Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with West German Chancellor (Helmut Kohl)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: RAF Halton House, near Chequers
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Between 1605 and 1700. MT later referred - in her Die Welt interview on 31 October 1984 - to a brief joint statement issued after the Chequers summit, but no trace has been found.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4650
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Terrorism

Prime Minister

This has been a very useful bilateral meeting. It is the fifteenth in the series since they were started. It is a great pleasure to welcome Chancellor Kohl and his ministerial colleagues and I am of course, as you know, attending the Konrad Adenauer Memorial Lecture this evening.

I would like to stress at the outset that the relations between our two countries are excellent and therefore the atmosphere throughout these talks was very friendly. If you have ever read anything to the contrary in the press, you should not believe it. The atmosphere was very friendly indeed, both in the talks I had with Chancellor Kohl and between the accompanying Ministers, that is the Foreign Secretaries, the Chancellors of the Exchequer, the Trade Secretaries and the Defence Secretaries.

The main issues which Chancellor Kohl and I dealt with were, as you would expect, European Community issues, in particular the outstanding problems, that is, of having a strict control of Community expenditure, which is very important for both of us. [end p1]

We have both had to take very painful decisions with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy, which have made considerable difficulties for our farmers, difficulties which they knew they would have to face, but we must make certain that those decisions are not wasted by extravagant spending in the future. So we have to complete the consideration of that strict financial guideline, which must be embodied in budgetary procedures. And of course, naturally, we are very anxious to get our own budgetary problem solved, and until those two things are solved we shall not be able to do what we are both very anxious to do, namely, to raise the potential of the Community to be a greater influence in the world against protectionism; a greater influence across the East-West divide and, of course, always an influence to keep a very close bond across the Atlantic. And we are both very anxious to get on with those things to a greater extent than we are able to now.

We have also discussed—as you would expect—East-West relations. As you know, I have been to Hungary. Chancellor Kohl will be going to Hungary soon, and you are aware that he, of course, was one of the first Western leaders to visit Moscow in the post-Afghanistan and post-Korean airliner period.

We have had a discussion—both between ourselves and with Foreign Ministers—on international terrorism and how to try to prevent it. As I explained to Chancellor Kohl, we have severed diplomatic relations with Libya, but we [end p2] shall be taking to the wider European Community and to the Economic Summit the question of international terrorism and what we can do together to diminish it and hopefully to extinguish it.

We also had considerable discussion on the Economic Summit which is coming in London. Economic summits usually consider not only the vital economic problems, of which there are a number, but also the political problems which of course ultimately always affect the economic problems.

We had this discussion against a background where both our countries are seeing growth and against a background of a rising optimism on the part of the development of world trade and coming out of the recession. We know that unless we can try to keep markets open and stem the advancing tide of protectionism, it will be difficult for everyone to come out of a recession as fast as we would wish and it will be particularly difficult for some of the developing countries to overcome the problems which they had as a result of the oil price increase, which of course has put some of them into debt.

So that is a broad general background of what was a very useful and friendly Summit. We welcomed our German friends and we found it particularly useful to be discussing things at this time. [end p3]

Chancellor Kohl

I should like first of all to avail myself of this opportunity here, before a British public, to thank you, Prime Minister, very warmly also on behalf of my colleagues, for the very friendly and hospitable reception which we have had on this fifteenth Anglo-German consultation in Chequers.

The figure “15” shows quite clearly that the relations between our two countries and our two peoples—I say this intentionally in that order—and the Governments, are quite exceptionally close, friendly and intensive, and I am most grateful to you—and this came out in our plenary session when we had the reports from our Finance and Foreign Ministers—we saw how we have grown towards one another, and though perhaps here and there, there may be a different interpretation or opinion on one issue or another, this is always discussed in the manner which has become a sort of family style, and I am very grateful for this and should like to underline it here.

Prime Minister, you have mentioned the main points which we have discussed. Both of us will jointly and together with others endeavour to ensure that the outstanding problems in the European Community shall be solved soon. This is very important because the voice of Europe is of great importance in the world, particularly in this year, because crises have not decreased, but in some parts of the world have increased. [end p4] It is important also for the Euro-American dialogue; it is important for the discussions and expectations in the Third World. Latin America, Africa, turn to Europe and look with great hope and great expectation and we must not disappoint such hopes.

We have spoken also of the World Economic Summit, which will take place in a few weeks' time here again. There are great expectations, I should almost say too great expectations, as to what may happen there. These are the most important industrial nations in the world and the economic upswing which is beginning to take place in Europe and the United States must continue into the future and therefore it will be very important that at this Summit—as you have said Prime Minister—we shall raise all the problems which this side and that side of the Atlantic may endanger free trade through protectionism.

Our countries—the countries of the Free World, the free societies—live more than anyone else on free world trade, and for good reason, Prime Minister, you have pointed out that the nations and countries of the Third World which are developing need open markets. It would be a very short-sighted policy if we were to think from one day to the next only, and try to solve our own problems by protective measures. No! We need fresh air; we need competition; we need to measure our forces and this is also true of the necessary dialogue between the European countries and Japan and after the recent change in the leadership of the Soviet Union and after the death of the Secretary-General in Moscow and the assumption of affairs by a [end p5] new Secretary-General, we are now facing an important phase in East-West relations—a phase which, in view of American domestic developments with a view to the elections there in November, requires a great deal of consultation and joint action.

The two of us are in whole agreement that European and national solitary measures are no good and that the Community is for us a Community of values, this side and the other side of the Atlantic. These are all countries with free constitutions, with the same ideas of freedom and civil rights and duties and who have joined together to defend that freedom.

These are a few comments on my part. Of course, I am perfectly ready to answer any questions of yours. I am looking forward to this evening, when I shall have the honour, in commemoration of the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, who was also at the same time the first President of the German Christian Democratic Union, and I am very honoured that I shall be allowed to deliver this lecture. [end p6]

Question (Michael Brunson, ITN)

Prime Minister and Chancellor, I wonder if I could ask you on the Libyan situation, what exchange of views you may have had on what some people have called the humiliation to this country of having to let a murderer go free under the terms of the Vienna Convention and diplomatic immunity and whether you felt that there was anything that could be done to change the way in which the Convention operates, which might not in fact produce as many problems for those who observe the Convention, as it solves?

Prime Minister

First, I would not regard it as a humiliation that after that tragic murder, nevertheless, we managed to get all of our own people in the embassy in Tripoli home safely. That was not a humiliation for Britain. It was a success. The humiliation was for Colonel Gadaffi, who had all of his people returned by expulsion from Britain and diplomatic relations severed. That was the humiliation, if that is the word you wish to choose.

With regard to the discussions that we had, obviously we discussed the problems of having something like an informal revolutionary people's committee masquerading as diplomatic representatives and the problems which that had given rise to, although it was a decision of a number of people in Europe taken together that we should recognize those committees when they were formed. [end p7]

Secondly, we did have a brief discussion on the Vienna Convention and were, as your question indicates, very much aware that we must not do anything which undermines or makes it more difficult for our embassies to work in countries which do not hold the same ideas as we do, because we have to recognize that in many ways the Vienna Convention has been a great protection to the embassies of democratic countries in other countries, and that those embassies have been and remained inviolate in the way in which they have worked. Of course, we have always worked them strictly in accordance with the Vienna Convention.

So you are quite right to point out the difficulties and we are very much aware of those. That is why we have to proceed very slowly and very carefully in considering how the Vienna Convention—which is wholly right in its concept—can be better enforced without causing problems.

Chancellor Kohl

I can take up immediately what has just been said. The Vienna Convention is of the greatest possible importance for international relations, because unfortunately, the world in which we live is not a world in which the rule of law prevails in all countries, with proper courts, and it is extremely important not only within the Eastern Bloc but in other parts of the world as well, that the status of diplomatic missions is such that those who work for our countries there can do so in safety. That is one thing. [end p8]

But there can be no doubt, no question—and the terrible experience which you have undergone shows it—that within the Vienna Convention we shall have to study what is diplomatic status and whether hiding behind diplomatic status—this leads right into terrorism—can be covered by such thinking, and when we meet again we shall have to talk about this again in London in the near future, because bitter experience has been gathered throughout the world and these are experiences which call for action.


…   . very friendly relations with the Chancellor and obviously the press reports must be all wrong, but nevertheless it seems that there have been some atmospheric disturbances between Bonn and London after the Brussels Summit, caused mainly through a British version that the failure had been brought about through the intervention of the Chancellor. Has this so-called misunderstanding been clarified now?

Prime Minister

We were very disappointed that we were not able to reach agreement at the Brussels Summit. Britain tried very hard to reach an agreement. I think so did many other countries. I cannot be done by two countries or even by three … between all of the ten. We were not able to do so, but we shall just have to try again. But there are no hard feelings at all. I must make it clear that I have [end p9] very little room for manoeuvre. Britain is a very generous contributor to the Community and does a great deal for the Community in very many ways, and we must feel that we have a fair deal on finance and I have very little room left to manoeuvre, if that deal is to be fair—and I cannot agree on one that is not fair.

Question (John Dickie, “Daily Mail” )

Prime Minister, on that very subject, did you in fact get down to the nitty gritty of ECUs in your discussions with the Bundeskanzler and if you did, did you at least emerge with more confidence that at Fontainebleau you will solve this problem?

Prime Minister

We hope that we will be able to solve the problem as soon as possible. We shall carry on in the way in which we have. We obviously have a number of contacts continuing; they have continued ever since the Brussels Conference and we shall continue with those contacts to see if we can achieve a solution. It will not get any easier with time. This is the point that one has to try to get across. But we did not actually discuss specific figures. I did indicate that I have very very little room for manoeuvre if we are to get—and we must get—a fair agreement. [end p10]

Question (Roland Hills, “Stuttgarter …   .)

Prime Minister, why is it so difficult to marry British budgetary discipline with enthusiasm for Europe?

Prime Minister

I am sorry, I do not see the question. We are enthusiastic for Europe. I would challenge you to mention any other country which belongs to the European Community that has actually done more for the countries of Europe than Britain, whether it be in the number of forces we keep right on the central front in Germany, whether it be that there is only one thing in the Common Market that is common resources whereas all the rest is Common Market … there is only one thing in common resources and that is fish, and who brings the overwhelming majority of the waters and the fish to the Common Market? Britain. Something like 66%;. The only thing that is common resources and we bring it. We provide a very good market for manufactures from the Community. The adverse balance is over £6 billion. We provide a market for some countries to export their agricultural produce to Britain. We, in fact, could make most of it ourselves. We still provide a market for that.

In addition, we contribute and expect to be a net contributor to the Community. We always keep our word. We honour our contracts. You have heard me say that I would not withhold until the Community was in default or unless the Community was in default with us. I do regard the Community as in default as a matter of agreement from [end p11] Stuttgart, because we agreed there that we should get the budgetary refunds provided we all agreed to the Stuttgart communique. That has not happened. Nevertheless, although that might be a default as a matter of what we agreed among ourselves, it is not a default at law.

So all the time, we act totally correctly. We uphold international law; we put a great deal into the Community; and I think we are entitled to expect a fair deal on financing. It does not seem to me to make sense that Britain should contribute as much as she does to some of the countries of Europe which have a higher income per head of the population than we have. It would make sense if we contributed less to them, then we might have more to do with the money elsewhere. For example, we contribute something like £600 million to the Community. We only contribute just over a billion pounds in aid to the under-developed world. It does not make sense. But never never accuse Britain of not being very pro-European. Just ask: of those who do accuse us what they have done for the Community and for Europe and then compare it with what we have done.

Question (Ard German Television)

Prime Minister, you said that Britain does not see much room for manoeuvre in the budget, so my question to Chancellor Kohl is whether he sees a lot of room for manoeuvre on his part or on the other Europeans' part? [end p12]

Chancellor Kohl

I think it should be possible, in reasonable discussions, to get out of this difficulty. Everybody knows that the Federal Republic of Germany is the largest net payer and this will not change. Nor do I lament the fact, because we all need Europe and we, the Germans, in view of the division of our country, need Europe—if I may put it this way—in a very particular manner, and that is why I would like to say in the first place that it is true that the outcome of Brussels was a bitter disappointment, but this has made people forget that in many very important points we did reach agreement in Brussels and that time must now be used and that is the purpose of today's visit in any case, and Mrs. Thatcher will shortly see President Mitterrand and the purpose of all this is to get the cart moving again.

I passionately oppose the idea that the failure of Athens, which was much worse than Brussels because in Brussels great progress was made on decisive issues and a number of things have been arranged—I am passionately opposed to resignation or dropping into resignation.

Let me think that more than three hundred years of national history has meant that the European countries were opposed to one another. If we remember that in the course of my life, there has been a terrible war and in the lifespan of older people still alive there were two great wars, if we remember that in a few days time there will be the commemoration of the 1944 invasion, then we must also gratefully recognize that in the last thirty years we in [end p13] Europe have moved towards one another to a decisive extent, that we find nothing peculiar in inviting a press conference for the fifteenth Anglo-German consultation. That is normal everyday business and when I look over history, you know my home is on the German-French frontier, and I have seen more of this than most other Germans, then I can say that these are problems indeed, but measured by the challenge of history they are solvable. I am of goodwill in this matter. I am sure that Mrs. Thatcher is of goodwill and all the others are as well. We shall all get together again. We shall talk to one another seriously and if necessary toughly, but friendly, but we will solve the matter.

Mrs. Thatcher says no, but I do not know what you have said no to. It is not our intention to conduct our negotiations here in front of a press conference.

This is not a public exchange of blows here.

Question (Daily Express)

Could I return briefly to the Libyan situation. What hopes does the Prime Minister have of the world summit and the European Summit achieving some sort of international concerted action to, as she said, extinguish the threat of international terrorism? What are you thinking of? Are you thinking of diplomatic initiatives or are you thinking of even tougher action, for instance, a trade boycott? [end p14]

Prime Minister

No. I was not thinking of a trade boycott. One has had a number of experiences of economic sanctions and, frankly, they do not work. I was thinking of closer cooperation on diplomatic immunities. We can each of us take action on making certain, more certain, about the people who we receive as diplomats, but also I think if we are to do anything about the Vienna Convention, we have to consider it together and, of course, we do have to take decisions, I think together, as we did in Europe, about what we do when we get a suggestion from a country that their ordinary diplomats should be replaced by an informal bureau. We shall also have to see if we can get closer cooperation behind the scenes to prevent terrorism.

Edwin Roth

To get back to Europe and get away from money for a moment, Prime Minister and Chancellor, recently I had a conversation about you both with a man who knows you both, the Chairman of the European Democratic Union, Alois Mock, and he said the big difference between you, the basic difference between you, is that you, Chancellor, are a convinced European federalist, a United States of Europe man, and you will talk about this tonight in Oxford, and you will listen to this tonight, Mrs. Thatcher, and you are not. Now what is the meeting point between you on this question of United Europe and Federalism? Is there a meeting point? [end p15]

Prime Minister

I shall write to Dr. Mock and see if what you have said faithfully reports what he said.

Edwin Roth

I have it on tape.

Prime Minister

I shall write to Mr. Mock and see what he says. I think one has to be very careful what one says to anyone if it is going to be reproduced by journalists and made the basis for questions.

Edwin Roth

It is not a secret, is it?

Prime Minister

I would have thought a private conversation was, but there you are.

Edwin Roth

What about you, Chancellor? [end p16]

Chancellor Kohl

I do not know what Mock has said. On this question of federalism, I am sure we are not far from one another. I am sure we are not far from one another. I am sure there is no alternative to Europe. That is a decisive point, of course, and Mrs. Thatcher has, in her initial statement, pointed out why she is convinced that Great Britain needs Europe. If we look at the world of today and look at what it will be like in sixteen years, in the year 2000, then it is quite easily understood that the nations, the peoples of Europe, if they do not learn to speak in one voice on decisive points, they will lose weight and importance from year to year and there will be new world powers growing up. We have looked with great interest to Peking when the President of the United States was there. This is an example of great importance.

We are faced with arms developments, the consequences of which none of us can foresee and all that requires a union in Europe, not against the Americans but with the Americans, and I can only say very briefly I think it is an exchange of slogans, that is all. Unfortunately, in the CDU in Germany from 1965/66 we allowed ourselves the luxury to argue about a Europe of the Fatherlands or a Federal Europe. I must tell you that to me this is a quarrel of words.

My aim is clear: we Germans need the European roof. There is no return to the national states of the 19th century, but I immediately add that we all have different historical experience. Let me say this quite frankly here today: there [end p17] is a difference as to whether, after two lost wars and the division of your country and the loss of a third of the Reich, you speak about Europe, as the Chancellor of a country whose desk is only three or four tank hours away from the first Soviet tank corps, whether you have the British history before you or behind you in the 20th century. In the Bundestag a few days after my visit to Brussels, I passionately claimed in my report that we should not look at this specifically in the light of German history and pass sentence on what had happened with regard to our British friends who have an entirely different history and who have in some ways a greater distance to cover, but nevertheless, I stick to what I say: this is the fifteenth Anglo-German consultation. This is not a matter of self-evidence. It grew up over these years and policy becomes statesmanship if a politician acts like a forester. He plants his tree and he knows that he will not live to see the shadow which will come from the tree. We must be patient, but this is rather longer than the duration of one press conference.


A question for both of you. Six months have now passed since some of the world's leading atmospheric scientists biologists and physcists gave their warning on a nuclear winter. They said that even a small fraction of the world's nuclear arsenal could trigger climatic catastrophe and said the world's arsenal should be reduced by 90%; to bring the world below the possible trigger of such a catastrophe. [end p18]

I would like to know whether you take this warning seriously and if you do not, why you do not, and if you do, why you are both planning to actually increase the nuclear forces on your soil?

Prime Minister

First, I understand that not all scientists are agreed upon what you said.

Secondly, the whole point of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of any of them. They have not only deterred the use of nuclear weapons; they have in fact prevented a war in Europe. They also therefore have crossed the East-West divide, have prevented a war of conventional weapons, which to many of us would also be utterly horrific.

Thirdly, you will know that it is the United States which has put forward proposals substantially to reduce the strategic weapons as a first step by a third, and also to have a zero option on intermediate weapons. So it seems to me that it is the West that has put forward the proposals to reduce these weapons, but always so that we are kept in balance so that the deterrent factor is not affected by that reduction. We still have mutual deterrents and mutual security.

Chancellor Kohl

I can agree. I cannot see anyone in the West who has an obsession for nuclear weapons. Certainly, I have not, but it is reality that these arms exist. It is equally [end p19] true and equally a reality that we in Western Europe and in the United States also, at the beginning of the 1970s talked about disarmament and detente and the Soviet Union has further extended its nuclear capacity. The SS20s have not dropped from the skies. No, they were ordered; they were constructed; they were built; and they were deployed. Three different basic decisions have been taken and these decisions go back to the end of the 1960s at the time when we here in the West were ready to stagnate, to put a stop to this, and the Soviet Union has shifted the balance. It is simply true that in the past thirty years more than a hundred wars have occurred and that in Europe, particularly in Central Europe, peace has been maintained because we live under the protection of NATO, and we in the Federal Republic of Germany who live under the protection of NATO and of the United States of American, and they have helped to guarantee our peace and freedom. This means in practical terms that whoever is in favour of unilateral disarmament denies the experience of history.

We have had very lively discussions in the Federal Republic on this subject concerning the deployment and these discussions went on until November last year. I remember very well when I was eight years old, when Neville Chamberlain and Daladier went to see Hitler and Mussolini in Munich on this question of Czechoslovakia. We have forgotten this far too much. M. Daladier, just as Neville Chamberlain, who both wanted peace, before he left Paris, he [end p20] asked his Chief of Staff, Gamelin, what he could do and Gamelin said: “You must find peace!”

Peace and freedom are not a kind gift from Heaven for us. We have to make our contribution to it, which means conscription for young men and the unpleasant duty of deploying these weapons.

I repeat, we are not obsessed with nuclear arms. No, but we have to have them and a safe peace with fewer weapons is my absolute conviction but it must not be a one-way road.

Question (Tokyo)

My question is about INF talks. After the unilaterally broken down negotiations, are you, as two leaders of Western Europe, still committed to the principle of global reduction? That means about the nuclear deployment by the other side in the Asian and Far East Regions.

Prime Minister

Yes, if you are once again resuming discussions on the INF, the principle of global reduction must be taken into account. Unfortunately, the INF negotiations have ceased as you know, not because of anything the West has done, but because the Soviet Union walked out. Naturally, Chancellor Kohl and I would like all the disarmament negotiations to start again and we are most anxious to reduce the number of nuclear weapons at all levels. [end p21]

Chancellor Kohl

Perhaps to make it even a shade clearer, because that is the background of your question, the solution for Europe cannot be for the Soviet Union to reduce its SS20 in Europe and then shift them over to the Far East. That cannot be the solution. We have always held the view that we cannot solve our problems on the backs of our friends in the Far East and there has been no change in that at all.