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1994 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, and the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, held in Essen on Saturday 10th December 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

I do not think there is very much doubt that this has been an especially productive and rather good humoured Council, it has addressed a number of substantive issues that are of real concern to people right the way across the European Union. I daresay one or two souls might be a little disappointed that we were not able to provide a row on this occasion of any sort, but it has been extremely good humoured and I think we have made a lot of progress on a number of issues. I hope the lack of a row is not too great a disappointment for anyone.

We have just come from a working lunch with the six leaders of the Central and East European countries. We started getting to grips at Essen over this weekend with some of the practicalities of the next enlargement, we have agreed effectively on a route map towards full accession for the East Europeans. From now on the European Council will meet the Eastern associates once a year and so will ten of the other Councils dealing with a whole range of issues, some of those will meet more than once a year, most probably twice.

The enlargement process, a process that we have argued for in the United Kingdom for a very long time has now started, and I think that is very good news, not just for the countries that will be joining the European Union but for people right across Europe. The benefits of extension - peace, stability and prosperity - the benefits of spreading those right across the continent, is a prize very well worth having.

We spent a while discussing Bosnia and so did the Foreign Ministers, and we agreed that our current efforts to secure a negotiated settlement need to be reinforced. We proposed, and our partners agreed with us, that we should beef up the teams monitoring the border between Serbia and Bosnia, we would like to have 200 monitors there and we are now up to round about three-quarters of that total. What we have to be sure of is that the sanctions are biting hard on the Bosnian Serbs.

Secondly on Bosnia, let me say a word about the humanitarian and peace-keeping effort. Ground troops from a number of countries, including many European countries, not just those in the Contact Group, are continuing to risk their lives in Bosnia in order to save the lives of the people who live in Bosnia. That effort should continue for as long as possible, for as long as practical, for as long as they can actually safely undertake the job for which they were sent. And in return we expect the aid convoys to be readily let through to the people who are in need of medicines and food and whatever else may be on those convoys.

Thirdly, we discussed the negotiating process itself. The United Nations is working, has been working for a long time, to try and secure a durable ceasefire and the Contact Group is striving to bring about a political settlement. None of us was under any illusion whatsoever about the difficulties that still lie ahead, but it would not be right to give up hope while there is a credible hope of success. If, of course, the parties make it impossible for the protection forces to do their job, or if the risks to the protection forces become intolerable, then a different circumstance would arise and we must plan together against that possibility whilst hoping it will not occur.

We agreed on full consultation between all the countries contributing ground troops and we agreed that none of those countries would withdraw unilaterally from former Yugoslavia. If withdrawal at some stage should prove unavoidable, and of course it could, we hope not, but it could, the promise from President Clinton of United States troops to cover that withdrawal is very welcome indeed. But I should emphasise again that our view is that UNPROFOR should continue its humanitarian role for as long as it seems safe and secure for it to do so.

Let me say a word about Northern Ireland and the events relating to it that we discussed here at this summit. We are just emerging in Northern Ireland from 25 years of terrorism, we are now entering a crucial period in the peace process, we are seeking to turn an encouraging ceasefire into a lasting peace. One of the things that can help us succeed is the support that we have had from our colleagues in the European Union. The active support has been tangible and I would like particularly to thank the President of the Commission for his personal commitment to the peace process.

From the start, Jacques Delors recognised the significance of the Downing Street Declaration and all that has subsequently flowed from it. I believe that peace will bring a far better life to all the people in Northern Ireland, so I particularly welcome the very substantial programme agreed by our partners to provide a boost to improving living standards in Northern Ireland, 300 million Ecu, 250 million sterling over a three year period, part of it in the south but over 80 percent of it in the North of Ireland is an excellently timed signal ahead of the investment conference that we will hold in Belfast next week.

We devoted quite a lot of time yesterday to Europe’s economy and to a particular aspect of that, and that is job creation. The Council endorsed the plan drawn up by the ECOFIN Ministers for member states. I supported the suggestion for an advisory body in European competitiveness and suggested that for it to be most effective it should include major Europe businessmen with practical experience in running multinational companies across Europe.

What is most striking, was very striking indeed, in the discussion we had yesterday about the economic discussion, is that virtually all of the themes that we discussed, which only three or four years ago were regarded as eccentric British preoccupations - liberalisation, freeing up markets, reforming welfare systems, reducing the cost of jobs - all of those are now in the mainstream of European thinking and were central to the debate that we had. The Community now agrees, I think without any contradiction, that the problem of unemployment is not best tackled simply by protecting those at work, the aim must be to help those out of work by creating new growth and new jobs. We agreed a programme for trans-European networks and a list of projects. These big, frankly rather imaginative, infrastructure projects are natural territory for private sector initiatives and I am very pleased that out of the top 14 priority projects four of them will be in the United Kingdom, including the Channel Tunnel rail link and the West Coast mainline,

I made clear that there were two things, above all, which I believed, which Britain believed, had undermined public support for the European Community over recent years and obscured much of the good work that it has done. Firstly, with those areas where the European Community has unnecessarily intruded into the daily lives of its citizens, that causes frustration not just in the United Kingdom, you can trace that frustration right across Europe if you go and see for yourself what is happening there and speak to the politicians and other people there. We are seeking to deal with that through subsidiarity, it was something much mocked when we first introduced the concept, it is now widely accepted and it has been given another substantive push by the German Presidency.

The new provisions we secured in the Maastricht Treaty and the new rules we got agreed at the Edinburgh European Council, are now being put to good effect. We are at last beginning to see even more tangible results from that, that is certainly evident as far as legislation is concerned. In 1990 the Community passed 185 new laws, there were 75 last year, it is down to only 39 so far this year. Next year the European Council will review the existing Community statute book as well.

And secondly, I raised the question of fraud across the European Union. People, in my view quite rightly, get extremely angry when they see their money, their taxes, being mis-managed, being wasted, or perhaps worst of all, being drained away in criminal fraud. Again, the Maastricht Treaty contains, and again at our insistence, new provisions empowering the Commission, the Council and the auditors to tackle this more vigorously, and also requiring member states to do so. I proposed a series of specific actions at this European Council, got support for them from colleagues, and you will see them reflected in the conclusions that no doubt you all have in front of you.

Let me finally say a word about the atmosphere here at Essen. It was, as one would have expected, a well prepared, well run Council and our informal sessions have been perhaps among the most thoughtful and forward-looking that I could remember in the four years or so that I have been attending them. We were looking ahead last evening to the possible union of 15 years, 20 years from now, when we might have perhaps as many as 27 members of the European Union. We began to consider, not reaching conclusions, but consider in a brainstorming session what our goals for the Union might be over the next 40 years, not the inward looking centralising approach of yore, but an open, peaceful, prosperous, united Europe of nation states. It was a very productive discussion indeed. I believe that is the direction that most people in Europe would wish to go and I think it is the direction in which we are most likely to go. So I found that a very rewarding session last evening and there was a general wish that we should return to that conversation again in the future, and I very much look forward to that.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (John Palmer, The Guardian):

Prime Minister, you have referred in the Bosnian conclusions to the urgent reinforcement of the ICFY mission, I asked this question of Kinkel earlier on and I am still not clear from what he said or what you have said, what has made the reinforcement so urgent, is President Milosevic not to your satisfaction, yet sealing this frontier, I don’t know whether you or the Foreign Secretary can throw light on the use of this word urgent.

PRIME MINISTER:

The Foreign Secretary spent some time discussing it, so I will ask him to say a word in a moment. What we are anxious to do is to avoid any leakage at all. I do not think it is a question of President Milosevic’s good intentions being in question, but we do wish to ensure that there is no leakage across the border and for that reason we would rather like to see more monitors there. But the Foreign Secretary discussed this at length, not just with Klaus Kinkel but with his other colleagues, so he might wish to add something to that.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

President Milosevic told us on Sunday that the border was in effect closed. There are some people, particularly in the United States, who question that, so there is a matter of fact which has to be established, it is very important to establish it because the present relief of sanctions for President Milosevic, the opening of the airport and the allowing of certain events, is for 100 days and its renewal depends on everybody being satisfied that he is doing his best. So it is a matter of fact which needs to be established. It is best established by having an adequate number of qualified people on the ground. We have got people, we, the Americans, the Nordics, are doing our bit there, there are other countries who have not contributed or only contributed one or two.

What I was pressing, and what is now in the conclusions, is let us get on with this, let us establish as a matter of fact whether or not the border between Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs is adequately controlled and the movement of [indistinct] goods properly enforced.

QUESTION (Peter McMahon, Sunday Mirror):

Chancellor, when you were asked about Europe less than two weeks ago you dismissed talk of a referendum as not an issue. Today in his interview the Prime Minister says he is not ruling one out, so clearly it is an issue, why is there such a difference between the two of you?

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER:

I think the Prime Minister has made our position perfectly clear, I do not think there is a difference between the two of us. These are important issues and no doubt the question will keep coming up from time to time. But the main thing is to prepare a clear position for the inter-governmental conference in 1996, although we do not yet know whether we will have a serious agenda and to have a serious debate about the merits and demerits of economic and monetary union if that should ever come about, and I think that is where we are and that is what we keep saying.

QUESTION (Robin Oakley, BBC TV):

Could I ask the Prime Minister and perhaps the Foreign Secretary to take just a moment out from questions on the summit to comment on the death of Sir Keith Joseph?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me perhaps comment first. I was extremely sad to hear the news about Keith Joseph. I think he was probably one of the foremost Conservative thinkers since the Second World War and his contribution to Conservative thought and Conservative philosophy is perhaps unequalled in that period. He was also from my knowledge of him, though I confess I didn’t know him as well as I would have wished to have done, an extremely nice man, a very gentle man in every sense of the word. He was a very senior figure in the party when I first went into the House of Commons and I can only say that on every occasion I spoke to him as a wholly new, untried, unknown Member of Parliament I received nothing from him but courtesy and help and I found that was the way he treated everyone whomsoever they might have been. He is a very great loss.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

I would add a word to that. He was, as the Prime Minister said, a very kind man and he was totally without self-importance. He didn’t mind at all what kind of headlines he got. He was passionately anxious to worry away at a subject until he got to the truth of it. He was very interested in first principles, very interested in the thinking behind a decision and you need people like that in politics and he will be badly missed.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just say Robin, the Chancellor probably knew Keith better either than Douglas or I so he may wish to comment.

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER:

I did, Prime Minister, work with him from time to time over the years and got to know him quite well. All I would add to you very justified tributes is firstly that Keith was, as you know, really concerned about political issues. He thought about them a lot, he worried about them in fact, he was anxious to get things right and the driving motive behind his approach to politics was his concern to actually address social issues as well as economic issues which he thought were being neglected, but he personally was quite consumed in politics because of his concern for its effects to a degree unusual even in any dedicated politician.

Secondly, I confirm entirely what the Prime Minister said about his personal behaviour outside politics. Because he was on the right, there was a slight tendency to think he might be something of a hard man; he could not have been further removed from that; he was one of the nicest men in politics of any political complexion that we had.

I can remember many examples where he actually went out of his way to help colleagues who had fallen out of favour in one way or another; I remember one time in particular many years ago when there was a Conservative Member of Parliament who actually got sent to prison and that really put him out of baulk altogether, and the only man who approached that former Member of Parliament to make sure that something was being done for him when he was eventually released was Sir Keith Joseph who hadn’t known him very well, and he was the only Member of the House of Commons who took any interest in that man’s fate and his family. There were many other instances of that kind of personal action that he took so I regarded him as a very intelligent man, a very concerned man and personally a very nice man indeed.

QUESTION (German Handelsblatt Newspaper):

As far as Europol is concerned, the conclusions are setting a new deadline for ratifying the Convention until the next summit in Cannes. Are you willing to raise the latest objections and are you willing to include the combating of terrorism in the agenda of Europol?

PRIME MINISTER:

The principal difficulty in reaching an agreement on Europol hasn’t lain with the United Kingdom of course; there has been a very substantial difference of opinion in what in the jargon has become known as the “architecture” between France and Germany; that was the principal impediment at the recent Home Affairs meetings and indeed at this summit and there was agreement that we would try and reach a conclusion upon that by the time of the Cannes summit.

There are a number of areas below that where we still have some concerns but I have no doubt that we will be able to resolve those over the period of the next few months and it was for that reason that I fully supported the fact that we would agree now that we would reach a conclusion by the Cannes summit and I am sure we will be able to do that. I am sure we will be able to get our way through that.

QUESTION (Christopher Lockwood):

We have heard calls for a serious debate on the substantive issues behind economic and monetary union and I wonder whether we might have a little of that now. Prime Minister, in a situation where the convergence criteria are met and where the pound in particular meets them not according to the Commission’s own forecast and the Treasury’s - that is not something that is completely out of the question by 1997, certainly not by 1999 - do you think that in that situation it would be of benefit for sterling to be part of the EMU?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you have to look at what the position is going to be right the way across the European Union and I have no intention of making that judgement at this stage now. I can certainly agree with you that in terms of the Maastricht criteria it is possible, perhaps probable, that the United Kingdom will be one of the first countries actually to put themselves in an economic position where if they wish they would be economically able to move to a single currency. I think that is becoming increasingly apparent and the Chancellor may wish to add to that but how widespread that would be across the European Union I think is a matter for conjecture at this stage. We can only see, I think, three nations at the moment who look remotely likely to achieve that. Some of the strongest advocates of a single currency don’t look remotely as though they are going to be in a position economically to enter into one for a very long period indeed, but I don’t wish to judge what the debate will be at a late stage.

I think it is right for us to examine what the implications would be, it would be folly not to be prepared for that. I don’t know at some stage in the future whether a number of nations will decide to go ahead with a single currency. There are those who say rule it out definitely for all time now. I understand their philosophical opposition but nobody at this moment can be certain what the position will be if a number of states decide to go ahead at some stage in the future and what its economic impact might be on the United Kingdom if they did. We have to consider that and study that and that is what we will need to do.

QUESTION (Christopher Lockwood):

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

It isn’t remotely likely to be half in 1997, Christopher, there are not likely to be any in 1997. There might conceivably be a few countries ready to go in 1999, it is a moot question whether there will be enough, but certainly I know of no single judge who believes there is remotely likely to be any form of economic and monetary union in 1997 and if there is anyone who thinks that, I promise you I don’t agree with them.

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER:

Jacques Delors produced for us in our discussions a table showing the likely progress of members towards the Maastricht convergence criteria in 1996. At the moment, Luxembourg is the only one that complies. The only two that the Commission forecast to be within the criteria by 1996 are Germany and the United Kingdom, in fact the United Kingdom rather more so than Germany and that is because we are the two strongest recovering economies in Europe, in fact we are recovering at the moment rather better than the Germans and we are therefore returning to a healthier position very quickly and we are performing in accordance with those convergence criteria because the criteria in themselves, which the Prime Minister of course helped negotiate at Maastricht, comply perfectly with sound Conservative Party economics and they are based on the general direction in which our economic policy is already going in the United Kingdom.

I agree with the Prime Minister; whatever the Maastricht time-table may say, I don’t believe a majority of the member states is likely to be able to get that time-table in the way they have set that. What we have negotiated is a position whereby whenever the others might contemplate, any number of them, economic and monetary union, we the British have a choice, our own choice, a choice for our own Parliament. We will decide yes or no according to our judgement of whether it is in the British interest to be involved in any development of economic and monetary union or not.

The things you have to ask if and when that ever arises are is the way it is being planned and worked out likely to be good enough? Is it going to work? We have the experience of the snake, we have the experience of the ERM. I wouldn’t want us to go into any form of economic and monetary union that was not going to work and was going to come to an unfortunate end again. Then you have to ask would it or would it not improve the operating of the market and the trade between those countries that went into economic and monetary union by removing barriers and obstacles to trade between them? Would it or would it not reduce the risks of competitive devaluation ever breaking out amongst the countries involved? But I don’t think the whole thing is feasible until we have got convergence on the grounds outlined in the Maastricht Treaty and I think it would be folly for any members of the European Union to go in for economic and monetary union until they have converged on low inflation, low public deficits, low debt-to-GDP ratios and a good competitive situation in their industrial markets. As it happens Britain is the one that is best advanced towards getting back to that position and Britain is the one that has most completely reserved its own position to say yes or no to economic and monetary union if anybody raises it.

PRIME MINISTER:

We have 15 members of the European Union now, we are likely to have 20 or so some time after the turn of the century in the early years of the next century. Another decade after that we may have 27 members of the European Union. Plainly it is a fatuous proposition to assume that in any time-scale like that you are going to have a single currency across 27. I think it is improbable to the point of being dismissed that you could have a European Union across 15. The serious point at issue I believe it whether a smaller number of nations would be prepared to move forward and then they would have to consider - if they found they were economically able to do meeting the criteria the Chancellor set out - what the impact on the rest of the European Union would be if they did so and what is apparent is that although there has been a lot of consideration and a lot of discussion about the politics of that over the past five or six years, there hasn’t been in my view remotely enough consideration of the economics of that and that is the first primary issue that needs to be considered.