Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Article for Hamburger Abendblatt

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 647/78
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 0001.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 796
Themes: Conservative Party (organization), European elections, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Famous statements by MT

It is nearly two years since I spoke at the Congress of the C.D.U. in Hanover. This was one of the first major European commitments which I undertook after becoming Leader of the Conservative Party, and it made a deep impression on me. I came home from Germany confirmed in my belief that the main inspiration behind the European ideal was political rather than economic—and convinced that the Parties of the Centre and Right in Europe had so much in common and so much at risk that they must learn to work together more effectively.

Of course it is true that the European Economic Community has an important economic role. We can see this more clearly now that the prospects for world trade and world growth look bleak. At such times the temptation is always to put up the barriers and to restrict trade. The countries of Europe, including Britain, would almost certainly have reacted to the present circumstances in a much more protectionist way had it not been for the existence of the European Community. It is no small thing to have completed and preserved a customs union covering a market of nearly 300 million people.

It is also true that we need a framework within which to conduct international trade. Increasingly the European Community represents its member states when negotiating this framework, whether it be with Japan, with the U.S. in the multi-lateral trade negotiations, with overseas textile and steel producers or with our partners in the Lome Convention. Together we negotiate as the biggest trade group in the world, and this too is a step forward. But we must be careful about the use to which we put this bargaining strength. [end p1]

We are entitled to gain for our European industries a breathing space during which they can prepare to face a changed world. We are not entitled to isolate Europe behind high permanent barriers. We are not entitled to deny to the European customer the choice of the goods which he or she prefers. The Treaty of Rome is a treaty for competition and free enterprise. The Community's institutions are intended to help expand trade, not restrict it.

Nor is this a coincidence. One of the contributions of Europe to civilisation has been our instinct and ability to invent, to manufacture, and then to buy and sell freely across frontiers and oceans. At times of difficulty it is all the more important to keep this instinct alive.

But the main reason for coming together is political. Immediately after the war Winston Churchill told us that the key to peace in Europe was the reconciliation of France and Germany. The European Community embodies that reconciliation. It achieved a wider horizon when it grew from six members to nine, and I hope that the same will happen again when Greece, Spain and Portugal are admitted.

Today, our children take peace in Europe for granted, and that is in itself a remarkable event for anyone with a sense of history.

During the last two centuries the peoples of Western Europe have at intervals of 30 or 40 years made war upon each other. If this historical cycle was still operating we would be due for another European war about now. Instead, next year we have the prospect of going to the polls for the first time to elect a democratic European Parliament, albeit with limited powers. So let us not be impatient with the progress which we have made. Direct Elections to the European Parliament will be worth more than a footnote in history.

But we must not be content, for we have not yet done enough. There is a threat to our freedom from within and outside our own boundaries. We must make it clear to all that Euro-Communism is a contradiction in terms.

It is not for us to tell people in other countries how to vote. But membership of the European Community could not be reconciled with totalitarian policies. The French people were wise to refuse to entrust their freedom to Communists, even in partnership with others. [end p2]

Marxists get up early in the morning to further their cause. We must get up even earlier to defend our freedom. We must not allow ourselves the luxury of disunity. I would like to see greater understanding and more effective co-operation between like-minded Parties in Europe, whether their historical tradition is Conservative or Christian Democrat. Of course the tactical needs are different in each country. But we would not be forgiven if we allowed Marxism to triumph in Europe simply because we lacked the energy and imagination to come together to withstand it.

I am not speaking of a negative anti-Marxist front. It is never enough to talk only about the things which we are against. We need now a positive declaration of the values which we share, and of the policies through which these values can be made real. I am convinced that the instinct of the peoples of Europe is sound. It is an instinct for democracy and for freedom under the law. It is the duty of politicians in each of our countries to give this instinct expression.