Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with French President (Francois Mitterrand)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Millbank Tower, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1200-1230.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4368
Themes: Defence (general), Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Transport

Prime Minister

François MitterrandMr. President, Ladies & Gentlemen of the Press, we come to report to you on the discussions which we have had in this our first major bilateral exchange with France during the presidency of M. Mitterrand. I would like to say that we have had excellent talks, both between the President and myself and also point out to you that the President brought a number of Ministers with him and they have had talks with their opposite numbers. The atmosphere, as you would expect, has been very friendly and very constructive.

We have discussed the more general matters between the President and myself and our respective Ministers have got down to specific details on a number of subjects. Between the President and myself, we have discussed the main Community issues and discussed them in a way which means that we clearly intend to give a good deal of study to the outstanding major matters before the Community, in particular the budget reform and matters such as the Common Fisheries Policy. Of course, we have differences of views on a number of things. If I might put it this way, that makes it more important that we have closer talks and that we do concentrate on some of these matters during this six months, so that we make positive proposals for the Summit in November.

We have also discussed matters such as the multi-fibre agreement and problems of dealing with certain aspects of trade with Japan. France and ourselves have a common interest there.

Further, we have discussed East-West relations. As you already know we take a very similar view on those matters, and on defence matters. [end p1] Indeed, there is almost, I would say, an identity of view, in those spheres.

M. Mitterrand was very keen indeed that we should do all we can to cooperate in research and technology matters and he put forward a number of ways in which we could do so. Naturally, we have also spoken about how we are going to tackle problems which will arise in the North-South dialogue, particularly at Cancun, and we have agreed a proposal put up last week that help to the poorer countries should take priority. We should go towards a target of 0.15%; of GDP to the poorer countries, which we already achieved in the United Kingdom, so that does not give us any problems.

This morning, we have had a plenary session and a number of things have emerged which I might just report to you.

I think you have a special interest for example in the Channel tunnel. We are very keen that studies on this subject should go ahead. We ourselves from our side would wish it to be financed privately. Both Ministers of Transport have had discussions. There are a number of schemes, some seven or eight; we propose to go ahead immediately with joint studies of those schemes and the first meetings between officials will take place within a month.

Finance Ministers and Trade Ministers have reached agreement on how to tackle the consensus on international interest rates as far as trade is concerned. I have left discussions going on between research and technology ministers. We have discussed how best to help the developing countries, whether it should be through an energy affiliate or other means. But in every way, may I stress, these talks have been extremely constructive and very helpful and the talks between the Ministers of Industry, of Finance, of Transport, have concentrated on specific matters and it is quite clear that there will be very close cooperation between French Ministers and British Ministers in the future.

May I now invite the President to give his account of our discussions. [end p2]

President Mitterrand (in French)

As you have just been told, the discussions that we have been holding since yesterday have been very fruitful, useful, precise.

We have dealt with various subjects during our tête-à-tête meeting, a number of issues affecting the whole world and international peace. Naturally, we have spoken of the European Community problems and we have drawn up a number of lines of action for the European revival that is, an emphasised bilateral cooperation.

As far as life in the world is concerned, obviously we can only here speak of East-West relations. We have already had the opportunity to speak on this matter in the very recent past and the subject remains on our agenda, but I think our research is based on this fixed point which should be dealt with very rapidly: the Western forces must be able to maintain the balance, both strategic and tactical, and this balance having been defined and the means of this balance having been implemented, dialogue should be undertaken and deepen between those which we unfortunately refer to as the “two blocs” . This study will be carried on in the discussions to be held in the future, particularly at the Summit. The approach of the United Kingdom and France is ensured or has assured on the one hand the idea of a world balance and here, obviously, a number of efforts have to be made, and on the other hand there is the question of the dialogue which will be undertaken on disarmament. Another aspect of international relations concerns the industrialised countries and the countries of the Third World and particularly this meeting which is going to take place in Cancun in mid-October. [end p3]

We have talked about the aid conditions to the Third World and particularly to the least-developed countries, and we considered that under the general agreements that have been drawn up that is that the aid to the least-developed countries should try and reach the 0.15%; and here there are a number of divergencies because the United Kingdom does supply a very considerable aid to some of the European countries but nevertheless we have agreed that we should try to attain that level.

We have also dealt with the problem of the negotiations which will naturally be global at Cancun, each of the said countries present, particularly those of the Third World and the poor Third World countries, will try to put forward their proposals, their ideas, so the industrialised countries will have to concentrate their ideas and proposals on certain specific points. We have to talk about energy and also the World Bank energy affiliate and all the corresponding systems which will enable us to have a general plan developed to supply credits and their transfer to help towards an energy plan so that means may be available to all the world, which will not be restricted to this terrible cycle that we have between the oil and the dollar.

We also emphasised our willingness to be open to the request from the Third World, because we do not want to increase misunderstanding. France and the United Kingdom are countries who know these matters very well. I think that the contact that we have made and the discussions we have had will help us to make progress along the same lines.

As to the Community, we would have to re-examine the progress and development of the Common Market and I think this is obvious. I will not say that we necessarily have the same objectives in the discussions that we have had, but we agreed that these discussions must take place. Already, those points which have been dealt amongst us have shown that [end p4] through this method we will be able to reduce the differences and overcome them through these bilateral discussions.

Obviously, there is the problem of the surpluses. I think that if I have not brought a result I am sure that our German partners would have brought it up and certainly it has been brought up by our British partners. Obviously, the French have proposals to put forward here, but one cannot separate the problem of surpluses from the problem of imports, imports coming from outside the Community which cause competition and tension within the Community. There are problems which exist between our countries.

There is the British claim for the fisheries; there is the French position; where commitments have been taken, we have to keep to those commitments, but the French position is not to close the door. We must remember as simply as possible what we are considering and what we are deciding. We must defend together against what one might call not necessarily aggression but certain initiatives from the outside. I am thinking particularly of Japan here. The Japanese cannot be blamed here for developing their export means; that is part of their nature, but the Community must take initiatives so that each country of the Community should not try and undertake its own initiatives so that eventually we might have a dangerous invasion into a sector dangerous for our products. So I think that we should take a joint step in this matter. As far as I am concerned, I have said that this risk does not just concern Japan. There is also the discussion concerning certain products from the United States. I am thinking of the policy on soya, for instance, and other agricultural products. We have discussed this in a very friendly atmosphere and I must say that I feel very real progress has been achieved in the understanding of the [end p5] subject, in the wish to resolve it, with already a number of points of solution and I think this is particularly important for the development of Anglo-French relations.

I will confirm what has been said for the multi-fibre arrangement and also on a number of industrial points and I think that the experts and ministers will continue also at the European Summit I think we will try to respect the commitments that have been taken; we will try to see that the interests of our partners are not affected, and the discussions in October will then lead us on to the meeting in November, which will be the Community Summit, because it is the United Kingdom who for the next month holds the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

One new part perhaps which is of importance is the bilateral development on the Anglo/French side, and here I must say that the clarity of spirit and language with which you have spoken, with which the Prime Minister and her Ministers have dealt with the subjects, has helped us to make progress. A number of subjects have been dealt with. The Prime Minister has just reminded us of a European revival. We have also got a bilateral revival.

For instance, there is the Channel tunnel which would perhaps stop being just a sea serpent—if I might choose this rather daring expression. Studies are going to be undertaken once again and the work will be resumed. Obviously, each of the two countries will have to carry out its own specific means of financing, but this is the way we are going to go and this is how we hope to progress.

We have carried on discussions on the airbus and also on space organisations. These are all matters that we shall deal with later. We have also discussed telecommunications, engines, computers. It seems to me that there have been a number of joint initiatives taken and their scope should be greatly enlarged to that which we knew in the past. [end p6] Obviously this is in the interests of both countries. Obviously, I am defending the French interests here and the Prime Minister is defending British interests, but what is important is to consider today that these interests are very often complementary and we have been very happy to be able to defend our national, legitimate interests and also the European interests and very often these have been harmonous. I have not emphasised the European revival too much; but obviously it is necessary and we want to build it. We feel that it is going along the right lines. I would recall that there are certain rules that we are keeping to, the multi-preferences, but this is all part of the treaty that commits us all.

You cannot live alone on ancient ideas but the general idea is the one that presided over the feeling of advances in the future.

I would like to say how happy I am to be in London and to meet you and also it has been a pleasure for the Ministers who have accompanied me to stand once again on British soil. My generation has gone through many great events. I myself lived for a time here. I was part of the life of the people here during those sad years of 1942–1944. I know very well what the hospitality of the British people was like and how kind the people of London were to the exiles that we were. I have a memory of a great people and I am sure that they will continue to be great and I would like to thank you for the hospitality that you have offered us today. Thank you. [end p7]

Michael Brunson (ITN)

Prime Minister, you said in your statement that you were both, I think, very keen that studies should go ahead on the Channel tunnel, about which, as you rightly said, there is a great deal of interest. Does that mean that …   . by both sides to the idea of getting that Channel tunnel built?

Prime Minister

I should be very happy if we could come to an agreement that would be acceptable to both of us on a suitable Channel link. There are a number of different schemes, in spite of all that has been studied in the past. We are now going to study those schemes together. The first meeting will take place within a month. We hope that they will achieve a positive result. I am sure the President will speak for France.

Have you anything to add, Mr. President, about the Channel tunnel?

President Mitterrand

I would say that we are looking to see where we put our feet, but we are making progress. Before we act, obviously we have to reflect on this, but we are not doing this just in an airy-fairy-fashioned way. We are considering precise studies and we will begin this next month.

Christine Claire ( “Figaro” Magazine)

Prime Minister, the day before President Mitterrand came to London, the French Government announced an important nationalisation programme. I would like to know if during your discussions you have mentioned this and if personally you have any doubts, as the liberals in France doubt that this economic system will perhaps lead to an isolation. [end p8]

Prime Minister

I cannot discuss that. French internal matters are a matter for the President and not for me.

Question (Israel)

I would like to ask you a question about the Middle East. What is your position about the possibility of a nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and especially will France rebuild the Euratom nuclear reactor?

Prime Minister

Our position: we are signatories of the Non-Proliferation Agreement and we adhere to that.

With regard to the latter part of your question, I will ask the President to answer.

President Mitterrand

This subject was not discussed by the various delegations, either British or French, and I would not like this brief press conference to deal with this subject which I would have to admit is difficult. I am not saying that it is not important, I understand very well the reason why the question was put, but I would just say that France, in its various trade relations on nuclear reactors, has made sure that civil methods should not serve the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I am sure that we shall talk about this later on and I hope that I have another opportunity to talk about it.


Did you discuss the Polish question? Secondly, speaking now to the President, you know very well what attitude was taken yesterday by the British trade union members on nuclear disarmament. Will you be following [end p9] the example of your Socialist friends here in the United Kingdom?

Prime Minister

Of course, we had a brief discussion on events in Poland and our position, I think, remains exactly the same as it always has. It is for Poland to determine her future and she must be left alone to determine it. In the meantime, when she requires help with food or help with her debts or financial help, we have tried to provide this, at her request.

With regard to the TUC decision, I realise that your question was addressed to the President. I can only tell you that this country's nuclear policy will continue to be what it has. We have had an independent nuclear deterrent ever since World War II almost, through governments of both a Labour complexion and a Conservative complexion. I believe it is vital to defending the future of this country and the policy will continue, and I would say that the party that is totally isolated among international parties on this, is part of the Socialist Party of Britain.

Mr. President, do you wish to make any comment about the TUC?

President Mitterrand

In any case, the question was put to me! As to Poland, the position is known and that is we would not interfere. We do not want to be hypocritical here. Since the Second World War, we have known what the exact position of Poland is, but our claims have been developed as to fundamental freedom in that country and we cannot just ignore events. We cannot forget that Poland and France have often been linked in history. We are very aware of what can happen in that country. We are very sensitive to what can affect their lives. Non-interference means that we want very [end p10] actively that each of our partners and each of their partners, in particular the Soviet Union, realise how important the balance in the world must be to lead to detente and that everybody should scrupulously respect the Polish intentions. There is conflict, obviously. There are contradictions. There is the Popular Movement and at the moment there is an economic crisis where the social and human effects are very serious and France considers that it is necessary to contribute what it can to financial aid, food aid and obviously we expect to continue to give such aid to help in the events taking place in Poland at the moment.

As to the British trade unions, just now I heard the Prime Minister reply, but she did not want to put forward an opinion, as Prime Minister obviously, on the nationalisation in France! I am more or less convinced that Mrs. Thatcher does have an opinion, but I am thanking her for her attitude as an official and for her discretion as to the French policies which obviously only affect the French and I would do the same thing for the trade unions! I do not want to get involved in a discussion. I have got an idea how many passions this can arouse in this country, but indeed, you are right to say “your Socialist friends” . We belong to the same states, we have personal relations, and what I would like is that trade unions on one hand and the Labour Party on the other hand have as good relations between themselves as I have with each of them. They are at the moment involved in a major discussion, but that is your affair. They consider it is necessary to proceed to nuclear disarmament, you say. If they consider that is in the interests of their country, they have the right to do that. I, as one responsible for the French policies, would say that we have had to review our position, particularly from the military side. We consider that our defence is a question of a strategy of dissuasion and we think that the defence of our country requires this position to be taken, and we have taken it. And so, we intend to ensure [end p11] the independence of our country by the autonomy of position and by having sufficient forces to dissuade any possible adversary to undertaking any aggression against us. As you know, I have taken decisions which go towards restrengthening our armaments, particularly as far as nuclear submarines are concerned. But that is for France and commits the French. I am not committing the British trade unions nor the British Labour members. I am not committing any of my friends. I am talking here as a socialist, but we have always respected national steps. This is one of the bases of our contracts. I cannot say any more.

As Mrs. Thatcher considers nationalisation, I also have my ideas on the development of Socialist ideas in Great Britain, but I am not going to put them forward here.

Murray (Liverpool Daily Post)

Did you discuss the relations with the United States and did you consider, after the exchanges of letters and the suggestions from the Summit, that France and Britain should also take part in any Summit between the US and the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

We did not discuss these matters. We have recently been all together at the Ottawa Conference and relations between all the members of the Ottawa Conference were very good on these matters and, of course, we discussed things very closely then with President Reagan. We did not add to those discussions today.

Question (West Berlin)

If I might go into a slightly wider context for a moment, Mr. President, the last time I had a chance to question you at a press conference was at [end p12] your most famous one in Paris in June 1968. Do you still think now, historically, now that you have arrived, that you were right to give this press conference? Was one reason why you included Communists in your Government that they faced de Gaulle, and what is the most important changes that have taken place now in France?

Prime Minister

I am very sorry. I am going to rule your question completely out of order. This press conference is on discussions—bilateral discussions—between France and Britain. Next question.


The French Foreign Minister has recently met with Yasser Arafat of the PLO. It is said that the British Foreign Secretary is considering a meeting with Mr. Arafat. In any way, do the French side share with the British side its experience as to whether that meeting was worthwhile?

Prime Minister

There have been discussions on the Middle Eastern situation between Lord Carrington and M. Chaisson. Lord Carrington has no plans to meet Mr. Arafat. It may be that as President of the Community, in that capacity he would have to meet the head of the PLO, as previous Presidents have done. He has no plans at present to do so.

President Mitterrand

The importance of the impact of meeting such a political person, the important thing is to know what is said, so it is the content of the discussions and the objectives one is trying to achieve that is essential. [end p13]

Question (Japanese person, difficult to transcribe)

The President told us that you are going to take joint steps on Japan. Could you tell us what sort of joint steps you are going to take in detail? Mr. President, how will you respond to the statement of the Japanese Government that Japan will agree the limitation of a quota of the exports of her cars to EEC if each country like France abandons their protective measures such as limiting the share of the Japanese car to 3%; and if the EEC as a whole demand a quota of the export of Japanese cars?

Prime Minister

When we have negotiations on trade with a non-Community country, those negotiations, as you know, have to be conducted through the Community. The Community has been keeping a surveillance on Japanese imports in various spheres for some time. We are anxious that any negotiations should be conducted through the Community. If separate countries negotiate with Japan, they can only do it on an industry-to-industry basis and by way of voluntary agreements. That is the way it is conducted at present. For example, both our car industry and our electronics industry have agreements between them and the industries in Japan, but when it comes to negotiating as a country, we can only do it through the Community and we wish negotiations to be carried forward through the Community. The particular point is that Japan tends to concentrate on certain specific industries and that really can have a devastating effect on the industries of our countries and we must put this point to our Japanese friends.

President Mitterrand

The industrial activity of Japan is very much to be respected. One certainly should not reproach a country which is so dynamic in trying to [end p14] conquer outside markets, but the question is to have a balanced world, so that trade does not harm relations between our people.

My sole response would be that which has already been given. We have decided that it is for the EEC to take the initiatives and they have been discussed, but it is for the Community to take the initiative; for the countries not to start getting involved in competitive discussions one between the other. As far as France is concerned, can one say that France is really taking protectionist measures as a sort of a safeguard? Perhaps one might say that France is the only country in that case I can quote as far as some of the countries we referred to, there have been trade attacks, public health measures. There are safeguard measures, but one has to carry out a serious and honest examination of these matters to get a real idea of what it is, but I think there should be an equal opening of the domestic market in Japan with European countries, but once one has said that there are the various questions to be dealt with, but we could make immense progress. We could try to plan trade with the Japanese market. The points of comparison are difficult to get and it is important to have a friendly discussion in this.

Question (Arabic Newspaper)

What is your reaction towards rapid deployment force, especially Mrs. Thatcher, and what do you say about your ex-Navy Secretary yesterday told me that Britain allowed America to station nuclear submarine in Diego Garcia?

Prime Minister

We did not in fact discuss these matters at the bilateral talks and I am not therefore going to go into them. This is a conference about the bilateral talks. Our view on the rapid deployment force remains the same. [end p15] If the United States wishes to set one up, we would be willing to make a small contribution to it. Such a force would be available for use at the request of the home country.


Prime Minister, did you discuss the future of Concorde?

Prime Minister

We ourselves did not discuss the future of Concorde. The appropriate Ministers did discuss Concorde and will be continuing their discussions at a meeting later in London. These matters are governed by treaty.

Mr. President, anything to add?

President Mitterrand

We have merely decided to carry out this examination which is a ritual examination. It goes on year after year, and I think there is another meeting in October, but what we have decided is not to decide anything else, which I think is important. We are very proud of this great supersonic aircraft, but any decisions we take will be joint decisions, so the way in which the situation of Concorde is studied can only be an Anglo-French decision.