a very wide field of mutual interest. We have spent a lot of time self-evidently discussing three particular areas. Firstly, the development of European Policy, and in particular the run-up to the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam. Secondly, bilateral matters, and I think the Prime Minister would probably agree with me when I say that the bilateral relationship between the United Kingdom and Italy is in very good shape indeed. There is a great deal more trade and mutual cooperation, perhaps particularly in the defence field, but not only that, than many people perhaps have realised. And the third area we have been discussing is international affairs. We have a joint interest of course in the G7 Group, of which we are both members, a joint interest in NATO, of which we are both leading members, and of course a joint interest in the European Union.

So those are the areas that we have had the opportunity of discussing this afternoon. There are areas in European policy where we have a very similar position; there are areas, as we will both acknowledge to you, where we have a different perspective, and we have had the opportunity of discussing both of those this morning.

MR PRODI:

I have very few things to add to what John has said, because our conversation was very frank and the points you listed very well, we discussed deeply and our position, there are many points that are similar or identical. For example, we share similar views on enlargement both of NATO and of the European Union. We have stressed our position but we have always helped each other to understand, two countries, different interests and positions, and to have how to converge in the future, how to help each other in the common policies. We have also, I have to sum up, added to this [indistinct] specific elements like agricultural policy, BSE and other specific European issues.

I have to confirm that in the bilateral programme there are really no different views, that we are working in order to enhance the cooperation, especially in the military industry field and in a few basic fields in which Britain afforded the process of privatisation, that is British Airport, British Airways, common action in weapon production field and all these fields of cooperation must be deepened in the future.

QUESTION (Reuters):

Do you think Italy is making a big mistake in wanting so badly to join a single currency?

PRIME MINISTER:

Which Prime Minister?

QUESTION:

To you Mr Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

There are a brace of them here. I wouldn’t be so impertinent as to comment on Italian policy. The Italian Prime Minister has taken a great many courageous decisions in order to meet the criteria necessary to enter a European currency. I think we both share the view that the criteria need to be right, that it is necessary to have the right criteria. But I think it is for you to ask Romano that question, not me. I wouldn’t dream of commenting on that.

MR PRODI:

I can answer that. In this long conversation we have underlined that it is possible to have different interests between different countries you know and I have understood better a lot of the British position and I think that John has understood why I “badly” - as you told - insist on Italian entrance into the common currency. There is a different system, different interests and I think that this conversation, even if the result is not similar action, is very useful to understand each other much better.

QUESTION:

If Britain doesn’t go into monetary union, does this affect Italy or does it affect other European countries?

MR PRODI:

The problem of Euro will affect all Europe of course because I think that there is a general decision and the effect will be spread over all the European countries. So I think that each country must have a responsibility for a right and correct decision in the future and we have really deepened the problem of the consequence of the different actions.

QUESTION:

Did you reach any point of convergence? I understand why Britain wants unanimity in order to let some specific groups within the European Union on further integration [sic], Italy takes a more liberal view on this subject.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is fair to say that Italy has a more flexible view of flexibility than we do, that is certainly true. I think there is a much greater understanding of both countries’ position on that. That there has to be great flexibility in an enlarging European Union I think is a common position, but amongst the 15 nations of the European Union there is a fine selection of what flexibility might mean in practice and there is a lot of debate to be had about that.

I don’t think anyone wishes to see a position in which a small hard core, against the interests of everybody else, proceed ahead and we need to find a way of actually coping with that and protecting the interests of other nations. There are many different models. It is safe to say that no communal model has yet commended itself. I think we made some interesting progress in discussing the problem, but I wouldn’t pretend to you that we cracked the problem in our discussion on flexibility.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister Prodi, can you expand any further on next in Brussels on Monday that you might be bringing forward the budget for 1998? Is there anything further on that?

MR PRODI:

No, it is completely untrue and I know that there were rumours on this decision in Brussels. There is no official decision but the rumours that we have are in a completely different direction.

QUESTION:

Italy is to ask the European Union to launch a political initiative in Algeria. What is your comment on this initiative and can we consider it as the official position of your government?

MR PRODI:

No, the official position is that Algeria is an independent country and so we don’t want to interfere in their internal problems.

QUESTION:

My question is that you discussed the rumours of Italy bringing the 1998 budget forward, how do you fell about that?

MR PRODI:

I misunderstood your question. Look, this is debated in the political arena in Italy. I think personally that it is very useful to anticipate, even if there is no radical difference, but to have a clear idea of next year’s budget is very useful for the international environment, but this must be discussed with the opposition because to do it five months before the date, we have an agreement for the parliamentary procedures, so this discussion will go on.

QUESTION:

Mr Prodi, you said a couple of days ago that your comments that the lira was too strong were misunderstood. Could you clarify what you meant by that and what levels were you referring to in terms of the recent strength?

MR PRODI:

I don’t want to have any opinion on the real value of the lira. I only told a few days ago, and I repeat, that the lira, the decision of putting the lira at 990 lira per deutschmark was taken a few weeks ago and I clearly mean that if the rate of exchange goes a little up or a little down from that it has no real meaning, you know, they are completely normal fluctuations and so I am not worried about that. We have always fluctuated in the [indistinct] of the central band taken in Brussels.