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1985 Dec 4 We
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after Luxembourg European Council

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Kirchberg Conference Centre
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: The Press Conference took place shortly after midnight.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 2522
Themes: Privatized & state industries, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Northern Ireland, Race, immigration, nationality, Terrorism, Transport

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for your patience in staying. As you know, it has been a long conference, but we decided to stick it out until we got a clear position in the end and a decisive one on the results of the Inter-Governmental Conference. True, there are a number of nations that have reservations. Italy has reservations; Denmark has reservations, for reasons which you already know; and the others of us have specific reservations; but in general, we have completed the work in principle with a few details still to be left to Foreign Ministers.

I came here with a number of objectives:

First, as far as deregulation was concerned, the initiative that I started up at the last Council, I wanted to be certain that the Commission were going to take forward their plans for deregulation and in a very positive way. You will have seen in the communique that they intend to set up a special unit and to go through not only new regulations but existing ones to look at their effect on businesses and then to see if they can weed out any more regulations. [end p557]

Second, we were particularly anxious, for the benefit of trade, to complete the internal market. It will help employment; it will help particularly with British commerce because there are many things that we are good at, which we are not able to move freely about in the Community with regard to things like insurance and various other services. It was therefore particularly important for us that we took action to complete the internal market. That did mean going from unanimous voting to majority voting on a number of things—qualifications for professional people, some insurance regulations, and things like transport and so on, and things like industrial standards. In those cases, we found that our plans and proposals were being blocked, possibly by one or two votes, and therefore it does help us very much on those things to go to majority voting. On other things, such as any changes in taxation or any increase in regulations, very much on unanimous voting and we voted in accordance with that pattern.

You will have seen the things on which we have agreed. There is a text on monetary cooperation. People were very anxious to have one. You will find it does not represent anything new at all, but describes the existing position.

There is a text on relations between the Council and the European Parliament, a text which leaves the final word with the Council the whole time, but in fact involves more cooperation with the European Parliament. [end p558]

There are texts also on the environment and on technology. We were cooperating in these things, but we now do so under a specific provision.

There also was a text on what is known as “cohesion” , that is to say that we all hope to move more towards a similar standard of living, not by redistribution of income, but by having similar economic policies.

Now, I will not go into too much detail about these things. I am very glad that the Inter-Governmental Conference has completed its work and we have been able to reach decisions, limited as though the decisions are.

It is a little ironic that Italy was the one most anxious to have it, but I think she has got the most reserves upon it; and Denmark also, for constitutional reasons, has a considerable number of reserves, as have a number of other countries. We have just one, which is on a particular matter, which would impose more regulations on small businesses, which I am not prepared to do, and I said therefore that that could only be done by unanimous voting. That would mean that we could turn it down.

Now, shall we come to your questions? [end p559]

John Fraser (IRN)

Could I ask you just how serious this number of reserves is, because we have heard the Danes have a reserve on a whole package; the Italians have a number; we hear that Britain has one. Now, is this not rather like a Cheshire cheese, full of holes?

Prime Minister

A Cheshire cheese is not full of holes—That is Gruyere! A Cheshire cheese has got no holes in it—it is British!

Denmark, as you know, for constitutional reasons, has a general reserve.

Italy has a reserve, I think, on three main things and on other particular things. The question is how far those reserves will be worked out and how far they will be maintained.

But even when you look at that—apart from Denmark's general reserve, apart from Italy which says that she will not agree anything if the Parliament is highly critical about it and the other reserves are in particular directions—and you will still find, I think, that apart from those general ones, most of the things will go through.

John Dickie

Prime Minister, I just want to know whether this is worth it after all this time. Could you not have achieved as much good for Britain in Milan? What has changed since Milan? [end p560]

Prime Minister

We could have done a great many of the things which have been done here with treaty changes, we could have done without treaty changes, had we agreed to go about it that way. Now, people very much wanted an Inter-Governmental Conference, so they had one.

For example, two new articles we have done: one on the environment and one on technology. We were already proceeding under article 35. It is perhaps better to tidy it up in a kind of consolidating measure, as we would do in our Parliament, and regularise what we have been doing under specific articles.

So we have gone along and cooperated. I think what we have got out of it is that we hope now that the internal market can be completed within about seven years. It is particularly important for us, because of our pre-eminence on services. There will still be some difficult things, for example, as you know, we are keen to have an internal market in transport and air fares for example, where we are getting separate arrangements now with separate countries and where there are problems on lorry quotas, which are very much to our disadvantage. Now, if we can get those restrictions lifted, it will be of great advantage to Britain. So we had something to go for and, of course, if you have something to go for then you have to give on the things which other people want.

Question

I wonder, Prime Minister, how you would grade the success of this conference on a scale maybe between “modest” and “mighty” ? [end p561]

Prime Minister

I think that you have chosen the right word—modest.

I think what would have been very damaging is if we had not gone through to the end of the proposals before us and left it to another Council, because anything then that we did in the earlier hours would have been unpicked, and I think it was wise to go through to the end, so we considered everything, made our conclusions upon it, and now people will reflect upon those and discuss them with their colleagues and see if any reservations can be lifted and if not, then those things will not come into the Treaty, but I expect that a number of reservations will be lifted.

Question

You mentioned transport, you mentioned services. All that is under the reservations you were talking about?

Prime Minister

Not all of them, but specific countries have reservations on specific things. Two or three countries have reservations on having the transport regulations go to unanimity, to a qualified majority. Others have reservations on other things. We actually want as much relief there as we can possibly get—on those things which are mentioned on the articles on the internal market.

Now 57.2—84 is the transport one—70 and 59, those four, it is in the text that we go to qualified majority, but some people have reservations on some of those things. [end p562]

Question

Could I ask you if you support the statement of the Northern Ireland Secretary today to the effect that in accepting the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement the Republic of Ireland has accepted that there will never be …   . Ireland?

Prime Minister

No. The Anglo-Irish Accord stands in each and very particular. You will find the true position, which we all agree with, in article 1, which has three articles. I think the relevant one is that Northern Ireland stays part of the United Kingdom so long as the majority of her people wish that to be so. That is the position and that is the position of course that remains. There is no change whatsoever in the Anglo-Irish Accord. It is just exactly that.

Question

May I take it then, Madam, that you do not endorse Mr. King's remarks?

Prime Minister

I endorse the Anglo-Irish Accord that Northern Ireland stays part of the United Kingdom so long as the majority of her people wish it to be that way. I may say that I believe there will continue to be a majority wishing it to be that way and indeed, I hope there will, because I hope and believe that Northern Ireland will stay a part of the United Kingdom; but that depends upon the continuation of the majority. [end p563]

Question

Regarding border control, are you satisfied that you have safeguarded access of carriers etc. and managed to prevent …   .

Prime Minister

Yes we have. In the work that we have done today, we are now talking about general border controls throughout Europe, yes. You will find a specific declaration that nothing in the treaty alters the rules of member states to control immigration from outside the Community—immigration, terrorism movements and drug trafficking. You will find a specific declaration to that effect … at our instance, which was accepted.

Question

Prime Minister, can I ask you about the health controls which stuck things up for a long time this evening, I understand? The extra clause that was added in, I believe at your inspiration, to put in the European Court, strikes me that it goes in the opposite direction to the full safeguards that the UK, Ireland and Denmark were seeking, that it gives others a chance to challenge our safeguards for rabies rather than the other way round. Is that really what we were looking for?

Prime Minister

We had a very very long discussion on that. We want and must have the right to retain our special national provisions because of our particular island status, which means that we are specially vulnerable to particular animal and plant diseases. If [end p564] you look at the text very carefully, where that goes to qualified majority, nation states can retain their special provisions. The Community will then confirm those provisions after having satisfied itself that they are not provisions put on for restraint of trade. So we retain them, but of course, other nations say: “An, ah! You are doing this not for health, not for plant life, but for restraint of trade!” so the Commission has to satisfy itself that that is not so. Absolutely right and what we expected. And of course if they said that they thought that we were putting it on for restraint of trade then of course we would go to the European Court. I think something did previously go to the European Court.

Question

Can you tell us what changed your mind about accepting some reference to monetary cooperation in the Treaty of Rome?

Prime Minister

Because the only reference in the text, if you look, to the monetary provisions describes what has already happened and describes the system we already have. It adds nothing beyond that. No-one could object to a description of past history and to a description of what we already have. The only fresh thing is that any changes to institutional arrangements for monetary cooperation would have to be under article 2.3.6 which of course will be full treaty ratification. [end p565]

Question

Does the way in which this amendment has been phrased in any way prejudice the UK position?

Prime Minister

Good Heavens no, I would not have agreed to it if it had!

Dave Mason

Have you published any political statements? I understand you were considering one on the Geneva Summit.

Prime Minister

No, we have not published any political statements because we did not in fact discuss them. Foreign Ministers had a preliminary discussion and there is a text of which I think they took note, but I think it still has to be discussed at your next meeting. We did also as you know actually approve the text on political cooperation, which we originally proposed at Milan and there was a little cuffuffle in Milan and it is now sorted out.

Question

Prime Minister, the main object of this whole exercise as far as Britain is concerned is obviously to open up the internal market. We do not have the details of the agreement in front of us at the moment. Can you tell us the specifics of the agreement that you have reached that will open up the insurance market to British firms in Europe and can you tell us how many [end p566] countries have put reservations on the agreement opening up the transport market in Europe?

Prime Minister

I think there are three on transport. That is my recollection. Some were very much for opening up, Netherlands in particular—ourselves and the Netherlands. I think France had a reservation on transport. Greece had a reservation on transport. I think there was a third one, but I cannot remember who, but there were certainly three reservations on transport.

On insurance, I cannot tell you who had a reservation on that, but as you know, if you can go to qualified majority it really does make a difference because otherwise one vote can stop you from starting up, and that really would be quite damaging.

John Dickie

Two big points, Prime Minister. Do you think it wise for one of your Ministers to use the word “never” and do you think it wise for him to speak on behalf of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland?

Prime Minister

I do not believe he did that. The position is as set out in article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Accord and that is that the article which we signed and which we are fully agreed, fully [end p567] agreed. I think both Mr. King and myself are Unionists and want the union to continue, and positively want the union to continue, but that is on condition that a majority wishes it to be so.

John Dickie (Inaudible)

Prime Minister

I do not know, but you are quite right. You have to be very careful when you have just signed an Accord that you stick to it absolutely, and I am sure that would be his wish and intention. I am sorry if it did not come out that way but Tom KingTom is absolutely behind the Anglo-Irish Accord and will stick to every single word in it. The trouble is when you take it that we are putting any gloss on it. We are not. We are not putting any gloss on it. We are sticking to it and Tom is sticking to it just as much as I am, and we will do everything possible to see that it is carried out.

Question

Prime Minister, political …   . in Milan was that the conference would not succeed. In the light of this result, do you think the Conference was useful or not?

Prime Minister

I think we could have done what we have done … that we could have done by agreement without it … but if they wanted to do it this way, so be it.