Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at "Youth for Europe" Rally

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1505-45. The press release (859/79) was embargoed until 1445. The audience consisted of some 2,000 Young Conservatives. MT deeply disliked the acoustics of the NEC and found it a difficult place to speak.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2102
Themes: Agriculture, Civil liberties, Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, European elections, European Union (general), European Union Budget, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Religion & morality

I am delighted to be here at the “Youth for Europe” Rally, just five days before voting takes place for the first elected Parliament of the European Community.

We've just won one election—now let's go for the double.

Next week, 180 million free people of nine different free countries will go to the polls in freedom to elect one free Parliament to represent them all.

They will do so in a Western Europe which for the first time in its history is composed entirely of democratic Governments. How we all welcomed Portugal and Spain into the democratic European family. [end p1]

The new Assembly will be the first multi-national, multi-lingual Parliament ever to be elected in the long story of man's continuing struggle for peace and freedom.

That is why this great Rally in Birmingham has such special significance. This is not just another routine political meeting. History is being made in this month of June 1979. Next week's election marks a crucial milestone in Europe's journey.

And you are here to show your faith in the future of a free Europe and your determination that it shall have a predominantly democratic Conservative Parliament. [end p2]

The present nominated Assembly has 66 Socialist and 18 Communist Members.

Thus the Left has 84 Members, compared with 114 for the Centre Right Parties. But let's not be too complacent. We should remember that three years ago, 12½ million people voted Communist in Italy and that just over a year ago nearly 6 million people voted Communist in France.

We are determined to do our utmost to see that in the new directly elected Parliament of 410 members, there is a clear majority for the Centre Right Parties.

There is every prospect that we will achieve this, with British Conservative Members as the largest single national group. [end p3]

The Socialists may be divided in this country, but the Communists and Socialists are well organised elsewhere.

Wherever there is a representative Assembly, Conservatives and those who share our beliefs in a free society, must fight with that zeal and dedication which, too often in the past, has been the prerogative of the Left.

Whenever a representative Assembly is being elected, those who believe in democracy have a duty to cast their vote.

Next Thursday we are asking not only for a massive turn-out of voters, but for a massive Conservative vote. [end p4]

Conservative principles do not change when we cross the Channel.

There must be a golden thread of consistency running through our policies for Britain and our policies for the European Community.

During our own Election campaign, we argued for reduced public spending, lower taxation, more effective competition and a relentless war on bureaucracy.

We shall pursue these same objectives in Europe. [end p5]

During this European Election, we argue for reduced spending on the Common Agricultural Policy; a lower net Budget contribution from Britain—indeed we could do with some of the money that we pay to the European Budget to reduce income tax here—nearer to European levels; and we argue strenuously against the unnecessary deluge of detailed directives.

But above all, we stressed in the General Election and we stress now the overriding need to preserve and defend the ideal and the reality of freedom. [end p6]

We may ponder for a moment what that ideal of European freedom means to us.

Just after the War, when most of Europe lay in ruins, Winston Churchill spoke at Zurich of what he called “the European Family” .

He taught us that we must provide that Family “with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.”

Other Declarations have spelt out the philosophy of freedom in the most compelling terms—the American Declaration of Independence, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and the Roosevelt Declaration of Four Freedoms. [end p7]

These earlier declarations proclaimed the freedoms which we in this country have long taken for granted. But they said nothing about the economic structure necessary to put them into practice.

There can be no freedom without a free enterprise economy. Every free country in the world is a free enterprise country. That is a truth which some have been slow to accept.

Indeed there are those who attack free enterprise, while formally proclaiming political freedom.

In so doing they are preaching the virtue of liberty, while plotting the downfall of the very economic organisation which is its foundation. [end p8]

Unlike those earlier Declarations, the Treaty of Rome says little about the ideal of freedom, but defines at length the economic structures necessary to sustain it.

It is a Treaty based on free and fair competition in trade; on the free movement of people, goods and capital across traditional frontiers.

It is a treaty between peoples who have no time for hate, but only for living together in liberty, mutual cooperation and security.

Above all, it is a treaty which gives to the young people of Western Europe the opportunity to live in peace with one another, an opportunity which was denied to previous generations. [end p9]

That is why we in the Conservative Party reaffirm our commitment to the European ideal before 2,000 young Europeans.

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

We Conservatives accept the moral commitments of a free society:

—a commitment to respect for the law

—a commitment to the family as the natural and fundamental unit of a free society

—a commitment to high standards of integrity in education

—a commitment to the widest possible diffusion of ownership. Where there are no private property rights, there are no human rights.

—a commitment to help the weak and unfortunate.

Indeed only a truly free society can create the resources adequate to care for those in need.

We believe in a free Europe but not a standardised Europe. The intellectual and material richness of Europe lies in its variety.

Diminish that variety within the Member States, and you impoverish the whole Community. [end p10]

We in Britain came late into membership and have been slow to find our role within it.

Next week's elections give us a chance to find a new role and to give a fresh impetus to Conservative influence in the Community as a whole.

You will have read and know of our industrial and commercial decline relative to Europe



Year after year we have been falling further behind our friends and neighbours. We Conservatives cannot indefinitely tolerate our country becoming the poor relation of Western Europe.

Nor should we. The potential of this country is great.

If Germany and France can profit from the opportunities of being in the Community—so can we.

There's no magic about how they did it.

They didn't stand there complaining at the magnitude of their problems.

They got stuck into them—and diminished them. [end p11]

Let us not be dismayed by our difficulties.

Rather let us be stirred by the challenge. The greater the difficulty, the greater the scope and call for action.

We respond to that call today and every day.

European in ideal though we are, we shall nevertheless argue tenaciously for our national interests when these are at stake.

We are not alone in that. [end p12]

There are two parts of the Community policy which are long overdue for reform.

First, the United Kingdom pays more than any other Member Country to the Community Budget, even though we are the seventh poorest of the nine.

This year we will be contributing about 18%; of the total Budget, though our share of the GNP is only 15½ per cent.

The contribution which we are making is manifestly unjust and we shall work resolutely to ensure that ours is a fair and not an unfair contribution. [end p13]

We shall give a high priority to ensuring that the system of payments into the Budget is more closely related to ability to pay, and that Britain receives greater benefit from budgetary spending.

Second, the Common Agricultural Policy is collapsing under the weight of its own surpluses.

We seek a freeze in Common prices for products in structural surplus, including dairy products and cereals.

And this freeze should be maintained until the surpluses are eliminated.

National Governments wishing to help their own farmers should be allowed to do so. But this should be seen for what it is—a social rather than an agricultural problem—and the cost should not fall on the CAP. [end p14]

Although it is important for the Community to achieve a high degree of self-sufficiency in food the CAP should be sufficiently flexible for it to import more low cost food.

The whole economy of New Zealand relies heavily on exports to Britain; so we will strive within the Community to obtain lasting arrangements to provide continuing access to our market. [end p15]

But we shall do these things as whole-hearted supporters of the Community and as resolute champions of the European ideal.

In politics it is the half-hearted who lose.

It is those with conviction who carry the day.

In Europe, as in Britain, the Conservative Party is the Party of conviction. [end p16]

We are convinced that it is in the interests of Britain as well as Europe that our partnership should succeed.

We insist that the institutions of the European Community are managed so that they increase the liberty of the individual throughout our continent.

These institutions must not be permitted to dwindle into bureaucracy. Whenever they fail to enlarge freedom the institutions should be criticised and the balance restored.

But the real benefit will come to your generation and to those who come after, in years which my generation will not see. [end p17]

In the preamble to the Treaty of Rome, the founder members affirmed their commitment to eliminate the barriers within the Community. I can think of no more exciting prospect for the youth of Europe than to be able, as you will, to move freely without a passport from one Member State to another or to acquire a qualification or a skill which will enable you to work anywhere within the Community.

Just as we have insisted in our own elections on the need to strengthen our defence forces, so our European ideal insists on the capacity of the Community countries together with our other NATO allies to defend our way of life against any military threat from outside. [end p18]

Communism never sleeps, never changes its objectives, nor must we. Our first duty to freedom is to defend our own. Then one day we might export a little to those peoples who have to live without it. Let no one be under any misunderstanding about the inflexible resolve of Her Majesty's Government to strengthen our defences and to play our full part in the defence of a free Europe.

The population of the nine Member States is as large as that of the Soviet Union.

Add Greece and the two other applicant countries which we hope soon to welcome as full members, and the Community will exceed 300 million free people.

There is no need for Europeans to quake before any threat from the Soviet colossus. [end p19]

One of my wisest predecessors, LordSalisbury, made the point very clearly 100 years ago:

“If we mean to escape misery and dishonour, we must trust to no consciousness of a righteous cause, to no moral influence, to no fancied restraints of civilisation …   . We must trust to our power of self-defence, and to no other earthly aid.”

Today, Europe is still divided by opposing concepts of human rights in the Western and Eastern halves of our continent.

So long as men and women are persecuted or imprisoned for their political beliefs—for daring to assert the right of every individual to dispute the official line. [end p20]

So long as people are denied the right to worship as they wish, freely and openly—

So long as constraints are imposed on where people may travel, what they may read and what they may say.

So long as dissent—the inborn right of every human being and the cherished legacy of our European individualism—is regarded as treason or betrayal—

So long as the Berlin Wall and the fortified frontiers divide East from West —the European ideal, the European values which we cherish will never be secure. [end p21]

None of us can practice isolation or neutralism and hope to live in safety.

Only if we pool our resources and share in each other's strength will free Europe survive.

Only if we speak together can we expect the world to heed the voice of Europe.

The new directly elected European Parliament will be one expression of that voice.

Let us ensure that the Voice of Freedom speaks with firmness and courage and imagination to a troubled world. [end p22]

In the words of Goethe:

“Resolute, now claim your hour, For the throng may quail and drift; For the noble soul has power To compass all if wise and swift.”