Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Franco-British Council Dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Hopetoun House, Edinburgh
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: Actualite from the section of the speech on the Falklands, broadcast on BBC Radio News 0700 16 May 1982, conforms entirely with the speaking text.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1875
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Industry, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Science & technology
Notes by MT

(Prime Minister, Pierre MauroyPresident of the Council. Thank you for your splendid and constructive speech this evening. Greatly honoured by your visit and happy that you and your distinguished colleagues are with us on this occasion.)

Prime Minister, this is your first official visit to Britain.

Indeed, you are the first French Prime Minister to visit us since Monsieur Pompidou in 1966. That is far too long.

We meet our French colleagues frequently on Community business and at the growing list of international conferences. [end p1]

But everyone here, with their special concern for our bilateral relations, will agree that we need to meet more frequently—to discuss the particular problems and areas of co-operation where France and Britain have common interests and aims.

You and I, Prime Minister, had a most useful discussion of that kind earlier this evening and I am delighted that you will be joining President Mitterrand and myself in London on Monday for a further round of talks. [end p2]

Perhaps it was the prospect of Scotland rather than England which persuaded you to break the habit of sixteen years.

As you have just mentioned, Scotland has enjoyed close links with France for many centuries.

But I am bound to say that for several of them England—as the common enemy— “enjoyed” those links rather less.

From the twelfth century, through the ‘Auld Alliance’ during the hundred Years War to Mary Stuart and her French husband, Francis II, the ties between France and Scotland were tangible and powerful.

Their influence has persisted:

—in the two legal systems which have a number of common roots. [end p3]

—in the field of culture; the French Romantic movement owed a good deal to the novelist, Sir Walter Scott;

—even in sport—and not only in rugby football. The French left their mark on that most Scottish of games, gold: a “caddie” who carries a golfer's clubs comes from the French word “cadet” ;

—and food? Well, hardly. Of the Scottish national dish let us say that, like French cuisine, it is inimitable and unexportable. [end p4]

Franco-British Council

I look back with pleasure to the first conference of the Franco-British Council, in the great city of Bordeaux eighteen months ago. With this, the second conference of its kind, we are beginning to establish a tradition. It is a valuable one.

Those who manage Franco-British relations, those who trade between Britain and France, those who help to mould opinion in both countries, should be in close touch.

I congratulate the officers of the Council on providing the occasion. [end p5]

Franco-British Relations

Mr. Chairman, the relationship between France and Britain has never been dull and is rarely static. At the time of your first Conference we looked back on the rather turbulent year of 1980.

That year brought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, rightly seen as an important challenge to the existing world order. In Europe, the Community was engaged in difficult internal debate.

The world—and Europe—were changing. In the process, British and French viewpoints did not always coincide. [end p6]

In September, 1981 I had my first Summit meeting with President Mitterrand.

All the newspapers said it was a success. They were right.

We talked about a remarkable range of subjects and found ourselves in agreement on most of them.

But why?

—because Monsieur Mitterrand and I share the same political philosophy?

I hardly think so.

—because of common economic policies? No again—though we both have a certain attraction for radical solutions. [end p7]

The answer lies in the fact that both countries are increasingly responding in similar ways to similar external challenges. A growing identity of interest is the surest foundation for co-operation.

Economic Affairs

France and Britain are both affected by the changing patterns of international trade.

The challenge from the newly industrialised countries has faced us with similar domestic problems.

Not only are those countries successfully competing in the traditional industries—steel, shipbuilding, motor vehicles and so on—but some of them are now skipping an industrial generation and competing in the new high technology industries such as information technology. [end p8]

Our response to these problems has had much in common. We shall have to pursue policies which put us in the forefront of the new electronic industries if we are to secure the jobs of tomorrow and a rising standard of prosperity.

Much of modern industry is science-based and depends on applying the latest research to industrial products and processes.

Our two countries excel at fundamental research. We must succeed in its application and we must promote its products both at home and abroad.

In both Britain and France, government and private industry alike are giving priority to developing and harnessing the new technology.

In France, public consciousness was raised by the famous Nora/Minc report which led to a wide range of information technology policies and programmes. [end p9]

In Britain, government and industry joined to designate this year information technology year backed up by all the necessary resources and training.

There is plenty of evidence that our two countries have strength and skills which complement each other.

Two examples:-

—We are cooperating in the Euronet “Diane” Information Service, A network which links ten countries.

— In space technology, France is particularly strong in developing launcher capacity, Britain in telecommunications payloads. Both are vital ingredients of a successful European space programme.

There was a period—in the 1970s—when collaboration was not so active. But at our Summit meeting last September the French President and I, positively wanting to stimulate collaboration, identified a number of fresh opportunities. [end p10]

Since that summit:-

—The British Government has agreed to subscribe to the development of the next generation of Ariane satellite launchers;

—We have also agreed to undertake the development of what is known as a stretched European Communications Satellite a joint Anglo-French project between Government and industry;

—Scientists from both our countries met in Paris in February to advance co-operation in subjects such as Neutron physics and Biotechnology, oceanography and climatology research. [end p11]

As new patterns of world trade emerge, obliging us to change old habits and practices, there is a premium on the flair and initiative which thrive in out two democracies.

The external challenge to our economies is strong.

It is growing, it will not go away. The right mixture of cooperation and competition is vital if we are to overcome the challenge, and succeed in this, the new industrial revolution. [end p12]

International Affairs

There is another and perhaps more fundamental challenge—the growing threat to the Western way of life. France and Britain are particularly well placed to meet it.

We have, increasingly, a similar view of the world.

We may have—do have—our differences within the European Community. Some differences among the ten partners are inevitable.

But we agree on the vital importance of developing the Community as a more effective instrument for tackling our most pressing problems. [end p13]

We agree that the Community is a priceless asset in furthering stability and democracy in a dangerous world.

We agree—and I recall in particular the attitude adopted by the present French government to Soviet activities in Afghanistan and to events in Poland—that all assaults on freedom and democracy must be resisted. Otherwise, the liberty we cherish will be in peril. [end p14]

Mr Chairman, I have not got so far in a speech in recent weeks without mentioning the matter which is on the minds of most of our people at present—the situation in the South Atlantic.

I do so now to make a particular point about the Franco-British relationship.

On 3 April, the day after the Argentine invasion, President Mitterrand telephoned me to express his support for the British position.

I shall never forget that quick and timely gesture. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 16 May 1982:

The President of France understood at once the principles which were at stake: [end p15]

—That if an aggressor succeeded in this case, no small country or territory anywhere would be safe;

—That if freedom and international law were flouted, unchallenged, in a distant part of the world, then they would be elsewhere too.

France understands these principles

—Because like Britain it has a special commitment to liberty; End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 16 May 1982.

—Because France too, has responsibilities for small territories far from its own shores; [end p16]

—Because France, like us, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with the particular obligation that brings to prevent acts of aggression.

Both our countries recognise the need to be strong in an unstable world.

We understand why France retains an independent nuclear deterrent. We understand that better than most because we reached the same conclusion over thirty years ago. [end p17]

Our decision earlier this year to acquire Trident II was based on the firm conviction that an independent nuclear deterrent would remain, as far ahead as we could see, vital to the defence of Britain and the Western way of life.

A similar view of the world, a belief that the true democracies must be ready to defend their principles: these are strong reasons indeed for co-operation. [end p18]

Conclusion

Mr Chairman, the British author of a recent book on modern france asked in his final chapter whether, as nations grow closer together and lose some of their earlier characteristics, france will lose its Frenchness.

As he put it:

“In the old days, the English had pubs and the French had bistros, the French had l'amour and the English had sport …

Today, (he said) it's no longer at all clear who has what, as nations copy each other fast and even the British convert to the decimal system.” [end p19]

But, he continued, “This kind of change is superficial and the real question to ask is whether a nation's essential genius will be lost in the process of unification.”

Heaven forbid, but I do not think there is much danger.

The nation of Racine, Voltaire, Debussy—and Brie—will persist.

The nation of Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Elgar—and Cheddar—is also alive and strong.

Cooperation does not mean that our distinctive national characteristics should be submerged. Rather that the talents of both our peoples should be applied to meeting the challenges which face us. [end p20]

The world around us is changing fast and in some ways changing dangerously. I believe that the present governments of France and Britain, and the people of our two countries, have a similar perception of the dangers, economic and political, and a similar resolve to face them.

There is no surer basis for friendship than that. Anglo/French cooperation is not only a dream, not only an ideal—it is a necessity. ( Notes by MT: Health of our Guest of Honour. Friendship between our two peoples. Enduring greatness of France.)