Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Franco-British Council Dinner

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Palais des Papes, Avignon
Source: Thatcher Archive: press release
Editorial comments: MT was expected to speak around 2100. It seems that she omitted or paraphrased some sections of the text already released to the press (indicated in text), very likely due to pressure of time.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2432
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Monetary policy, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Religion & morality

MT did not deliver the entire text released to the press. Editorial notes indicate her omissions. [Notes by MT:]

(Thank you. Testament to the friendship between our two countries. Compliment to us on role in bio-technology.)

Mr. Chairman, Laurent FabiusMr. Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen. I am very happy to attend this biennial meeting of the Franco-British Council at which the Prime Ministers of France and Britain traditionally appear together. I was about to say on the same platform, but being a French occasion it is of course at the same dinner.

It is a great occasion, the more so because it follows a particularly successful summit in Paris.

What more appropriate city than Avignon for this dinner? [end p1] And what more appropriate day on which to celebrate than St. Andrew 's Day—the Patron Saint of Avignon as well as of Scotland.

Mr. Chairman, I recall that Avignon was a centre of the Albigensian heresy whose adherents believed that nothing was sinful. That seems to leave a very wide scope for the proceedings of this distinguished Council. I trust they will take a more restricted view.

I also come here in search of experience. With its historic connection with Popes and Anti-Popes, Avignon I am sure provides useful lessons in how to handle [end p2] relationships between politicians and Bishops.

But of course Avignon is not just a city with a past. I am told that once the Community is successfully enlarged to take in Spain and Portugal, its geographical centre will be Avignon.

Even more to the point, Mr. Chairman, it was here in Avignon that John Stuart Mill wrote his greatest political testament, the Treatise “On Liberty” . That provides an apposite text for me. For Britain and France are two nations who [end p3] value liberty above all, and have not shrunk from sacrifices to prove it. Two nations who recognise, though, that in today's harsh world liberty can only be defended through a strong Alliance and an active co-operation.

Mr. Chairman, it was many years ago that Edith Cavell said “Patriotism alone is not enough” ./Winston Churchill is reputed to have made the same remark when offered a glass of home-made wine./ Tonight, I would amend it to say that in modern Europe nationalism alone is not enough. [end p4]


Nations. Both words are important. “Nations” : both France and Britain share a fierce and distinctive sense of national identity. We have both traditionally placed a high value on national independence. And what is wrong in that?

As G.K. Chesterton said: “All good men are international And if we are to be international, [end p5] We must be national” .

But the word “European” is important too. Our cultures and national traditions both spring from Europe.

How to deal with Europe, what to make of Europe, has been a dominant theme in both our histories. Sometimes the answer was a bid for domination—or a bid to prevent it. At other times, we spent our energy on pursuing interests and ambitions outside Europe. Sometimes the story was one of co-operation, sometimes competition, sometimes even collision. [end p6]

Today, Britain and France are steering very much in the same direction. We are continually looking for ways to work together more closely still. Just a few days before a European Council the first and most obvious place to look is the European Community.

European Community

Of one thing I am certain: the Community's founding fathers would be horrified at the labyrinth of its bureaucratic regulations which entwine us like Gulliver pinned down by the [end p7] little men of Lilliput.

Horrified because the Treaty of Rome embodies the economic structure of a free society.

The very first paragraphs of that Treaty speak of “the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade” , of “elimination of the barriers which divide Europe” , of “abolition of obstacles to freedom of movement for persons, services and capital” , of “a system ensuring that competition in the Common Market is not distorted” , of “the association of the overseas countries and territories in order to increase trade” . [end p8]

The Community was formed to expand trade not to protect home markets.

It was conceived as an outward looking body, not one obsessed with the minutiae of its internal procedures. Britain and France, as countries which have both known empires and brought them to independence have a special duty to preserve that characteristic.

What a long way short of those original goals we still are. To take but one or two examples. Why cannot we make it as cheap for our [end p9] citizens to travel by air within their own continent as they can to and within other continents? Why cannot it be as easy for German businessmen to take out insurance direct at Lloyds of London as it is for British motorists to buy German cars?

Many years ago that great character and statesman Ernest Bevin was asked what the aim of his foreign policy really was. His reply: “to go down to Victoria Station, get a railway ticket and go where the hell I like without a passport or anything else.” That emphasis on breaking down barriers, on taking measures which benefit directly our [end p10] ordinary citizens must be our priority in Europe. We look forward to receiving practical proposals from the Committee on a People's Europe set up at the European Council in Fontainebleau. MT omitted the follow section on the US dollar.

In the Community at present, much attention is focussed on the strength of the US dollar—and not surprisingly because it affects us all. Clearly a deficit approaching $200 billion and the high real interest rates needed to attract savings from the rest of the world are a major factor. But the dollar stays strong despite a [end p11] burgeoning federal debt and a widening current account deficit because people the world over have confidence in the permanence and stability of the free enterprise society of the United States. They know that economic freedom is the foundation for political freedom and that neither are in danger. So it is in the dollar that they invest for the long term—a bottom drawer investment.

There is a lesson there for Europe. Is it not possible that the long-term strength of the dollar is due in part to uncertainties about the future direction of [end p12] Europe? That our currencies will only rival the dollar as a safe haven when investors conclude that economic freedom and an enterprise culture are as strongly entrenched in Europe as they are in the United States? I might also add that Europe needs to rival the United States in the speed with which it both creates and accepts technological change.

Mr. Chairman, Europe will only be strong and able to play rightful part in the world when it attains the economic freedom which was the vision of the authors of the Treaty of Rome. End of MT's cut. [end p13]

Several distinguished Europeans gave me advice on what to speak about tonight. They all suggested European Union. I think I rather shocked them by replying that I would need to know what is meant by it before I could tell whether I was for it or against it. Unhappily I must report that those who advised the subject did not cast much light on its meaning. [end p14]

Let me say at once: I do not believe that we shall ever have a United States of Europe in the same way that there is a United States of America. The whole history of Europe is too different.

I do believe however that for Nations of the European Community freely to work together and to strengthen their cooperation is just as worthy a purpose. But to submerge their identity and variety would be contrary to the instincts of our peoples and therefore could not bear fruit. [end p15]

It is on the basis of working towards common goals, of using our strength and influence together that you will find Britain a strong advocate for a more united Europe.

We want to see greater unity of the Community market, greater unity of Community action in world affairs, greater unity of purpose and action in tackling unemployment and the other problems of our time and greater unity in the development and application of new technology. That is what I understand by a united Europe. [end p16]

These goals are attainable and I believe it is better to work for the substance than to talk of the shadow. There have been so many reports telling us what to do, so many theoretical models. Another report is no substitute for practical progress.

But in 1984 under the Presidency of President Mitterrand we have seen more action in solving our practical problems than for may a long year. That is significant not only because of the particular solutions we reached but because if we can solve some difficult problems we [end p17] can solve others too. Mr. Chairman, in Europe we are beginning to revive the vigour and vitality which once made us the most confident of civilisations. MT omitted or paraphrased the following sections on East/West relations and the Atlantic Alliance.


But although the Community may be at the centre of our common concerns, we must not forget our responsibilities to those who live on the same continent but on the other side of the frontier of freedom. However different our philosophies and way of life from them we have a common interest in avoiding armed conflict. [end p18]

The announcement last week by President Reagan that negotiations are to begin with the Soviet Union on the crucial issues of arms control and reduction are good news for us all, both East and West, and a just return for the patience and purpose which the Alliance have shown.

I would recall to you de Tocqueville 's observation that

“of all peoples, those most deeply attached to peace are the democratic nations” .

This is an area Mr Chairman where Britain and France [end p19] will need to work even more closely together if, as we hope, substantive negotiations on arms control get under way.

The Atlantic Alliance

We should also work together to help Europe make a more vigorous and purposeful contribution to the Atlantic Alliance.

For forty years we have enjoyed friendship and security in alliance with an unprecedentedly generous and loyal ally—the United States of America. For many years in the post-war period she had [end p20] a total monopoly of nuclear weapons, yet none had cause to fear her. No nation with such enormous power has ever used it so wisely or with such restraint.

But we must never take her commitment to Europe for granted. We must not give the impression that we in Europe want to enjoy the fruits of a pax Americana without sharing the costs and risks that make that security possible.

Britain and France are best placed to give a lead. We both maintain an independent nuclear deterrent. [end p21] Britain keeps 66,000 servicemen fully committed to the NATO Alliance in the heart of Germany, France some 50,000 servicemen over the border in Germany under her own national control. We both have considerable naval forces. We both have a history that has given us interests and responsibilities girdling the world.

Like the US we both maintain a capacity beyond the NATO area. Let us be proud of it. The security of the North Atlantic countries does not start at the invisible line [end p22] of the Tropic of Cancer. We can only be truly secure if beyond that line we have ability to protect our trade and other interests and are willing to use it.

European Foreign and Defence Ministers took an important step forward in Rome last month, when they declared their intention of revitalising the Western European Union.

Such steps are useful. But everything we do must contribute to the strengthening of the overall Alliance. It must never introduce divisions or suspicions into it. [end p23] For the strength of all is the strength of each.

Europe's defence can also be strengthened by bilateral contacts. Different pairs of countries complement each other in different ways. We in Britain have no reservations about the efforts which France and the Federal Republic of Germany have made to intensify their co-operation. Today, President Mitterrand and I have been talking about what Britain and France for their part can do together. We resolved to give our co-operation a strong [end p24] political impetus and direction. And to search for areas where we can work together. End of MT's cut.

Indeed, my discussions with President Mitterrand over the past two days have highlighted the enormous number of fields in which France and Britain are working together. We decided at our joint press conference earlier today, after the friendliest and most positive bilateral meeting we have ever had, to set out publicly details of just some of the projects on which Britain and France are collaborating. Some are well known and often in the news. Others are less spectacular, for instance, food technology and bio-technology. [end p25] And with an eye to the future we have decided to arrange a meeting in London early in the New Year of French and British scientists and technologists to see how we can best co-ordinate our efforts in fundamental and applied research.

Mr Chairman, there can be few less appropriate subjects for an after dinner speech in France than food technology: we all know that in this country food is an art. And it was that marvellous French playwright Moliere who reminded us: “It's good food not fine words that keeps me alive” . I must therefore move rapidly to my conclusion. ([Rough notes by MT:] Rapid sub-editing. Strength of dollar. E/W relations. Need to be loyal member of Alliance.) [end p26]

Mr Chairman, I know that those of you gathered here for this conference will spend this weekend examining many aspects of Franco/British relations—security, economic links, practical steps to improve contacts such as those proposed by President Mitterrand during his very successful State Visit to Britain. I wish you well in your task.

No two peoples in Europe have a longer or prouder history as nations than Britain and France. This was recognised by President Mitterrand [end p27] himself when he said

“Europe in the abstract, a geometric shape … is a caricature. The true Europe needs nations just as a living body needs flesh and blood.”

Mr Chairman here in France you have the original Statue of Liberty on the Ile des Cygnes in Paris. We also have in the Treaty of Rome a Statute for Liberty. Let us apply that Statute to secure the personal liberty of our people and the free cooperation of our countries in a new European renaissance. [end p28] ([Notes by MT:] Thank our hosts—privilege of seeing and dining in this historic palace. Excellent [two illegible words].)

It has been a pleasure to be with you. I wish you a successful and enjoyable conference. [(Note by MT:] Altogether for happy and great occasion.)