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1996 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview in Paris

Below is the text of Mr Major’s doorstep interview outside the British Embassy in Paris, held on Thursday 11th January 1996.


QUESTION (Hugh Schofield, BBC):

Prime Minister, what are your feelings after today’s service at Notre Dame in memory of the late President Francois Mitterrand?

PRIME MINISTER:

The sheer size of the attendance, both in terms of people from around the world, and also French men and women, indicates the degree of affection there was. I think that springs from a number of things. Certainly his remarkable service, not just as President of France for 14 years, but in a huge number of positions before that. His tremendous contribution to the development of France and the development of Europe, and beyond that, a rather personal feeling of immense admiration for his courage during his illness over recent years.

QUESTION (French TV):

What do you think his legacy will be, particularly on the European front?

PRIME MINISTER:

He was clearly one of the architects of the increasing integration of Europe. That has been his main theme over recent years. He has pursued that persistently over many years and with much success. I think that will be a legacy that people will always recall.

QUESTION:

But you did not always agree?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think people often under-estimate the extent to which people have a very genuine and sincere admiration for people with whom they may not always agree politically. President Mitterrand was a very big figure in European history. That is recognised today, it will be recognised in due course by history, but his contemporaries understand that as well. In a way we have never seen in previous generations, heads of state and government know each other much better than they once did. They meet much more often. Communications are much better. So quite apart from the political discussions and the political comment, as individuals, as ordinary everyday human beings, they know one another much better than their predecessors could ever have done.

QUESTION:

Do you have any special personal memories?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have met President Mitterrand on a huge number of occasions over the past five or six years. I think the memories I have of him, that will be more vivid, are the private meetings, the private intimacies. The extent to which although there was often a business of state to discuss, that he was perfectly agreeable to sitting down and just discussing some of the everyday gossip of politics and international affairs. Politicians are humans too. They like that in the same way that everybody else does. And he was very proficient at that, with a very wide knowledge of European history.

QUESTION (French TV):

He was from a different generation to you. Does his generation offer anything from which lessons can be learned?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think all generations do. If politics was just a preserve of the elderly generation then it would be rather stilted. If it was just the preserve of the younger generation it would be equally stilted. Politics is an ongoing stream. At any time there are elder statesmen with generations of experience and younger politicians as well. I think there is a proper mix between the two. And certainly he gave a great deal from his experience.