Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with French President (Francois Mitterrand)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Timing uncertain - late morning?
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3229
Themes: Defence (arms control), Trade, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Transport

Prime Minister

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press:

I am very glad to welcome President Mitterrand to London for this Anglo-French bilateral consultation. He has been accompanied by a considerable number of Ministers, so there have been a number of subsidiary talks taking place, as well as those which the President and I have had. M. Dumas has come; M. Killes (phon.) Minister for Defence; Madame Cresson for Industrial and External Trade; M. Auvot (phon.) for Transport; M. Jacques (phon.) Minister of the Interior; M. Courier (phon.) Minister for Research and Technology; and Madame La Lumière (phon.), and each has had discussions with their opposite number. So as well as the broad subjects which the President and I have discussed, pairs of Ministers have discussed bilateral matters and wider matters in considerable detail.

The most important bilateral issue which the President and I discussed was the Channel fixed link. As you know, we are working together very closely on this exciting project, and our joint views on how to proceed are set out in a statement which is being released to you.

We hope to meet again early next year to announce the [end p1] decision on which project has been selected. For that purpose, I hope to go to France to make that announcement with the President. We are not quite certain what the venue will be, but we shall decide that later.

It will also be important to go again, following that, when the agreement is finally signed.

It has been very valuable too, on the day just before the United State-Soviet Union Summit, to have a deep discussion on East-West relations and arms control matters. Naturally, we are both loyal members of the Western Alliance and we hope that the Summit will be successful and we hope that it will give some impetus to arms control negotiations and that the very meeting itself and we hope, continued contacts, will perhaps herald a new era in United States-Soviet relations. I think that we both wisely agreed that we would not, so close to the results, prophesy what may come out of it, but naturally we hope that it will be a success.

We have also started a detailed discussion on European Community affairs. You are aware that the Luxembourg meeting will be held within a couple of weeks from now, and we feel that it is important that we take matters forward in Europe, and that we must keep in close contact with France and with our other colleagues to try to ensure that at Luxembourg we take the whole concept of Europe a practical stage further. Until Milan, we were doing so very well in solving the problems and we would like to feel that Luxembourg will be a constructive meeting. [end p2]

Ministers have discussed matters very important, such as Eureka, which we congratulate France on the idea, and it has got off to a very good start and Defence Ministers have discussed matters and also trading ministers the wider trade matters, such as the tendency for protectionism, the need to develop the internal market, and also our views on the Multifibre Agreement. but that is in rather more detail than Monsieur Le President and I entered into.

I will now call on M. President to give his views. [end p3]

President Mitterrand (Transcript of Translation)

The Prime Minister has just set out very clearly the range of questions that were discussed in these meetings between the delegations from France and the UK and I have really nothing to add because it was a perfectly accurate and precise account of what went on, because we did begin by talking about the Channel fixed link project because we agree and we are very happy to find that the schedule had been adhered to which shows, I think, that there is a general determination to succeed and we think that in January we will be able to make a public announcement of the agreement between our two countries.

As far as Geneva is concerned, well you know what the situation is. The ball is in the camp of the Ronald ReaganPresident of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachevthe Secretary-General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. We all know the basic considerations upon which the discussions will revolve. We hope that a certain number of political realities be respected and, in particular, the ABM Treaty of 1972, we hope very much will remain one of the continuing features of the world diplomatic scene.

It is a conference on disarmament and no-one, of course, would complain if it did end up by yielding something in the field of disarmament, if there were disarmament. At any rate, we would even be very happy if it were possible to start over armament. That in itself would show the trend was the right trend which would be a very good thing, but anyway, the important thing is that dialogue should not be cut off and it is important that the relationship set up in Geneva should be a continuing one. [end p4] From there, with common sense, the desire for peace, the interests of our peoples, would then be able to play a decisive role.

As far as Luxembourg is concerned, I think I can say that the way our two countries approach Luxembourg is certainly in no way antagonistic and very often our positions dovetail into each other and are complementary and I think should be sufficiently in harmony so that we should be able to succeed in Luxembourg where the Ten in fact failed in Milan. This would open up a series of discussions of detail, very technical matters, if we were to discuss this at length at this press conference. We are in the hands, of course, of the press.

On the objectives, the goals: we may not have exactly the same objectives—in any way, that identity still has to be proven—but I think that we do agree that one should move forward; that one should improve the way one does things; that the relationship between the various centres of power in the Community be consistent and should be coherent; that the whole machinery should run better, run more smoothly. We should not always be caught up in a forest of complications, in a maze of complications. It is important that political issues should take precedence over administrative complications. I think we must move forward in a realistic fashion. We must avoid taking extreme positions in trying to go too far and I think in this respect the conversations we have had are extremely positive. [end p5]

A few other discussions were undertaken by Ministers, but before, I had already indicated—and in particular the French Foreign Minister had indicated—that we considered that it would be a good thing for the countries concerned … what we do think is that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is a very good thing. I made this very clear and so did the Foreign Minister and this is something that we welcome very much.

As to other problems which you may have in mind, I think we had better wait for questions to be asked really before speaking on them. I do not want to give complete coverage of all the questions of interest to Great Britain and France in the international field, because a complete list of bilateral issues would be almost a never-ending exercise for you, Ladies and Gentlemen. You are keenly geared to what is going on. It is for you to put the emphasis on what you are interested in.

Prime Minister

Thank you very much. May I just add that we were very grateful for the support of France over the Anglo-Irish Agreement. [end p6]

Mark Roque (Le ??????)

Mrs. Thatcher, are you still angry at the French and the Germans to, you think, having stolen the idea of your Foreign Secretary about the European Union?

Prime Minister

No, I am just anxious that we make progress next time. I believe we could have made more progress than we did at Milan. No, life is much too short for anger or resentment.

Tom Macmullan (Press Association)

Was there any discussion on Britain's forthcoming decision to leave UNESCO? Does President Mitterrand have any views on that?

Prime Minister

Would Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary like just to indicate there? I can perhaps do it. A very brief discussion, I understand, between Foreign Secretaries, but it was pointed out that we have a debate in Parliament next Friday I believe and, of course, decisions will have to wait until after that. Nothing further between the President and myself, unless M. Dumas or the President would like to add anything.

M. Dumas

We did very briefly mention the question of UNESCO, Sir Geoffrey Howe and myself. Naturally, the Foreign Secretary [end p7] mentioned the discussion that is to be held in the Commons and that is the reason for not giving any final decision obviously, but I indicated that France was in favour of the situation between Great Britain and UNESCO staying as it is, that all partners should be able to continue, including the UK.

Charles Reiss ( “The Standard” )

Was there any discussion of the proposals from Mr. Gorbachev of separate talks with both Britain and France on arms control and was there agreement?

Prime Minister

Monsieur President, would you like to take that one first?

President Mitterrand

No, there was no conversation on that, especially as I had occasion to say to Mr. Gorbachev in Paris what my position was.

Prime Minister

We also had occasion to make our position clear.

Question (Lady)

On the Channel Tunnel, there have been 200 years of people going backwards and forwards and now a lot of people are thinking it is going too f* that one has not sufficiently studied the impact on the population in Kent for example, or in the north of France, local impact. Will there be discussion of all that before the final decision is taken? [end p8]

President Mitterrand

Well, do you want it to last for 300 years then?

Prime Minister

The Channel Tunnel was going ahead earlier, you will recall. Indeed, preparations were made and indeed, some boring was done. So it is not as if we have not been familiar with the problems for a very long time, and I think now is a time for decision and I think it is important to keep within the time-table that we have set ourselves, and I think if we did not, some of your colleagues would be the first to criticise us for dilatoriness in not making a decision.

Question (Peter Ayliss, Paris)

President of the Republic and Prime Minister, do you think the building of the tunnel is a very great Franco-British co-production? Will this give us a good opportunity of changing the name of the sea instead of calling it the British Channel … English Channel?

Prime Minister

Whose side are you on about the English Channel? But the important thing is, the tunnel bridge, whatever it is, the important thing is that it gets constructed. I think it is one of the exciting things that this generation can do for future generations and I hope that you will not let it be held up by any minimal considerations such as the kind that you have indicated. You are very reactionary today! [end p9]

John Suchet (ITN)

Prime Minister, was there any discussion with M. Mitterrand about the loss of the battlefield communications system to the French and would the President care to indicate why he thinks the French ‘Rita’ system won over the British ‘Ptarmigan’ system?

Prime Minister

No, there was not any discussion. France wins some, we win some!

John Suchet

Monsieur Le President, would you like to indicate why you think ‘Rita’ won where ‘Ptarmigan’ lost?


Well anyway, the answer is what the Americans thought about it.

Question (Radio France)

Mr. President, could you tell us, whether in the light of certain recent affairs, you think that England still behaves as a frank and loyal ally of France?

Prime Minister

…   . your question put to the President with me here, isn't it?

President Mitterrand

It was a question for M. Mitterrand, but I really do not [end p10] see why I would come to London to sort of flood Great Britain with a lot of unpleasant remarks. It obviously happens in a certain number of cases and in a particular case we have very diverging opinions and I always do what I can to refrain from adding to limited conflicts on very specific matters. I always go out of my way to see that this does not distort or embitter the overall …   . the important thing is to keep to a very direct way of saying things, avoiding comment and avoiding epithets and qualifications and so on which could be unpleasant. So I will not say that Great Britain was not a loyal ally. No, Great Britain has been an ally for a very very long time and remains one. But no alliance obliges members of the alliance to be a priori in agreement on everything.

Prime Minister

That was a very diplomatic and very wise reply! Very accurate.

John Morrison

Did you bring up the question of military cooperation between the two countries and French participation in the …   . fighter aircraft and your proposal of working groups to study the future developments? [end p11]

M. Mitterrand

No, we did not talk about this point directly with the Prime Minister. This was discussed between the Ministers, but in any case, this is the subject you have in mind, so I think we can quite well talk about it right now.

When I wrote to 12 partners—12 associates—on the question of the European fighter aircraft, what was I trying to achieve, what had I in mind?

First of all, I was stressing the point that we should very quickly have a look at what had happened, and that is what we did, and I think we began to realise that we had spent, in fact, a lot of time in discussing before realising that we were not talking about the same thing—we were not actually talking about the same aircraft, because what the four countries that ended up by reaching agreement among themselves—Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain—because what they had in mind was an aircraft of a certain kind. I am summarising if you like, but we can call it a heavy aircraft if you like. What the French had in mind, what they wanted, was an aircraft which, in the same way and in rather cursory fashion, I would call a light aircraft. In other words, two aircraft that could not really have the same duties, the same mission. And this is the sort of divergence of view that can reappear regularly because we will not be called upon to replace obsolescent aircraft because we are necessarily out of phase. We will not be replacing them at the same time, because they will in fact become obsolescent at the same speed but at different times. So our successors then, if we do not do anything about it, will again have the same kind of problem to deal with when it is a [end p12] question of replacing the light aircraft in the other countries and the heavy aircraft in France. We will have the same problem. So all I suggested was that one should perhaps try and plan ahead; that one should try and look ahead in order to cover even a 30-year horizon, to see what the future of European fighter aircraft would be over 30 years. Should one perhaps not look at this from the point of view of thinking in terms of a consortium, covering a sort of family in aircraft, just as one does in civil aviation with the Airbus? Should we not gradually try and bring the air forces in phase, so that the same air forces would need the same type of aircraft at the same time? It would be silly not to build the same aircraft. So that was really what I had in mind, and I added a point that is perhaps more psychological than commercial or technical. I simply said that right now France is prepared to take a limited share in the financing of the aircraft that the four other countries want. Put the other way round, the financing could open up, as it were, for the French, help the French one to be built. But I mean, it is not a question of reopening the whole negotiation. Our purpose is not to delay matters or to complicate negotiations. That is not at all our proposal.

But on the basis of this proposal for mutual, reciprocal financing, then we can try and see what the sort of fall-out will be for each side; what the return will be for everyone. That is a sort of secondary matter.

So far, the position is clear. Four countries have decided [end p13] on one thing, the French on another. That is decided, but let us try and prepare things for the future and avoid the same problem arising in exactly the same way.

Juno Langden ( “Daily Mirror” )

Would the Prime Minister and the President like to put a date on the opening of the Channel Tunnel and say whether they think they will be there to see it?

Prime Minister

No. That would partly depend upon which system were chosen and there has not been any preference as between the four systems which have been put forward. They are all being considered with an open mind and it would be quite wrong to say anything which would prejudice open consideration.

President Mitterrand

Yes, and I would add, if I may, Prime Minister, that is already a very important thing that the decision be taken, a decision, really, which is binding on two countries such as ours, and that is a political act of the greatest importance. But work has already started as far as studies are concerned and soon, work on the actual building will start.

Now, as to whether we will be there for the opening ceremony, are you quite sure that you know what your position will be tomorrow morning in your own personal life, your own personal affairs? And in public life, it is even more difficult [end p14] to know where one will be ahead.

Prime Minister

I hope to be there for the opening! I hope to be there for the opening! Of course! So do you Monsieur Le President!

President Mitterrand

Yes, I would like that and I think it would be a good thing for my country, but I cannot be sure that that will be so.

Question (Japan)

I wonder if you have discussed the so-called “tin crisis” during your meeting—the problem which is involved in the London Metal Exchange—and I wonder if you could describe your position on that matter, especially the so-called problems within the EEC. How to deal with that issue.

Prime Minister

The tin crisis was discussed between the two Ministers of Trade and Industry. As you know, we made our position clear in that we made a proposal that each country should meet its legal obligations and we hope that that will be so. It is taking, I am afraid, some time to resolve the matter. We are aware of the seriousness of the problem.

Question ( “Financial Times” )

Did you discuss the question of the possibility of putting [end p15] British satellites into space by the Arianne rocket, as has been rumoured in advance of this meeting?

Prime Minister

No Sir, we did not! I believe that our two relevant Ministers discussed that among many other things, but in a very general way.