Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at dinner for West German Chancellor (Helmut Schmidt)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: House of Commons Library: press release
Editorial comments: 2015.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1134
Themes: Defence (general), European Union (general), European Union Budget

Prime Minister's speech at dinner in honour of Chancellor Schmidt

Following are main extracts from a speech by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, at a dinner given by her majesty's government in honour of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Herr Helmut Schmidt, at 10 Downing Street on Thursday 10 May 1979.

Mr Chancellor, your country was mentioned with admiration in two recent documents, in one of which I myself had a hand. I refer, of course, to the Conservative and the Labour Party manifestos. It is not difficult to see why. The Federal Republic offers an enviable example of economic and social progress combined with social and political stability… I firmly believe that, given the right policies and the right leadership, the same progress lies within the grasp of the British people. That is the task to which my government has this week set its hand.

Our countries share a wide range of vital interests.

First and foremost, we are both members of the North Atlantic Alliance. That membership is a cornerstone of our foreign policy, as it is of yours. The British forces committed by treaty to the mainland of Europe are, after those of the Federal Republic and the United States, the largest NATO forces in the central region. The United Kingdom is one of the three protecting powers in Berlin. As Her Majesty the Queen reminded the people of Berlin only last year, our commitment to the freedom and security of Berlin is absolute. It is my government's firm intention (though, with the Geoffrey HoweChancellor of the Exchequer here, I need perhaps to say, “so far as our means permit” ), to maintain and improve the capability of Britain's armed forces. We shall play our full part, with such measures as may be agreed to be necessary in countering the military threat. We share a common interest in a military balance between East and West, for we share a common belief that such a balance genuinely contributes to stability and peace in Europe.

Second, the framework within which we operate is the same for both of us: a world of dear raw materials, tough competition and demanding markets. In this world, the largest single trading unit is the European Community. Let me, therefore, at the very beginning of what will I hope be a long and close association between us, make clear the spirit in which I and my government approach the EEC.

Third, we as a government are committed to British membership of the Community. The decision was taken by Parliament and confirmed by the British people. Ours is not a grudging acquiescence in Community membership. We believe it is not only right for Europe but right for this country. Our purpose is to engage fully and actively with our partners in developing the Community.

Let me repeat what we said in our manifesto: “there is much that we can achieve together, much more than we can achieve alone.” this approach will underlie all our dealings in the Community. We shall want to narrow areas of disagreement, not to enlarge them, to solve [end p1]

It has been suggested by some people in this country that I and my government will be a “soft touch” in the Community. In case such a rumour may have reached your ears, Mr Chancellor, from little birds in Smith Square, Belgrave Square, or anywhere else, it is only fair that I should advise you frankly to dismiss it (as my own colleagues did, long ago). We shall judge what British interests are and we shall be resolute in defending them. I am sure you take the same approach in the Federal Republic.

If policies are working badly, the fact will indeed show up first in the form of unfair consequences for one member or another. When this happens, to put the policies right is not just an act of charity or of justice. It is essential for the health and well-being of the Community as a whole. Of course we must have an agreement on the fishing industry which takes our special position into account.

Of course it is bad for the United Kingdom if the Community spends a large part of its resources storing and disposing of unwanted agricultural surpluses.

And of course it is unacceptable to the United Kingdom to pay the lion's share of the enormous costs of this operation. But it is not good for the Community either.

There is nothing wrong in finding that after a certain number of years policies need to be changed to meet new circumstances, or that anomalies which flow from them need to be corrected. Such necessary changes must be made by agreement amongst the member governments. In making them, we shall not undermine the Community: we shall make it better able to serve the common interest, and to be fair, just, and reasonable to all its members.

We shall therefore be looking to our partners to make an effort of understanding and of goodwill. Of understanding, because we shall be asking them to take a new look at the way certain policies have worked and not simply to cling to them because they are long established and familiar. Of goodwill, because it is hard to accept modifications of policies and arrangements which bring national advantages. If other countries' own interests are being well served, why should they take account of the disadvantages incurred by Britain? They will do so only if—they too firmly believe that the Community is not only a matter of seeking advantages for oneself.—they too believe that we must all prosper together.,—they too believe that the rising tide of prosperity must indeed lift all the ships and not leave one or two stranded on the sandbanks. This is my European philosophy. If our partners share this vision I believe that together we shall find solutions to our problems. Without that vision and without a readiness to make adjustments and sacrifices in the broader Community interest, our enterprise could not succeed. But I believe that with your help, Mr. Chancellor, and with the support of our fellow heads of government, we shall succeed and that we shall make it better able to go forward in the common interest. All these points are familiar to you—but we shall pursue them against the background of a deep belief in the ideals and purpose of the Community—as problems which impede the achievement of the longer purpose.

And finally let me say a word about my own European philosophy.

It is founded in the belief: that the variety of our distinct nation states which we must always cherish, is enriched by a common [end p2] purpose, that the view of free Europe is stronger when we pursue our ideals together.

The vision of Europe which I am sure you, Mr. Chancellor, will recognise and share is one that first and foremost offers peace, prosperity, liberty and democracy to all within it, a Community whose voice will always be heard throughout the world advocating the case of justice. A Europe within which freedom means also free enterprise, fair competition, and the chance for every citizen to take his own decisions and to develop his own talents.

I believe that this concept of Europe is nearer to realisation than many people suppose and that by our joint efforts in the Community we can bring it closer still.