Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with Italian Prime Minister (Giovanni Spadolini)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Millbank Tower, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1700-1750.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5167
Themes: Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), European Union (general), European Union Budget, Economic, monetary & political union, Media, British relations with Italy

(Transcriber's Note: Just as Mrs. Thatcher commenced speaking the tape switched to the Italian interpreter speaking in Italian, which I have translated approximately. There were other occasions when the switchover from one language to the other left much to be desired. The Italian interpreter has been transcribed verbatim. James Lee)

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentleman,

This is the …   . (tape switches to the Italian Interpreter who says in Italian: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the third bilateral series of talks which we have held with our Italian friends. The first talk was with Signor [inaudible], also Signor Colombo … and now we continue the discussions. It is not the first time Signor Spadolini and I have met …) (Tape switches, back to Mrs. Thatcher)

… also at the Economic Summit in Ottawa. On this occasion, we have discussed a considerable number of things: the economic conditions in our respective countries. There is a certain similarity in the need to contain expenditure and the fight against inflation. We also spent a considerable amount of time discussing the mandate of the European Community for the reform of three things: first, all of the social and industrial expenditure; second, all of the common agricultural policy; and thirdly, the reform of the budget. Those three things, as you know, are part of the 30th May mandate and will be coming up at the next European Council this November, on November 26th. Before that, there will be a meeting in Brussels [end p1] under Douglas Hurd 's chairmanship tomorrow, and also a meeting of Foreign Ministers next week to try to get a basis for us to discuss the mandate at the European Heads of Government Council towards the end of November.

Naturally, we also discussed a number of other things. East-West relations, including Poland. The situation in Poland is, of course, the same from our viewpoint as it has been for some time, namely that Poland must be left to decide her own destiny in her own way and that if she makes a request to us for economic help, as she does from time to time, or food aid, we do our best to assist her, knowing how important it is for her future that she should be able to come through her economic problems reasonably well.

We have also discussed the Middle East and the Sinai position. As you know, the governments of Italy and Great Britain, together with those of France and the Netherlands, have stated that we are disposed, at the request of the Government of the United States, to participate in a Sinai multi-national force if an appropriate basis for that participation can be established, and that basis would have to be in conformity with the fundamental and well-known position which the four governments have taken up, together with the other member states of the European Community, on Middle Eastern questions.

Of course, we discussed quickly various other European matters, the multi-fibre agreement and steel and some of the problems which give both of us very considerable cause for concern and which mean a great deal to us for the employment of the peoples in our countries. We look forward to the next European Council [end p2] and believe that progress will be made on the mandate, which will be the main subject on the agenda.

May I just ask Signor Spadolini to add anything that he wishes to add.

Signor Spadolini (Italian Interpreter)

The expression of my congratulations for this visit which is within the framework of friendship between the UK and Italy. I would like to give as much time as possible to questions.

Prime Minister

That is the briefest introduction we have ever had! Wonderful! Questions now. I can scarcely see you. Yes please! Would you get up and say who you are and who you represent and go full steam ahead! [end p3]

Question

I represent ANSA (phon.). When you said, Mr. President [sic], that participation is tied to the basis of the whole attitude of the EEC, in other words participation in the multi-national force in Sinai, does this mean that the four countries will tie this participation to their Venice Declaration?

Prime Minister

It is not tied to anything. We made the Venice Declaration and the Venice Declaration persists. That is our position and one cannot just absolve from it. The Venice Declaration persists. When we made the Venice Declaration we made it perfectly clear at the time that we intended the Venice Declaration to be complementary to the Camp David process.

Question (John Dickie, Daily Mail)

Does that mean, Prime Minister, that any statement about the participation of British and Italian forces in the Sinai must be accompanied by a positive reaffirmation of the Venice Declaration and the commitments of the EEC to that?

Prime Minister

Well, I reaffirm the Venice Declaration almost every time I answer questions in the House of Commons. We agreed on that Declaration. It persists and it was made complementary to the Camp David process. I do not think there is any more I can usefully add. That is the position and remains the position. [end p4]

Question (John Dickie)

A supplementary, Prime Minister. You know that the Israeli Government are stating that if Western governments accompany their announcement of troops with any reference to Venice, they will not accept the troops.

Prime Minister

I cannot answer for the Israeli Government. You know, under the terms of the agreement, there is set out a whole series of conditions as to what the force is for and my recollection is that those who take part in the force—I think perhaps you will check with the agreement—have to be approved by both Israel and Egypt, or have to be agreed both by Israel and Egypt. Perhaps “approved” is not the right word—agreed by Israel and Egypt.

We were hoping that the request that we had received from the United States, we were hoping that we will be able to participate in that force in order to help the United States.

Signor Spadolini, would you like to add anything? No! Would you like to ask Signor Spadolini a question? Can we have a question for Signor Spadolini?

Question

Could I just keep to the Sinai just once more perhaps. When do you think now we may have a decision from the British Government and the Italian Government and the other two governments on the troop commitment and really, can we allow [end p5] the Israelis to in fact veto, as they are doing at the present moment, a British commitment to the Sinai force?

Prime Minister

Well, the force would have to be in place by the 25th of March, 1982, so there is a little time for consultations to go on further, but I think, if you look, I think it is in Article 6 of the Camp David Agreement, I think you will find that those who take part in the multi-national force have to be agreed by both Egypt and Israel. I think I am correct. It is not long since I looked at it.

Question (Italian Television)

I just want to ask Mr. Spadolini, if you do not mind.

Prime Minister

I would be delighted!

Question (in Italian)

Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you if Israel and Egypt or one or the other are not agreed on this peace force, what will Italy decide firstly and the other three countries who have decided to send a peace force in Sinai?

Signor Spadolini

The decision on Sinai is and will be a European one. The four countries, as Mrs. Thatcher just said, are very closely [end p6] tied to the Community and at the moment when they accepted the invitation of the United States to participate in this force, they previously consulted the other countries of the EEC in order to have their agreement.

This week we expected a communique. There has not been one. Well, the four countries … allow me a few moments time …   . the four countries have shown their adherence to the invitation of the United States, so there was no question of Italy having a role of being the leader or the number two. There was on the part of the United Kingdom, of France and of the Netherlands the wish to accept the invitation of the United States. We are gathered here in order to examine our availability and we have repeated this in our meeting, to see if we can have an appropriate basis for this participation in conformity with the four governments tied to the Venice Declaration, which we consider as being absolutely complementary to the Camp David Accord.

Can you think of a joint communique on the European decision in the next few days?

Yes, we have contacts at this very moment in Washington. I cannot, of course, pre-empt what is going to happen in the United States.

Question

…   . (beginning inaudible) …   . as the United States Government obviously does not consider the Venice Declaration as complementary to Camp David, would you explain, Prime Minister, are these forces in the Sinai about Camp David, are they forces to carry out the [end p7] Camp David Agreement or are they forces to carry out the Venice Declaration, which is something else?

Prime Minister

The Sinai force would be in accordance with the Egypt-Israel Agreement to carry out the tasks under that agreement. I am not quite certain otherwise of the significance of the question. That is the only purpose of the multi-national force in Sinai; it is to carry out the Egypt-Israel Agreement under the terms of that agreement, but we, those of us who have been asked to participate in the Agreement from Europe, also belong to the Venice Declaration. We do.

Question

You mean you want to extend the purpose or …

Prime Minister

No, no, no! The two are not mutually exclusive. That is what I am trying to say to you. The fact that one accepts a request from the United States if we can agree the basis of participation, does not in any way stop us from propounding the Venice Agreement, to which we are agreed and to which we remain agreed. What I am trying to say is that the two are not exclusive …   . mutually exclusive. [end p8]

Question (Murray, Liverpool Daily Post)

Could you tell us, Prime Minister, who is going to pay for the maintenance for an indefinite period, if it comes off?

Prime Minister

Look! Agreement has not yet been reached. These are matters which are the subject of consultation now. There is quite a lot of time yet. The force would not have to be in position until March 1982. There is quite a lot of time to do further consultations to see if we can reach an agreed basis for participation.

Question Corriere Della Sera (in Italian)

I wanted to ask the viewpoint of the UK Government on the eight-point plan of Prince Fahd and also on what we have heard constantly about a possible meeting between the Foreign Minister in Britain, Lord Carrington, and the leader of the PLO, Mr. Arafat. (in English) First of all, I would like to know your opinion on the proposed meeting.

Prime Minister

You go first! You go first; I have done too much talking! [end p9]

What was it? Crown Prince Fahd 's eight principles and also the … on the latter one, I answered a question in the House today. Please will you get the precise wording. I do not wish to differ from it in any way. Secondly, on the Saudi initiative, I think we were pleased the initiative was made. We could not, obviously, agree with each and every one of its particulars, but we note that its seventh principle in particular that it states the right of all nations in the area to live in peace and we note Prince Saud 's interpretation of that the other day, I think it was Friday, that that is intended to refer to Israel.

Now, Signor Spadolini, you are not working nearly hard enough! Why not? Can we have a question for Signor Spadolini please.

Signor Spadolini (in Italian)

One or two for me!

Question (La Stampa) (in Italian)

I wanted to ask whether this meeting gave you the impression that there has been progress achieved towards an agreement of the 27th summit on the three points of the mandate or do you think that after this meeting the prospects of an agreement are considerably reduced? [end p10]

Signor Spadolini

With Mrs. Thatcher and with Lord Carrington, we have carried out a very serious and detailed examination of the subjects at the very centre of this mandate which was given on the 30th of May for the Summit of the 26th of November. We have noted that we have made some progress on some points and other questions have to be examined in further depth.

I have shown the interest of the Italian Government in carrying out in parallel the two achievements of the European construction, political and economic ones, which our Government has always considered as indivisible. For Italy, the European construction is an indivisible process and it is a whole process and that is why we think every effort should be made in an increasing solidarity between all the partners of the Community at all levels.

We have therefore considered it being useful to re-launch the European Union and to give this movement our support, but we feel that this is not enough. In order to construct Europe, we have to progress in economic integration, in the field of the institutions of the Community; more especially with regard to our present exercise on the restructuring of the policies in the Community, our government considers that we should face together and with the spirit of solidarity the three main subjects we have before us, development of common policies in structures and in investments, revising the Common Agricultural Policy and the problem of the imbalances in the budget. [end p11]

Of course, the Italian Government is available in considering all those reasons where there would be objective difficulties for the British Government in this particular last field, the budget, and this was also the wish of the leaders in London that the British Government be available in giving its evaluation in depth of the Italian action in this field, which is why I think that our exchange of views was extremely positive.

I will conclude by saying that we want the image of the Community of Europe not to be in any way defaced or diminished. We would like therefore to resolve all those problems that we can resolve within the 27th of November, and those that we cannot solve on the 27th of November we shall solve later.

Question (in Italian)

I want to put a further question: have you noticed the interest of the UK Government in the CAP policy and structural policies?

Signor Spadolini

On the CAP policies, our interests are to a very large extent the same. If it were left to us, the agreement would have been achieved already. Then, with regard to revising our structural policies, this is a far wider subject.

Mrs. Thatcher was patient enough to listen to me without contradicting me for a very long period of time. [end p12]

Prime Minister

Now, come on! Next question. It can be to me … one down here.

Question

Following up the last answer, Prime Minister, on which points do you expect to see progress made at the coming Council Meeting, so far as the mandate is concerned?

Prime Minister

I think you have to try to make progress on all three aspects of the mandate in parallel. I think you have to have a comprehensive solution, because parts of one will depend on parts of the other. It is not as though you can deal with chapter one exclusive of chapter two and chapter three; you have in the end to have a comprehensive agreement embracing all three.

Question (Luigi Forni) (in Italian)

I would like to ask President Spadolini if, during his meeting with Mrs. Thatcher, he was comforted at all for his anti-inflationary policy in Italy, seeing that the British are really struck by the enormous amount of our deficit in our national budget. [end p13]

Signor Spadolini

The economic situation of both countries and the problems which face us have been at the very centre of the meetings this morning between Mrs. Thatcher and myself. I have become President of the Council a few hours after my swearing-in on the 30th June 1981 when I was sworn into my position when I then gave my plan for containing the public expenditure in order to face inflation. We then met again in Ottawa when this plan was approved by parliament and we find ourselves here, gathered together for the third time in London, when this plan was a draft law through the actual mechanism which is now being discussed in our parliament in Italy.

I conferred with Mrs. Thatcher about all the difficulties that I had to overcome in these last few months. I confirmed the firmness with which the Italian Government and the parties who uphold this majority have decided to contain inflation with a programme and also to contain the deficit of the public sector which has been predetermined and even if it is very high we want to contain it and obviously the aim of the economic policy in Italy is not just the fight against inflation. We have to look to new instruments to meet also the problem of unemployment and this is why I have underlined the characteristics for our budget of 1982 which foresee a very strong cut in public expenditure.

Mrs. Thatcher proposed the same cuts that I proposed to my Minister, Mr. Colombo, without even giving him notice of this. [end p14]

Question

I wanted to ask the President if, after all the cuts that the BBC had to face recently, the Italian programme was one of the three programmes that have been cut. This refers to the BBC Italian cuts.

Signor Spadolini

But this is not a question that you ask me.

Question

Well it is, the second part of my question is perhaps too many cuts were made by BBC. Have you got anything to propose to the 220,000 Italians resident here?

Signor Spadolini

I think the question is not really aimed at me. They were cuts that the BBC made. It was not the Italian Government that made these cuts.

Prime Minister

We did not discuss this today, is the brief answer, but in fact, the amount of money to the BBC external services is increased and not cut. I always have to explain this to our journalist friends. They seem to get the pluses and the minuses a little bit wrong. The amount of money was increased. It is [end p15] just that we thought it better to put a greater amount to capital expenditure this year to increase the audibility of certain services, particularly those to the Soviet Union, and I am afraid that meant that other services were not able to be continued, but we did not discuss it and I thank Signor Spadolini for his diplomatic reply.

Question (faint)

… make a reference to Poland … and I just wondered if there were any more positive steps being thought about by the EEC in terms of aid to Poland.

Prime Minister

No, I do not think we received any further requests at the moment. As you know, when we do, we try to meet them as quickly as possible. As far as I am aware, we have not received any further immediate requests. I think you might find that their needs at the moment are more directly financial.

Other questions? Yes, Mr. Dickie!

Question (Mr. Dickie)

Prime Minister, did you discuss other transatlantic differences than those that exist on the Middle East, for example on nuclear weapons, and if so, did you think it necessary to advise Mr. Reagan that perhaps he should tell Mr. Haig to cool it? [end p16]

Prime Minister

We are great friends with our transatlantic allies and we do not see the differences of which you speak and we wish to reaffirm the great friendship that does exist between Europe and the United States and we strive for greater understanding and not to elevate any misunderstandings that may have been reported in the press recently. That is really diplomatic; that took me a lot to think about as I went along!

Signor Spadolini

This is a point I would like to answer as far as Italy is concerned, as the subject for East-West relationships was touched upon during our meetings. I fully associate myself with the expression of friendship between Europe and the US that the Prime Minister has just expressed. I would like to underline nonetheless that Italy gives the greatest possible importance to a beginning quite soon of negotiations between East and West on nuclear disarmament at the lowest level, and that Italian diplomacy is very closely linked with the Federal Republic of Germany in the last few months, and I have also given the result of my meeting with Chancellor Schmidt to Mrs. Thatcher and I underlined here the fundamental meaning that the Rome Government gives to these negotiations, and the active role that Europe can play. [end p17]

Question (Italian)

I wanted to ask President Spadolini if, as you are talking about disarmament and peace in Europe, this is something that interests me very closely. As there have been these manifestations in the public squares throughout Europe, even here in London, these shows on the part of the public, have they had any influence personally or directly on the installation of missiles or nuclear bases in Sicily, in Commiso, or have they had any influence in the policies of the two countries with regard to disarmament?

Signor Spadolini

We consider that fulfilling the agreements that we undertook with the United States on the part of Italy and especially the Federal Republic of Germany in 1979, because these are the two countries which are the only non-nuclear ones in Europe amongst the great countries who have always respected the treaty of non-proliferation. So as I said, fulfilling these agreements is an essential item in order to guarantee the conditions of a renewed dialogue between Moscow and the United States. If the United States were to give the impression that they do not respect the agreements that they have on the matter of nuclear armaments, they would certainly not be in favour of detente but they would even give an error in evaluation and they would compromise the cause of peace for which we fight with all our forces and not only have we strongly upheld this … [end p18]

Question

Was there any discussion of the gas pipeline deal for $8,500 million in which the Italians and we with John Brown in Glasgow are involved and there is a US mission coming here trying to dissuade us?

Prime Minister

No Sir. Next question.

Question

I would like to ask you how warm or cool was your reception of the Italian-German project of the political, not only economic integration of the Community.

Prime Minister

It has not really been formulated yet. We heard just a little bit about it from Signor Colombo, but the whole project has not been precisely formulated and I believe that it will be in the coming weeks. Signor Spadolini.

Signor Spadolini

Quite right! Only political information was given on what is really a common project between Italy and Germany. It is more than this; it is an idea for the judgment of other countries in order to reinforce the political instruments, but within the terms as I stated earlier on. In other words, that we shall never separate the economic from the political question and we would like to draw your attention once again on the mistake of thinking that this is somehow or other a [end p19] corrective measure to the Community integration which we consider is absolutely essential and preeminent.

Question

May I ask if contacts which have been taking place in Washington and you mentioned earlier concern the content of the ten's declaration on the multi-national force in Sinai?

Signor Spadolini

They concern all together the conditions in which European countries who have been invited by the United States, I repeat here. They are not conditions, but we have given our approval to this, so therefore it is a question of improving a process which is now taking place.

QUESTION

When you refer to the Venice Declaration, is this a condition sine qua non for the Europeans in this Declaration?

Prime Minister

The consultations that are taking place are about the basis for participation in the Sinai force in accordance with the agreements which you will find in Article 6 of the Egypt-Israel settlement.

We also adhere to the Venice Declaration, the ten adhere—certainly the nine adhere to the Venice Declaration, Greece was not then a member. We adhere to the Venice Declaration. We continue to adhere to the Venice Declaration and we shall [end p20] continue to adhere to the Venice Declaration and I just cannot make it any clearer than that, because there is not really anything else to say.

We are consulting about the basis for participation. Participation in what? The multi-national force in Sinai. What is that to do? It is to do the things set out in the agreements. Where are those set out? They are set out in Article 6. And we, the four, who are considering participation, have been blessed by the ten, and the ten, or at any rate the nine of the ten, adhere to the Venice Declaration and that is just as brief as I can put it, and it is a very good summary!

Signor Spadolini

I would also like a word on this point. The multinational force in Sinai, and here I would like to recall what you said earlier, is conceived by the Italian Government as a peace instrument, as a help towards the reestablishing of global peace in the Mediterranean. Of course, part of the Camp David Accord, inasmuch as the Sinai has to be given back to Egypt, this was the only consequence so far, but it does not shut out the prospective future evolution of the Camp David accord which has led to the Venice Summit Declaration and which still guides the policy of those countries which ratified that Declaration. In other words, there is a process which constantly goes on in developing and deepening and amplifying this directive of Camp David, but in the context which wraps up the whole of the …   . [end p21]

Question (very garbled)

When you mention the Camp David Agreement, now we are talking about the agreement on the Saudi-Arabian level, is there a contradiction here?

Answer

Who are you asking this?

Prime Minister

I just do not quite understand your question. There is an Egypt-Israel Agreement which covers the withdrawal of the forces from Sinai. Article 6 of that Agreement sets up a multinational force to implement that particular aspect of the Agreement. The implementation and terms are set out in Article 6.

We, the four, would like to participate and respond to the invitation of the United States. For that purpose, we have consulted with the ten. The ten agree that we should, if we can find a basis for participation, agree to do so. The consultations on that basis for participation are going on now. We, the ten, also agree to the Venice Declaration which we jointly drew up and had a declaration about in Venice some time ago and which we have been trying to proceed further with for some time.

The eight principles of Saudi Arabia are, as you know, something quite different. They were a separate initiative; they are going to be considered …   . but most of them are not incompatible in any way with the Venice Declaration, although we could not possibly automatically agree to all of them in detail. [end p22] Nevertheless, the seventh principle does set out to recognise the rights of all states in the area to live in peace and Prince Saud [sic] said at a press conference the other day that that referred specifically to Israel.

I think that all of these things indicate how very much we are all trying to seek both peace in the area. We are trying to see that the Sinai Agreement continues, that the final withdrawal will be made in April/May; and all, whether it is United States, Europe, Egypt, Israel, the Arab countries, are trying to seek a permanent settlement. Surely that is all to the good?

Question

(inaudible)

Prime Minister

You only just have to read them. The Camp David stands on its own, the Egypt-Israel Agreement. The Venicle Declaration, at the time we made it, was said to be complementary to Camp David and not in any way against it. We believe that a number of the principles which have been initiated in the Saudi Arabia eight principles are compatible with the Venice Declaration. We believe that they are all seeking a peaceful agreement in the area and I do sometimes wish we could try to approach this thing positively as each movement is a positive movement towards a comprehensive peace settlement, even though we cannot get it all at once. I promised one more question. It was to a grey-haired gentleman over there. There are quite a lot of grey-haired gentlemen. I am very sorry! Yes. At the end of the row, yes. [end p23]

Question

I recall once again the European problems and want to ask you whether you have discussed the three main aspects of the mandate. I would like to know what you think of the fact that without a modification of 1%; in the participation of each country …   . a 1%; ceiling … it is practically impossible … I am sorry I could not hear the question because the microphone was not there but I hope it has been understood.

Prime Minister

I think you asked me about the 1%; Value Added Tax ceiling on the budget. Certainly we adhere to the 1%; Value Added Tax ceiling. I know that Germany does and a number of other European countries do too, so I do not think that is in question at the moment. It is within the 1%; Valued Added Tax ceiling.

Is there one final question to Signor Spadolini because he has not had enough …   . yet.

Signor Spadolini

I would like to answer a colleague from the newspaper “Republica” . I wanted to state the Italian position clearly recalling what Mrs. Thatcher said, even though we have not had a chance of going into depth about the eight points of the Saudi proposal, like the UK Government, we would simply like to say [end p24] that the seventh principle is a real step forward in the Arab world, because it guarantees the right to each country to live in peace and therefore “each country” means Israel as well, that right which had been recognised halfheartedly but not formally until now on the part of the OLP (sic), the PLO I mean. This is a new aspect and it explains why the Saudi proposals have given rise to so much interest on the part of the French President who is very much in favour of the Israeli cause and during …   . and with his very close links with the Jerusalem authorities. This is why I want to underline this novelty aspect, because it can be inserted, as Lord Carrington quite rightly said when he was coming back yesterday from Riyadh, it is to be inserted in a whole process which extends to a global peace in the whole of this area. This detente symptom is part of the international picture which is a positive step, encouraging for all.