Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech on Europe ("Europe as I see it")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Centro Italiona di Study per la Conciliazione Internazionale, Rome
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments:

The press release (664/77) was embargoed until 1800 GMT. The speaking text differs from the press release in that MT made stylistic modifications for delivery. She also added a few sentences on the Common Agricultural Policy and amplified some of the later passages on Communism (see editorial notes in text). The uncorrected press release version of the text was later published as a pamphlet. Sections of the speech were filmed by ITN and BBC; the beginning of the ITN section is marked in the text (editorial notes).

Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3688
Themes: Agriculture, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Defence (general), European elections, Civil liberties, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), British relations with Italy


It is a great pleasure to be here in Rome, and I should like to thank the ‘Centro Italiona di Studi per la Conciliazione Internazionale’ for their invitation and for their hospitality.

Looking at the illustrious list of past speakers who have attended your meetings, I feel at once humble and greatly honoured to join their company.

In particular, I would like to thank the President of the Centre, Ambassador Giulio del Balzo, and the Secretary-General, Ambassador Casto Caruso, for the initiative which they have taken, and for all the help which they have given. [end p1]

It is exactly thirty years since your Centre began its work. I venture to suggest that never during this period has it been more important than now to exchange views and to learn more of the principles and purposes which in different ways have brought us all into public life. That, as I understand, is the purpose of the Centre.

I congratulate you on all that you have achieved in the past, and extend my warm good wishes for future success. [end p2]

Tribute to Italy

No true European can fail to love Italy. Your country is the birthplace of so much of our common civilisation; of the abiding Roman concepts of law and self-discipline; of the universal Catholic tradition; of the glories of the Renaissance its paintings and sculptures and buildings; of the Roman opera and the music of La Scala, Milano.

But not only do we love and admire the civilisation of Rome. We need you as allies. Italy is one of the keys to the defence of the Western world in the Mediterranean, and we count on your support to sustain them. Your country and its leaders also provided much of the impetus towards the creation of the European Community. It is fitting that its constitution bears the title of the Treaty of Rome. [end p3]

The British and the Italians have been friends for a very long time. Indeed Rome was one of our most famous and successful invaders! Today, we share many problems: inflation, indebtedness, falling living standards. But we also share common aspirations. A common love of freedom. A common preference for democracy. Above all, a common belief in the value, the spiritual value, of individual human beings.

It is these common values that I speak of today. For it is they which lie at the heart of my vision of Europe, and it is on them that my Party—and, I believe, the vast majority of my fellow countrymen—are determined to build for the future. [end p4]

The European Community is 21 years old this year. Twenty one years is not a long time in the history of Europe. But today Europe is confronted by threats from without and within. Start of section filmed by ITN

Europe—threats from without

The threat from without comes largely from the armed might and expansionist aims of the Soviet Union. That is why all those who hold freedom dear have as yet no safe alternative but to maintain our defences, within the NATO alliance. My Party, when we return to office, is totally committed to this. By the same token we are pledged to seek a lasting peace. It is in that context that I approach the Belgrade Conference at which the 35 signatory nations of the Helsinki Agreement will be able to assess how much progress has been made on putting into practice the clauses on security, economic relations and human rights. [end p5]

The Helsinki Agreement was intended to be treated as a whole. Nations cannot expect to choose only those parts which they prefer, and ignore the rest. So it is no good talking about trade, while forgetting about security. No use promoting exchanges of films and ballets, while ignoring human rights.

As far as security is concerned, we seek no confrontation with the Soviet Union or with any Communist government. Peace is our purpose. Keeping it is my profession. But there can be no peace without security, any more than there can be liberty without order. We are therefore entitled to seek at Belgrade, and beyond far more tangible evidence than so far has emerged, that the Soviets are prepared to match the Western world's aim to turn down the rising number of both conventional and nuclear armaments. [end p6]

The Helsinki Agreement also provides for co-operation in the fields of economics, science and technology. I have no doubt this is of particular concern to the Soviet Union. Trade with Eastern Europe can indeed bring mutual benefits. But it has to be on terms which ensure the benefits are fairly shared by both sides. We must beware that the competition that naturally exists between free countries does not lead us to give benefits to the Soviet Union which help it then to harm our interests.

Our trade and financial relations with the Eastern bloc must therefore form part of a coherent design, rooted in principles of freedom. We must try to make it easier for the countries of Eastern Europe to choose their own policies and their own trading partners in accordance with the wishes of their own people. We have a role here which the United States with all its strength and eloquence cannot perform, a role which belongs to us because we are Europeans, a role which the Community should heed. [end p7]

Of all the clauses of Helsinki, we in European Community have a particular interest in those which contain the solemn declaration of all signatory governments to uphold and extend liberty, the human rights clauses. These undertakings were included largely at our insistence. And note well, we do not ask more than we grant. Communist ideas circulate freely in the West, but those of the free world are stopped at the Iron Curtain. For us freedom is as natural as the air we breathe; for them it is but a dream.

We know that where there is no free press, no free speech, no independent judiciary, no respect for the rule of law, there can be no safeguard against tyranny, no informed public opinion, and consequently no brake on those who may be tempted to use force to achieve their ends. [end p8]

I welcome President Carter 's renewed emphasis on human rights. It has put the moral commitment back into the forefront of politics. We Europeans shouldn't hesitate to range ourselves along with our American partners in standing up for human rights, wherever they are in question. Are we not free peoples, choosing our own governments, respecting one anothers' rights as individuals under the law? And are not those who live under Soviet Communism denied both rights and freedoms as we in the West understand them? Ours is a free partnership. Theirs is a forced partnership. It is not in their interest, or ours, that this contrast should be blurred or disguised. [end p9]

Our first duty to liberty is to keep our own. But it is also our duty—as Europeans—to keep alive in the Eastern as well as the Western half of our Continent, those ideas of human dignity which Europe gave to the world.

Let us therefore resolve to keep the lamps of freedom burning bright, so that all who look to the west from the shadows of the East, need never doubt that we remain true to those human and spiritual values that lie at the heart of European civilisation. [end p10]

Europe—Dangers from within

To perform this role, the Community needs to strengthen itself. For we face dangers from within as well as from without. Dangers of disunity, dangers of disillusion. Some people are beginning to have doubts about the European idea in practice. At home, there are those, some of them politicians, who blame the Community for all our problems. Others, a small but vociferous minority, would have Great Britain pull out.

That is not the position of the party I lead. We are the European party in the British Parliament and among the British people; and we want to co-operate wholeheartedly with our partners in this joint venture. [end p11]

It was the Conservative Government of 1961–64 of which I was a member which first tried to negotiate British entry into the Community under the leadership of Mr Harold Macmillan. The goal was not achieved until 1972 under Mr. Heath. Mr John Davies, who sits with me here today, played a major and skilful part in the arrangements for British entry, and now speaks for the Conservative Party on European, Commonwealth and Foreign affairs. We negotiated entry on the only possible basis—namely that we accepted the basic rules and arrangements which the Community had already made, subject to transitional provisions. But we made it clear that once we were members we would work to persuade our partners that some policies needed to be adjusted to take account of our entry.

This is the way the Community works. Its policies are not sacred or static. They evolve year by year as the needs of its members change. [end p12]

This is particularly true of the common agricultural policy. Some people in Britain place all the blame for higher food prices on the C.A.P. They simply have not studied the facts. The most striking increases endured by the British housewife have been in foods not covered by the C.A.P. at all; for example, tea and coffee. We can distribute the blame for these increases between the weather, the growth of international demand and the decline in the value of the pound sterling. It is superficial and absurd to blame them on Europe.

Nevertheless it is fair to point out that the C.A.P. has been administered in a way which for us has produced some damaging results. The price review this year was somewhat more realistic; it provided for a modest general increase in prices, at a rate considerably lower than the increase in farmers' costs. [end p13]

But in general the Ministers of Agriculture have fixed prices at a level which are likely to produce embarrassing surpluses. Too high a proportion of the Community's budget has gone in guaranteeing these prices, too little in making it easier for the farmer whose costs are high, to find a better livelihood in another way. The problem has been made worse by the widening gap between strong and weak currencies within the Community. The Community has had to spend valuable time and resources juggling with incredibly complicated compensation arrangements, to no one's satisfaction. The effect in Britain has been particularly ironic. On the one hand the Community has had to spend up to £1 million (1½ billion lire) a day protecting the British consumer from the failure of the British Government to protect the pound. On the other hand the British farmer, has so far been deprived by his own Government of the advantage which, as a highly efficient producer, he had every reason to expect. [end p14]

[Manuscript addition by MT] The prices which he can expect don't make it worth his while to invest in greater food production. So while the price review may have been more realistic, subsidies have been shifted from the national to the Community budget, which has consequently suffered large increases. [Typescript resumes]

The reform of the C.A.P. is therefore a major objective of any British government. It is also a major interest of the whole Community, as the Commission has recognised.

The aim of this reform as I see it must be to fix prices each year at a level which will encourage the efficient producer and discourage the inefficient.

Such a reform will not be achieved by loud words or sharp tactics, but by striking a better balance between the producer and consumer in each price review. This will be a complicated effort requiring much patience. But I believe it can succeed. We shall be helping the progress towards a more efficient and competitive European agriculture which has been under way for several years: we shall be working with the trend and not against it. [end p15]

One other reason why I am confident that we can put our house in order on agriculture is that the Community has already achieved so much in other fields, particularly in international trade. Further, its member nations have achieved some success in working out common positions for the Community to take towards the outside world.

It happened in Paris during the North/South dialogue. It happened at Helsinki and I hope it will be repeated at the Belgrade Conference this year. [end p16]

In the old days, the diplomats of different European countries used to guard their secrets jealously as if they were proofs of success. Nowadays our Foreign Offices increasingly are pooling their information. [I am not sure, in Community parlance, whether this can best be classified as an “ink lake” or a “paper mountain” ! But insofar as it helps, I welcome it.]

But more is needed. The joint declarations issued by Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government certainly have their significance, but what really matters is joint effort to translate words into deeds. [end p17]

There are many great issues that affect us all—supplies of Middle East oil, the advance of the Soviet fleet, the security of Africa. If Europe speaks with many voices her views will be lost. Only the dialogue between Washington and Moscow will be heard.

Let us therefore take back from the Americans the motto they borrowed from you: “E pluribus unum” , out of diversity, unity.

Inevitably from time to time there will be differences of emphasis and even clashes of interest between member countries. [end p18] But compared with the interests we have in common, the differences which divide us shrink into insignificance. They must not be allowed to rob us of the prize which could be won by more effective common action—a new upsurge of European vitality, a kind of European risorgimento.

Politics of Europe

It is a characteristic of our civilisation that the ideas which tend to influence its people most profoundly are not laid down by governments. [end p19]

They come from deeply held convictions, from the free play of ideas. The tides of debate ebb and flow, adapting policies and changing attitudes. Increasingly I find that the debates in each country are coming to resemble one another. More and more of the issues which we tackle now have a European and sometimes a world dimension. Less and less is it possible for any of our Governments to succeed if they try to tackle their problems in isolation.

I do not believe that the nation states in Europe will wither away. I do believe that those who take part in the political life of the nation states need to work much more closely with like-minded colleagues in other countries than they have done hitherto. [end p20]

We see the need for this in the approach to Direct Elections to the European Parliament. This is an obligation to which all member countries are committed and for our part, we in the Conservative Party intend to honour it. Anyone with a sense of history must recognise as a remarkable advance the prospect that in a single election, nine European countries will go to the polls to elect representatives to a single democratic assembly. This step forward makes it necessary for political leaders to come together with others whose support and friendship they will increasingly need.

There is a danger that in this process the Socialist side of the argument will have an advantage, because for more than half a century machinery has existed for co-operation between Socialist parties. Co-operation between Communist parties can still be regarded as a matter of course. [end p21] Manuscript addition by MT

There is only one Communism. It is a doctrine which when in power denies all other creeds and all fundamental freedom. Typescript resumes

By contrast, parties of the Centre and Right have been separate and fragmented.

We see this fragmentation in the present nominated European Parliament where there are no less than four political groups representing the Centre and Right.

In saying this I am of course well aware of the remarkable progress made since the War by the Christian Democrat parties in Europe. They have produced great statesmen, not least in Italy, who played a major part in laying the foundations of the European Community. It must be good news for Europe that the Christian Democrat parties have increasingly come together and that they have recently formed a single European Peoples Party within the Community. [end p22]

Nevertheless it is right to point out that in two of the member states of the Community, Britain and Denmark, there are no Christian Democrat parties and that in France the Centre Democrats are relatively small. A wider basis of cooperation is therefore necessary if we are to further our cause against those who hold political views of a kind which we of the Centre and Right instinctively reject.

Of course I understand that the tactical situation varies in each country, and that it is often thought advisable for parties of the Centre and Right to cooperate with democratic socialists. Political parties must be free to make their own choices in this kind of situation. [end p23]

But equally if we look on Europe as a whole, it is clear that the present fragmentation of the centre and right gives to the left an advantage which the rest of us cannot afford. I am delighted that there is now a much closer co-operation inside the present European Parliament between the Christian Democrat and Conservative Groups.

But I am also sure that something wider is necessary. As a first step we need to co-operate in practical matters connected with the Direct Elections campaign. I hope that this co-operation can lead after Direct Elections to a clearer and firmer alliance between the parties of the Centre and Right. [end p24]

Of course, I realise that there are obstacles we have to overcome. One of them is a name. The Party which I lead in Britain has for more than a century been called the Conservative Party. Throughout that time there have been arguments whether or not this is the right name. We have grown used to it, but I am fully aware that when translated into other languages, the word Conservative acquires completely different overtones. In Italian, for example, it is a term of criticism. It has certainly been a hindrance to co-operation between like-minded parties.

I would ask those who shy away from the word to concentrate their attention on the common ground which exists between the British Conservative Party, and the Christian Democrats and other centre right parties in Europe. [end p25]

As our contacts with these parties multiply, the extent of this common ground becomes more impressive. I have found this on my own visits since 1975 to France, Germany, Holland, and now to Italy.

The British Conservative Party does not cling to yesterday. It adapts the best of yesterday to provide for the needs of tomorrow. We are proud of our heritage, and because we are proud of it we wish to add to it. One of our greatest political thinkers, Edmund Burke, expressed our philosophy in these words:

“People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors” . [end p26]

Europe: Basis of a European Community

We believe in political freedom as providing the only framework within which men and women can live lives worthy of their talents and of their human dignity. This is also the basis of the European Community. As the countries applying to join know, membership is only possible for those who accept true democracy as the foundation of their political life. I cannot conceive that any country could continue as a member of the Community if it allowed within its own frontiers an irreversible shift to totalitarian practices, whether of left or right. The European Community can have no room for part-time democrats.

We also believe in economic freedom, because the evidence shows that a free economic system provides the individual and the community with the best hope of that material prosperity which is the legitimate aim of our peoples. [end p27]

[Manuscript addition by MT[ And without economic freedom, political freedom would soon die. [Typescript resumes]

But when we speak of political and economic freedom we do not mean freedom to ignore the rights of others, or freedom to amass wealth without any regard for its use.

We accept the moral commitments of a free society, which have been handed down to us from their origins among the Jews and Greeks through the rich development of the Christian tradition.

There is a commitment to respect for the law.

There is a commitment to the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. [end p28]

There is a commitment to high standards of integrity in education. It is significant that in country after country of Europe, including my own, education is coming to the fore as a political issue.

There is a commitment to the widest possible diffusion of ownership. [Manuscript addition by MT] Every man a capitalist should be our aim. [Typescript resumes]

Finally, there is a commitment to help the weak and the unfortunate. Indeed only a free society can create the resources adequate to care for those in need. [end p29]

These are commitments which we Conservatives have spelt out in our most recent statement of policy, “The Right Approach” .

They are commitments which we share with every Christian Democrat party.

They are fundamental beliefs which we need to proclaim often and together. [end p30]

We should be concerned not only with protecting those values in our own nations, or in our own European Community. Liberty is worth defending—but it is equally worth exporting. So where human rights are concerned, all true Europeans are evangelists. The story of our Continent is of European man, the explorer and the trader, the missionary and the settler, carrying the fruits of his scientific discoveries, of his artistic and cultural achievements above all of his political values, across every sea and continent.

No European need apologise for the accomplishments of our peoples in the wider world. Nor did the process stop with the coming of age of the United States of America, the republics of Latin America and the former British Dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand. [end p31]

The time has not yet come—I hope it never will—when the European Community turns inward upon itself. For Europe is the source of history's greatest endeavour, whereby the spirit of man, restless and ever ambitious, seeks always to renew itself by reaching outwards and upwards.

The challenge for the next generation is to use the growing authority that will come from the greater unity of Europe to span the gaps between races and continents, between the rich and the poor, between the free and the unfree of the world. [end p32]

[Manuscript addition by MT] Our answer to Communism or any other form of totalitarianism is freedom and democracy. Our way respects and enhances human dignity. Theirs destroys it.

It is a time for freedom to go on the offensive. [Typescript resumes]

It will be a great work, and it cannot be carried out by timid minds or faint hearts. We must embark on these honourable causes with a sure hope and trust in ourselves (Cicero). We must tirelessly assert the truth of the free society, and we must match its opportunities with our courage. If not us, who? If not now, when?