Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1985 Jun 29 Sa
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after Milan European Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Sforzesco Castle, Milan
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: The Press Conference began at 2130, fifteen minutes after the conclusion of the Council.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3159
Themes: Trade, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Science & technology, Transport, Terrorism, Northern Ireland, Law & order, Autobiographical comments, British relations with Italy

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful to so many of you for staying so long; it is rather late at night.

As you know, this has not been an easy conference. We from Britain came here with high hopes. We are a very practical people. We had negotiated with our partners and were prepared to take decisions which would have meant progress in the Community on practical steps forward—practical steps within the existing Community on how best to take decisions; practical steps on the internal market; practical steps on cooperation technologically; practical steps on how better to cooperate politically.

Some of those decisions have been taken. We have, in fact, given priorities to the European Commission about how they should proceed with regard to the internal market. Our job as the European Council is to give priorities. We have given them.

We have also agreed on technological cooperation and on negotiating and agreeing between our companies and our governments on particular ways to go forward in technology.

We have also agreed that we have problems with Japan and we must tackle them in a very vital and decisive way.

All of these are for jobs, but as far as decisions on taking the Community forward is concerned, on the practical [end p1] proposals we could have implemented and on the political cooperation we could have agreed, we have not in fact made the progress we sought and would have wished.

Others have postponed it to another conference. We have taken the view that if we, as Heads of Government, cannot decide why should another conference which consists of people far less than Heads of Government elsewhere, how should they be able to decide? Nevertheless, the other view prevailed and we must go to that intergovernmental conference. My view of it is this:

It will try to tackle amendments to the treaty. We do not believe you need amendments to this great treaty. The treaty itself is not yet fully operative. Let us explore and make it fully operative. If you go for a conference to change the treaty, any changes have to be endorsed unanimously and go before each of the parliaments. We do not believe that is necessary.

Nevertheless, progress has been made on priorities for the internal market, on technological cooperation, and on the viewpoint which we take with Japan—all of which are important for jobs in the future.

I have just one final comment. We British have occasion to be very very European. We have been part of Europe over the centuries. We believe that Europe could play a far larger, more significant, more influential part in the affairs of the world than she is playing now. It was our objective to achieve that. It has been put off to another conference. We wanted to achieve it now, but we shall steadily continue with our objectives: to make Europe more influential, to make [end p2] Europe more prosperous, to make Europe more important technologically, to make Europe have a higher standard of living and create more jobs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your questions! [end p3]

John Dickie ( “Daily Mail” )

Why did it go wrong here and what prospect is there of it going right at Luxembourg if it requires unanimity and we will not accept certain aspects of changes to the treaty?

Prime Minister

Look! We cannot accept certain aspects of changes to the treaty and the view which I take is that it does not matter which nation you are, if your own national interest is at stake you must make that clear and you must go on until you get a unanimous decision. Now, that holds whether you are Britain, whether you are France, whether you are Germany or whether you are anyone else, and that is natural, because it is between partners.

The conference did not succeed in the sense that it achieved as much progress as it could have done, because there were two distinct views: our very practical view: let us do what we can now, let us make the agreement for which we have worked for months, let us get as much progress as we can agree on now—and the other view: well that progress is not enough, so let us put it away to another conference.

I believe that if you consistently, when you meet, make progress, that is the way to go about it. Others did not take that view, so they have delayed, postponed, procrastinated and so on. Women are very practical, John, as you know!

Question

Mr. Craxi said in his press conference right now that because of opposition by the Greeks that the practical proposals [end p4] that you had put forward were put aside, shelved, deleted from the Final Statement.

Prime Minister

I do not share that view!

Question (same man)

What is your view?

Prime Minister

I do not share that view! The Greeks and ourselves and other people were prepared to make progress on practical propositions before us. We were then faced with a different proposition at the last moment that everything should go to an intergovernmental conference to amend the treaty. A number of people took the view that if you are going to have an intergovernmental conference to amend the treaty, well you should know what that is going to propose before you take any other practical steps.

Had we not had this discussion, this cross between making progress now or putting it off to some intergovernmental conference, then right now I should be coming before you and saying: “Look! We have agreed on certain things; this is progress. It is within the existing treaty!” And may I just remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that the completion of the internal market actually came as an objective before the Common Agricultural Policy, and we have not achieved the completion of the internal market yet, although it came above the completion of the Common Agricultural Policy! So we were pretty practical [end p5] and wanted really to make progress.

You can understand that when we have had difficulties with the Community on finance for years and we get those sorted out, we are raring to go on visible progress. Well, we did not make visible progress as much as we should have done and could have done, but we will work constructively in the future. Do not doubt that!

Question

My question might seem to be out of current (sic) but it is still within the foreign policy of the EEC. I wanted to know: you have failed so far to meet a Palestinian-Jordanian delegation which intended to visit London before visiting Rome and Paris. Is there a particular British stand on that?

And it seems that this meeting has overshadowed the Middle East problems. It seems that the problem has not been fully discussed at this meeting. Thank you!

Prime Minister

The Middle Eastern problem was of course discussed. It was discussed at the level of Heads of Government. We did not come to a joint decision about it. You can understand that our thoughts in the Middle East were dominated by what is happening in Beirut and Lebanon at the moment and we were also discussing terrorism.

We hope very much that a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation will be completed and agreed, particularly in the context of Ambassador Murphy's negotiations, but those appear to have been held up for a time. We hope that that essential first step of [end p6] a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that will negotiate with Israel, both respecting the rights of one another to exist and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, will be agreed. That is our objective and that first step is critical to the future.

Question

Prime Minister, to go back to the main subject of the meeting, can you tell us what your predictions are for the outcome of the intergovernmental conference if suggestions are made for treaty amendments?

Prime Minister

Frankly, I am not optimistic. To make progress, we do not need amendments to the treaty—we need to use the treaty to the full extent, particularly on the internal market, and to use it to the full extent on majority voting, rather than to a fuller extent, than it is now, but also to honour the Luxembourg compromise.

Treaty amendments, as you know, can only be made by unanimous decision. There is not unanimity in the decision to call an intergovernmental conference. I do not think that bodes well for the future of the conference. I think it will delay decisions which we could have taken today. I am not a procrastinator. I believe in taking decisions with Heads of Government now. [end p7]

Derek Brown ( “The Guardian” )

Britain came here, at least partly, to prove its credentials as a good European partner and yet has been placed once again squarely in a minority. Are you confident that Britain can break away from that image, break out of that image, and prove the credentials that you came here to prove?

Prime Minister

I think our credentials are the best ones. Had we had our way, decisions would have been taken today. I think those who saw that decisions were not taken today have done the whole idea of Europe a lesser service than we were prepared to do.

Question

You mentioned terrorism. Have you achieved the objective that you set for yourself in coming to this meeting in proposing practical steps to counter terrorism and air piracy?

Prime Minister

We are constantly, in whatever forum we meet and this one is no exception, discussing how best we can counter terrorism, how best we can cooperate. In this case, in the case of the problems we have had both in Beirut and in Air India and other things, how best we can counter hijacking, how best we can make our airports safe and our airlines safe. I cannot give you details, but I can assure you that we are determined to do everything we can to make our airports more secure and our airlines more secure. [end p8]

Question

Prime Minister, at the intergovernmental conference, do you in fact believe that Britain will be able to approve any treaty amendments?

Prime Minister

None of the proposals which were before us today required a treaty amendment. I see nothing that was before us that required an amendment of the European Community Treaty.

Ann Morris ( “Kangaroo News” )

On the internal market, were those priorities agreed and what priorities would you like to see implemented in the immediate future and how seriously do you think the intergovernmental conference has delayed the internal market?

Prime Minister

The priorities are clear. The priorities are: the way in which we make our decisions, using to the maximum the clauses of the existing treaty. Then, to complete the internal market, which should have been completed years ago. Do you know, there are some directives which come from 1974 in insurance policy. They have not yet been agreed and it is not because of us! The completion of the internal market, technological cooperation, political cooperation and, of course, the way in which we take decisions, within the existing treaty. Those are the priorities which we are working towards, which we could have achieved today. [end p9]

Question

Prime Minister, could I ask you if you are satisfied with the statement issued by the Ten today on Japan and whether you might not think that further action is necessary?

Prime Minister

Further action may be necessary. I believe the President of the Commission, M. Delors, will make that clear to Yasuhiro Nakasonethe Prime Minister of Japan when he sees him.

As you know, there is a colossal imbalance between the trade which Japan expects from the rest of the world and the trade which she is prepared to grant to the rest of the world. That imbalance cannot go on. There is also a colossal imbalance in the value of the yen, which alters the competitiveness of Japanese goods. That cannot go on! If Japan is not prepared to make substantial real changes, as distinct from very small technical changes, then we and the United States will have to stand together on securing the need for Japan to make changes in her trading policy.

Question (Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation)

Do you expect Spain to raise the issue of Gibraltar once it becomes a member and could you re-state the conditions under which Britain might cede or share sovereignty over the Rock with Spain?

Prime Minister

I am asked about Gibraltar. The position is that we guarantee the position of Gibraltar in the preamble to the Constitution, that there shall be no change in the status of [end p10] Gibraltar unless the people of Gibraltar wish it.

With regard to the Treaty of Utrecht, which governs the position of Gibraltar, Gibraltar cannot be independent under that treaty: either she is British or if she ceases to be British, she becomes Spanish. So the interregnum of an independent Gibraltar is not possible under that treaty unless, of course, it were by agreement between ourselves and Spain and a new treaty.

But the position of Gibraltar is guaranteed under the Preamble to her Constitution and we stand by that guarantee.

Question

Prime Minister, the intergovernmental conference will also discuss a new treaty on foreign policy and…

Prime Minister

No, no, no, no!

Question

Well according to the Italian text it will!

Prime Minister

Well, an intergovernmental conference under Article 236 can only be called when specific amendments of treaty have been proposed either by government or commission. The only specific amendments that I know that have been proposed to the treaty are to Article 57 and to Article 100—political cooperation does not require amendment of the treaty. A binding agreement on political cooperation must be negotiated between Foreign Ministers [end p11] in the Council of Foreign Ministers—the General Affairs Council&em:it does not require an amendment of the treaty to do it; it requires a binding agreement which would have to be ratified by all parliaments.

Question (Same Man)

So this conference will not discuss that issue?

Prime Minister

I would not expect that conference to. It is a wholly separate matter.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, coming from Utrecht, I do not want to put questions …   .

Prime Minister

Then don't!

Question (Same Man)

But during this conference there have been talks about the three of Benelux and the old six plus one. Are you not afraid that the ten—later on 12—will be split up into three, six, seven and so on that is nothing to do with the Common Market, with the Community? [end p12]

Prime Minister

No I am not! I have been here 6½ years and I have seen most things, believe you me! And I believe that the achievements we have made in the last 18 months have been quite outstanding. I think it is a pity we have not been able to take them forward in this particular meeting of the European Council. We could have made further progress in this. People have tended to shift it aside and put it on to some intergovernmental conference. I think that is a pity. We could have made progress here.

But no, I do not believe that you will get a kind of specific cleavages within the 12.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, could you comment on the success or otherwise of your meeting with Dr. FitzGerald, the Irish Prime Minister, on Anglo-Irish relations?

Prime Minister

Well now, I think that we actually issued something afterwards, that we say that we met for about an hour, as part of continuing contacts between the two Prime Ministers, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Dr. Garrett FitzGeraldthe Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, and we reviewed the progress made in talks between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, under the authority of an intergovernmental council that we have, and we reaffirmed our progress and our commitment to make progress in relation to the Northern Ireland situation, our condemnation of all forms of terrorism, and I may say that whether it is Garrett FitzGerald or myself, we are both absolutely condemning all forms of terrorism. They are enemies of democracy, and our determination [end p13] to do everything possible to defeat them.

We also, as you know, have been cooperating together on the loss of the Air India aircraft, which we went obviously to the aid of, because we had Nimrod and various forces searching for people and we and Ireland cooperated together very much on that.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you are obviously very irritated by the failure to make progress today. What do you blame for this? I mean, is it a national interest on anyone's part?

Prime Minister

No, I am not particularly irritated. It was just a lost opportunity. I think that is a pity, but you know how practical we women are!

Question (Same Lady)

Why was this opportunity lost?

Prime Minister

It was the difference between people who wanted to make the progress we could make now and others who said: “Look! We want to make more, therefore let us try to get an intergovernmental conference to see if we can make more!” Those of us who wanted to make immediate practical progress said: “Look! But if you have an intergovernmental conference, it cannot get anywhere without unanimous decisions. There is not unanimous agreement. We have already staked out and defined the limit of what we can agree at the moment. Let us take that now!” That was the difference. [end p14] We wanted to make progress now and others seemed to me to push it aside and delay it to an intergovernmental conference which in the end cannot succeed, except through unanimity.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you said that you condemn all forms of terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister

I condemn all forms of terrorism, not those limited to Northern Ireland.

Question

Indeed, but in the Northern Ireland context, where do you and Dr. FitzGerald stand in regard to the reported opposition of the judiciary to judges from Northern Ireland and from the Republic in courts.…

Prime Minister

That is not a matter of terrorism. Terrorists can be brought before any court, either in Northern Ireland or in the Republic, and as you know we have an agreement that people guilty in one territory can be tried in the other. Your question is not a link-up to terrorism in any way. Terrorists can in fact be tried either in the courts in Northern Ireland or in the courts of the Republic. [end p15]

Question (Same Man)

My question is this: did you just confine it to terrorism. i.e. against the IRA and any other forms of terrorism, or did you go into other obstacles to Anglo-Irish progress in regard to the police and the judiciary?

Prime Minister

We are trying to discuss things which will make for stability and peace in Northern Ireland. I do not intend to go into details.