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1991 - Mr Major’s Press Conference at Luxembourg European Council

Below is Mr Major's press conference, held in Luxembourg on 29th June 1991.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (John Palmer):

Prime Minister, on political union, can we take it that what you have said implies that your objection to any extension of qualified majority voting and Parliamentary co-decision save for the environment for example remains an issue of principle; and secondly, I think you said about federalism that most other member states were clear that it meant decentralisation, not centralisation. Can you tell us who you think means by federalism centralisation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you had better ask that of our colleagues, they must answer for themselves and I will answer for me. On the earlier point on qualified majority voting we are still very reserved about how much additional qualified majority voting would be acceptable and co-decision in principle is not something we find at all attractive. There are areas where we can extend the powers of the European Parliament but we are not generally attracted to a legislative role for it.

QUESTION (Alistair Campbell, Daily Mirror):

Has it crossed your mind that the initials for ever closer union - ecu - might fit in with if not being tied to federalism certainly being tied to a single currency?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is intriguing you should say that, Alistair, no I had not.

QUESTION:

Your meeting with Mr Haughey, what did you discuss and was the question of an accelerated strand 1 procedure discussed and the idea of moving to the strand 2 with the Dublin government involved?

PRIME MINISTER:

That was not discussed, we were essentially discussing European matters in the discussion we had today, we touched upon the present situation of the talks but the talks are continuing in Strand I and we had no proposals to alter the present direction or pace of them.

QUESTION (George Jones, Telegraph):

In view of the reserve that you have now placed on EMU are you opposed to the setting of dates for moves to a single currency or not?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is not a new reserve on EMU, this is the reserve on the principle of the single currency that we have had for some time. There was nothing fresh or new, it was simply a reiteration of the position that existed some time ago and it was expressed so there was no doubt and no misunderstanding in anyone’s mind. So there is nothing new about the reserve.

As for the dates, I have made it clear for some time that there are two important factors in any progress towards economic and monetary union. It is perfectly acceptable for dates to be set for progress to Stage 2 and Stage 3, but they can only be indicative dates, they cannot be rigid, fixed and firm dates, they can only be indicative and on the basis that the right level of convergence of the economies has been reached. If one were to go forward without such convergence then you would face very real economic difficulties indeed and some member states I think would face such economic difficulties that they would face truly horrendous problems.

So for us the dates are much less important than the principles and necessity for convergence and at the moment we still maintain our reserve on the principle of the single currency.

JOHN COLE (BBC):

Prime Minister, in an earlier draft we saw there was no reference to dates and we were given to understand by some of your colleagues that the prolonged session was an argument as to how that came about. For those who have not seen the final conclusions could you explain what happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you think the whole session was taken up in discussing economic and monetary union I can assure there were other matters of some communal interest that took quite a lot of tine as well so it was not all on the subject of economic and monetary union.

There were a number of earlier drafts; I don’t know which one you may have seen; the drafts are prepared by officials, they go forward, they are refined and eventually the Presidency lays one before colleagues and that is agreed or amended.

There were a number of important matters and there were amendments made in many parts of the draft laid before us but without seeing the early draft that you have in mind, it is difficult to be precise on the points you raise.

JOHN COLE:

But are dates in now?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. There are no firm dates in the Conclusions that we have agreed today. There are no firm dates for the progress to economic and monetary union.

JOHN COLE:

Not even a reference back to Rome 1?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is a reference back to Rome 1 and Rome 2 with the reserve that we expressed at the time of Rome 1 and Rome 2 there is no fresh and separate reiteration of the dates. The reserve, of course, was Rome 1 only, not Rome 2.

PHILIP STEVENS (FINANCIAL TIMES):

Why do you think it is, Prime Minister, that the rather sort of friendly, sober discussion of these issues that you spoke about at the Council does not seem to be possible to replicate in the House of Commons?

PRIME MINISTER:

Philip, you should attend the House of Commons more often - it is very friendly and relaxed! It is a serious answer.

QUESTION:

From an earlier draft which we saw, there was talk of incorporating into a treaty the point put forward by Chancellor Kohl about a common immigration and asylum policy and one or two other matters in that light. Is that something which has survived? What are your thoughts on it?

PRIME MINISTER:

There ought to be no misunderstanding about precisely what was discussed there. There are two related points:

There is a considerable degree of economic migrancy from East to West and from South to North and I think the expectation is that that may well continue in years to come. The United Kingdom expressed a view that was endorsed by a large number of countries - indeed I think no-one dissented - that we needed stronger perimeter fencing against that economic migrancy and we are examining that. That may well result in a treaty but it would probably be a treaty outside the Treaty of Rome but within the Union Treaty.

JUDITH DAWSON (SKY NEWS):

I wonder if I could ask you to characterise the discussions, particularly on the question of federalism and the question of a single currency? Would you say there were spirited exchanges?

PRIME MINISTER:

There was very little discussion of the term “federal union”. That is in the chapeau at the moment but it was not a matter that was the subject of any great discussion at all. When we were discussing the Political Union IGC yesterday, I expressed my views on federal union; I said it was not an acceptable term to us and we would expect to see it removed before we had a treaty that we would be in a position to sign. Other colleagues around the table expressed the view that it was true that “federal” had more than one meaning. For example, Judith, if you were to look at the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, you would find five different meanings of “federal union”; if you were to look at the Longer Oxford Dictionary you might even find more; and if you were to look at a dictionary in any other language of the Community, Heaven alone knows how many illustration of that you would find, so that was accepted and there was not a great deal of discussion about it.

There was not a great deal of discussion about the single currency. There was some discussion about how we framed the Declaration, that is true, but the economic and monetary union discussion was a round-table discussion last evening in which views were particularly invited upon the staging to Stage 2 and Stage 3 and other matters of principle but it was not a particularly extended discussion - it lasted perhaps an hour and a half.

GERRY FOLEY (TV.AM):

Prime Minister, you said that with a little bit of goodwill and good luck there was every possibility that you would be able to, all twelve, sign a treaty in December. Where do you see the greatest possibility for compromise and how would you sum up the nature of the negotiations that Britain is going to face over the next couple of months?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think, Gerry, that depends on compromise by whom. Based on the discussions that we have had over the past few days, I think there is no-one in the Community who will not have to compromise in some regard if we are going to successfully get agreement and that is true in most of the principal areas under discussion. It is not the case that all the particular difficulties concentrate in a particular area. The closer you get to it in the substructure, there are all sorts of difficulties for other nations so it will be a tremendous job for the Dutch Presidency; they will have a very large job to do between now and December but I think it is in good hands with the Dutch and I think that there is a considerable will amongst European Community partners to try and reach an agreement.

ROBIN OAKLEY (THE TIMES):

Prime Minister, you say that you will never sign a treaty including references to federal union. Does the same apply to any treaty giving the European Parliament power to initiate legislation in any field and could I ask you secondly whether there was much comment on the change of style and tone in Europe since you became Prime Minister? Can you point to any practical concession that you feel you have made as an evidence of your eagerness to put Britain at the heart of Europe?

PRIME MINISTER:

The European Parliament can call for legislation now and I think there are areas where it is appropriate to increase the powers of the European Parliament and I spoke of some of those earlier. Other partners in the Community have other suggestions as to where those powers can be increased so I think there will be changes in the way in which the European Parliament operates but I would not myself expect that they are going to involve substantial initiation of legislation powers.

As to the second half of the question in terms of putting Britain right in the centre of Europe, I think the mark of a good European is a country that will put itself in the middle of the debate and argue for what it sees as the right way ahead for Europe, not necessarily argue for the consensus that previously existed and what I am doing and will continue to do is to argue for what I think is the right future for Europe in both the medium and the long term and that does mean we have to look not just at the deepening of relationship between the existing Community structures but that in bringing about that deepening we don’t throw such a girdle around the Community that we prevent its widening at a future stage. That is what I mean by being a good European.

The other illustration perhaps I may give is this: it is not possible in a partnership of at present twelve and in the future more, always on each and every point to win the argument and have the result go precisely as you would wish it to. Sometimes you will win and you will gain something that your partners don’t wish to surrender; sometimes you will have to surrender something that your partners wish to gain that you don’t wish to give up. That is a matter of negotiation and that repeatedly has happened in the Community; it will happen again in the Community; there is nothing fresh about it but equally, there is nothing fresh about the fact that upon some subjects there will be a national reserve of such importance that the nation concerned will not be able to move and as in the past it will be so in the future - the partners of that nation, I believe, will understand that.

QUESTION (THE OBSERVER):

Could you tell me exactly how likely now you think it is that Britain will be able to sign up at the end of the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

I see no reason to suppose at the end of this European Council that it is any further away than it was when we came to this European Council. We have made a good deal of progress over the last few months. In particular, many of the matters that we particularly wished to be discussed have now come very much to the front of the Community’s collective minds: convergence, for example, in terms of economic and monetary union springs immediately to mind, we are by no means the only nation in the Community who have reservations on the scale of co-decision that was set out in the Presidency’s text, so as we move forward the areas of difference that are apparent narrow. That has been the way the Community has always operated and I think it is operating in that way now. There is a natural process that pulls partners together as you get nearer the dates by which a conclusion must be reached. That is starting but six months is a long time in the life of the Community - it still has some way to go. I am optimistic.

BORIS JOHNSON (DAILY TELEGRAPH):

Did the Government push for anything to be included in the communique about the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which after all represents the preponderant part of Community spending and if not, why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

We were predominantly discussing the Inter-Governmental Conferences; there were many Community matters that we did not particularly discuss yesterday and today. The question of GATT was discussed and that has a clear relationship to the Common Agricultural Policy. There is, I think, a growing view in the Community now, if not perhaps entirely general, that we will need to reform the Common Agricultural Policy yet again; there is absolutely no doubt about that. It was not necessary for me to restate it or for others to include it particularly. If we had all included everything that isn't in this communique that might have been, I daresay the communique would have been two or three times as long as it is, but it was not a subject of substantial discussion; it was not on the agenda this week-end and therefore it is not included in the communique.

BORIS JOHNSON:

Do you think there is a case for a special Summit to discuss it, Prime Minister, in view of the importance of the issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

I certainly would not rule out a meeting at some stage but I think it is premature to say that we would have a special Summit to discuss it. There are some proposals that the Agricultural commissioner has produced; I believe some nations, not the British as it happens, have expressed reservations about these fresh proposals that have been published. They will need to be discussed by Agriculture Ministers in the first instance and then it may be they will need to be discussed by others but I think we had better let our Agriculture Ministers look at it first.

JOHN McINTYRE:

On the Social Charter, an earlier text that we saw suggested something much more friendly to the British than we might have expected. Do you believe that you have made some progress on this issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there is some misunderstanding of the British view about the social dimension of the Community. There is a social dimension to the Community and under the broad Social Action Programme I think there are round about 50 different Directives that are important - a number of them have already been agreed. There are some that are not agreed and that it will be very difficult to agree but the reason it will be difficult to agree I think is one that will be understood throughout the whole Community.

What is the prime purpose of the Social Action Programme? It must be, I believe, to increase the levels of employment and diminish the levels of unemployment and the areas of greatest controversy in the Social Action Programme are those where on practical economic grounds we believe that what is proposed would work in the reverse direction and cost jobs and not create jobs.

If I may refer to my answer some moments ago to Robin Oakley, I think it is right to argue for what is in the interests of the Community, not what happens at any one time to be a consensus view in the Community and upon that basis I will continue to argue against those parts of the Social Action Programme that I think are damaging to Europe.