Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Gala Lunch

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: La Redoute Restaurant, Bonn
Source: Thatcher Archive
Editorial comments: Between c1300 and 1500. The speech as delivered departed significantly from the speaking text, not least because it transpired that many of the guests name-checked by MT were not actually present. It must have proved an embarrassing experience for the PM. The official head of the Foreign Office, Sir Michael Palliser, wrote her a letter of deepest apology on 20 Nov, which can be studied here. You can also read a press account of the event ("Thatcher drops a few names"). A tape of the speech has been found in the Thatcher files and will be transcribed, time permitting.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1186
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Monarchy, Defence (general), Trade, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Terrorism

Helmut SchmidtMr. Chancellor, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I warmly agree with what you have just said, Mr. Chancellor, about our common interests. As you pointed out, this is a birthday party. It is a happy occasion and one on which it is fitting to look with purpose to the future as well as satisfaction to the past.


By the past, I do not mean just the short period since this series of bilateral meetings began. When we think of Anglo/German relations, we need to look back over the centuries since the North German tribes began to migrate to the British Isles. That migration made us, the English speaking people, essentially what we are today. If we were to try to celebrate this afternoon all those early years of inter-action we would need a birthday cake of giant dimensions to carry all the candles.

These earliest family ties have been revived and strengthened through our common history—not least early in the 18th century when the throne of England was given to a King from Germany whose successors reign to this day. And throughout the 19th century the tradition of political inter-marriage with German courts continued. Queen Victoria and her children created family connections with every corner of your country. [end p1]

That process was accompanied in the last century and in this by the cross-fertilisation of intellectual, cultural and entrepreneurial skills of every kind. There has been a notably close link between your own City of Hamburg—Mr. Chancellor—and the City of London. It is said that when it rains in London people in Hamburg put up their umbrellas!

Be that as it may, I have begun my remarks with a brief excursion into the past because I fear that often the pace of events in the 20th century has blinded people to the deeper truths about politics, nations and their inter-relationships. It is because of our shared past that the friendship that we are celebrating today was able to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of 1945. After the problems of the moment, however urgent, have passed, what remains is the bedrock of shared interest, the instinctive realisation of a common ancestry and a common civilisation.

German poetry and music are as much a part of our cultural tradition as, I hope and believe, is English literature part of yours. I am glad to see the British Director of the Cologne Opera and the British Conductor of the Bamberger Sinfonia in the audience. It is, perhaps, symbolic, that this year's winner of the Nobel Prize, Mr. Canetti, who has lived in Britain for many years and holds British nationality, writes entirely in German. Henry Moore 's statue outside the Chancellery is, I am told, now a familiar landmark in Bonn. It is this shared ancestry and civilisation that makes today a family occasion: a birthday. [end p2]

Tributes to those Present

I am delighted that so many aspects of our relationship are represented here. Perhaps I might single out one or two of you. There is Dame Lilo Milchsack, the initiator and guiding spirit of the unique Königswinter Conferences. There is Sir Frank Roberts, her British collaborator and President of the Anglo/German Association. I should also like to pay tribute to Mrs. Doris Krug for her unrivalled work in bringing together the young people of our two countries and thus laying the basis for new lifetimes of friendship and trust.

I am pleased too that Herr Hans Buchler and Sir Bernard Braine, the Chairmen of the British/German Parliamentary Group, are with us. The Group has played a key part in developing our bilateral links. In the same context, it is good to see so many members of the European Parliament among us.

Finally, I would welcome the distinguished representatives of industry and commerce. The only praise that they will want from me is that I should record that since 1978 the Federal Republic has been the largest supplier of imports to the United Kingdom and that last year you were our biggest export market. Those facts speak far louder than any words.

NATO and Berlin

You have spoken Mr. Chancellor about some of the pillars of our relationship. We stand side by side in NATO. That pillar is symbolised here by the presence of the Commanders in Chief of the British Army of the Rhine and of the Royal Air Force, Germany. It is right also that the American and French [end p3] Ambassadors should be with us, symbolising another pillar of our relationship—the Allied responsibility towards Berlin, once as occupiers, now as protectors. Lord Carrington confirmed the British commitment to the City when he visited Berlin a few weeks ago.

The European Community

We are also partners in the European Community. It would be idle to pretend that we invariably see eye to eye over the problems the Community faces. Both countries have national imperatives which they must defend. But I know that you recognise, as I do, that we are at one about the fundamental importance of our Community—about the economic opportunities it offers to us all, about the chances it gives us to play our proper part in world affairs, about the way it binds the proud and sometimes self-willed states of Europe together. With the European Council due to meet next week, let us concentrate on these fundamentals and ensure that the Community lives up to them.

Mr. Chancellor, I agree wholeheartedly about the need to ensure that the European idea is constantly developed and updated. I pay tribute to the boldness and imagination of the ideas which your Government and the Italian Government have recently put forward—ideas with which Herr Genscher 's name is so closely associated. We shall study those ideas with the attention and sympathy they demand. [end p4]

Chancellor Schmidt

Finally, Mr. Chancellor, I should like to pay tribute to your own steadfastness, which we have all admired and of which we are all the beneficiaries, in steering a course through the hazards which confront the international community. Communications both across the Atlantic and between the super powers have left a good deal to be desired recently. Against that background, your own role in East/West dialogue as “an honest interpreter of Western interests” has acquired added significance. No-one can doubt your qualifications. No-one who has observed the way you have brought the Federal Republic through an exceptionally difficult period both economically and socially can doubt your resolve. We for our part will always remember your handling of the hijacking at Mogadishu as a landmark in the common battle against terrorism.

You have often said that you started out life as an Anglophile, then became an Americanophile, and ended up a Francophile. Surely it is time you took a further step. I am not seeking another conversion—although wheels do have a habit of turning full circle. But should you not now admit that your three affections, while different, were all equally worthwhile? Surely you can hold them all in your heart at once? A big thing to ask, you may perhaps say. But you, Mr. Chancellor, are a big man.