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1991 - Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the Luxembourg European Council

Below is Mr Major's statement to the House of Commons on the 1st July 1991 on the European Council held in Luxembourg held from 28th-29th June 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council in Luxembourg on 28 and 29 June. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom.

It was clear from the events there that Yugoslavia must be the first item on our agenda. I discussed the overnight position with Prime Minister Lubbers and with Chancellor Kohl before the Council opened. We were able to reach rapid agreement in the Council on invoking the emergency mechanisms of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and a meeting is taking place in Vienna this afternoon.

We also agreed to dispatch to Yugoslavia the Foreign Ministers of the troika--Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. Their visit brought some respite in the conflict, but the situation was very fragile yesterday and the Foreign Ministers returned to Yugoslavia yesterday afternoon. They secured agreement to the appointment of Mr. Mesic of Croatia as the next President of Yugoslavia and to other measures to defuse the crisis. The situation remains very volatile and the Community will need to be closely involved over the coming weeks. In the meantime, Community aid to Yugoslavia has been suspended. British citizens have been advised to leave Slovenia.

The main item of scheduled business was to discuss progress in the two intergovernmental conferences launched last year, one on economic and monetary union and the other on political union. Discussion centred on the issues raised in a draft treaty text circulated by the presidency, though there was no detailed negotiation of the text itself.

This European Council--as we had wanted--was a stocktaking. It was not the occasion to take decisions, but we have registered the considerable progress made in the Luxembourg presidency as well as our collective will to reach an agreement at Maastricht in December. The conclusions, which have been placed in the Library of the House, incorporate a number of points of importance to the United Kingdom. I made it clear that I welcomed the structure of the present draft of the treaty, although some other partners in the Community disagree with it strongly. The present text means that some things are done on the basis of the treaty of Rome but others on the basis of intergovernmental action in which the treaty of Rome does not apply and the Commission does not have the sole right of initiative. I welcomed the concept of a common foreign and security policy set firmly within the context of the Atlantic alliance and stressed the need to work by consensus in this crucial area.

There is agreement on the preparation of proposals to improve the implementation of Community law. That reflects a British proposal that would enable the European Court of Justice to fine member states that fail to comply with Community legislation. We have long argued for a level playing field and for full respect of the rule of law, and we are determined to get it. We have a good record on implementation and we believe that all states that sign up to Community law should implement it.

The conclusions call for early progress on the remaining legislation needed to complete the single market. This means in particular measures on insurance, and air, sea and road transport, which are of importance to this country.

The Council discussed the need to strengthen the Community's external perimeter boundary if free movement of people is to be able to take place within it. We also agreed to better co-ordination in the fight against international drug trafficking and organised crime through the establishment of a European Criminal Investigation Office.

The conclusions also commit us to strengthening the Community's links with the countries of central and eastern Europe. This will initially take the form of association agreements with Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Government hope that those countries--and probably others--will be ready for full membership in due course.

I also made it clear that there were things in the present draft treaty with which I could not agree, and it was understood that nothing could be agreed until everything is agreed at the conclusion of these discussions. I explained that even though to many federal union implies decentralisation, the term carried the reverse implication in this country and would not be acceptable in a text to be agreed at the end of the year.

I explained our reservations about the existing text on the role of the European Parliament. We see a strong case for an increased role for the European Parliament in areas such as control over the Commission through audit of expenditure and measures to safeguard the rights of Community citizens, including the appointment of a European ombudsman. The text entirely reserves our position on the issue of co-decision. The present proposal, involving a complicated conciliation procedure, would not in our view improve Community decision-taking.

In the discussion on economic and monetary union I maintained our reserve on a single currency and a single central bank. We discussed the issue of economic convergence. The need for such convergence is increasingly recognised by our partners, but the nature and extent of that convergence and its relationship with possible target dates for moves to stages 2 and 3 of economic and monetary union are still for negotiation. All other member states understand that there must, in any case, be a separate decision by the Government and this House on whether the United Kingdom would move to a single currency and, if so, when.

The European Council has issued a number of political declarations which are also available in the Library of the House.

The Council endorsed the initiative that I took in April to establish a United Nations register of conventional arms transfers, and we will together table a draft resolution on this at the United Nations General Assembly.

The Council also endorsed a British and German initiative to improve the co-ordination of disaster relief within the United Nations system. We envisage the appointment of a high-level co-ordinator, with direct access to emergency funding and with the authority to pull together the whole disaster relief operation. We are taking that initiative forward in the United Nations now. At British initiative, the Council agreed a text on human rights, the first such declaration ever adopted by the European Council. The Community will use its leverage to promote human rights through the economic and co-operation agreements which it makes with third countries.

We welcomed the abolition in South Africa of the remaining legislative pillars of apartheid. We also declared our support for the renewal of sporting links with South Africa on a case-by-case basis where unified and non-racial sporting bodies have been set up. The establishment of such an independent and non-racial body for cricket was announced on the same day.

I believe that this European Council was a good example of the Community at work. We took rapid action to respond to the crisis in Yugoslavia and will continue to work together for a peaceful settlement. We took stock in a businesslike way of the progress made under Luxembourg's chairmanship. There are difficult issues still to be resolved. As in any negotiation, there will have to be give and take and a judgment will have to be made by the Government and by the House on the overall package at the end of the negotiation. There was a common determination in Luxembourg to work for an agreed outcome to the negotiations by the end of the year. I shall continue to argue for what I believe to be in the interests of our own country and the interests of the Community as a whole.