Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after Hague European Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Press Centre, Ministry of Agriculture, The Hague
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

The Press Conference was to begin at 1620.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2618
Themes: Agriculture, Employment, Trade, Energy, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (International organizations), Commonwealth (South Africa), European Union (general), European Union Single Market, Environment, Defence (arms control), British policy towards South Africa, British relations with France, British relations with Italy, British relations with Netherlands, British relations with the Federal Republic of Germany

Prime Minister

I know you are concentrating your attention on South Africa, but we came here with a much larger task than South Africa, and I would like to say just a few words, before I come to South Africa, about the other things that we have agreed.

First, we came with very definite ideas about what we wanted to achieve on the economic front, and we were particularly concerned that the Social Fund, during our Presidency, should direct its attention to those measures which would help the creation of jobs and new enterprise, and with that in mind we suggested that its attention and its funds should be directed towards assisting the birth of small [end p1] businesses, the training of young people and particularly how to train them to set up in small businesses and self-employment—particularly training with the cooperation of employers—and also steps to help the long-term unemployed. We are also concerned that, in order to get more jobs going, we need to have in the Community an internal market much more like that of the United States and Japan, and therefore to get down many of the barriers. As you know, they started an action programme during the Dutch Presidency, and we shall continue that with all possible vigour and expect the President of each Council to make an assessment of how far we can get with that programme during that Presidency and then to help to take it forward during the Belgian Presidency following ours—again believing that when we get a freer market within the Community and the barriers come down, we shall all benefit because we shall get more trade and we shall get more jobs.

Thirdly, we have recognised the need to have a look at agricultural subsidies, not in the spirit that we and the United States are in any way against one another, but that we both suffer from the same problems along with other countries and we must look at the problems of surpluses together and must do it in the context of a GATT round, let OECD analyse the problem and also try to have bilateral contacts with other countries that are in a position of having agricultural surpluses. [end p2]

And the fourth matter, before I come to South Africa: we discussed nuclear power in the aftermath of Chernobyl, and we made it quite clear that we are each responsible for our own safety in nuclear plants, but that we shall cooperate in every way with the International Atomic Energy Agency in setting safety standards and in seeing that they are honoured and upheld and secured among the wider community.

Now, may I turn to South Africa. You have seen the communique which has been issued. We came to The Hague with a very clear idea about how the Community should try to move things forward, and I think the Presidency's conclusions reflect our own very practical and constructive approach.

First, we express our grave concern about what is happening in South Africa and our fervent wish to see an end to apartheid.

Then the conclusions express the Community's support for change by negotiation and not by violence, and by the need for the requisite dialogue and discussions to bring about that change.

We are all agreed that to this end we want to see the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and the lifting of the ban on the ANC and other political parties.

In the meantime, the Council have asked Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Foreign Secretary, as the President of the Community during the next six months, to undertake a mission next month to South Africa to try to get negotiations going, and I am sure that the Community wish him well in his task. He will carry with him the hopes of millions who want to see change through negotiations in South Africa. [end p3]

You will have noted from the communique that while these visits are going on, the Community will consult with other industrial countries on measures which might be needed if, regrettably, there is no progress.

This is a very sensible outcome and my hope is that all concerned will respond to the Community's deliberately measured but constructive approach to this appalling problem.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your questions! [end p4]

John Dickie (Daily Mail)

With all due respect to the immense diplomatic skills of the Foreign Secretary, despite his reported preference for staying at home, why do you think he will be more successful than the mission of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons?

Prime Minister

I think we are looking at the next stage. I think the Eminent Persons Group got a very long way. I think it was a tragedy that their mission was, in effect, stopped by the decision to bomb the capitals in the three countries and I firmly believe the Eminent Persons Group had a chance to get through but for what happened then.

I think it would be absurd now to cast away a chance that I believe is still there and clearly the Community believes is still there. They could have no better person to go than Geoffrey Howe to talk with President Botha and with other people in South Africa to see if we can find a way through by negotiation, because in spite of the violence that we are witnessing—and we do not want any more of that—in the end, if there is a solution to this problem—and I believe there is—it will have to come by talking to one another to find the way through. I am certain that the Community agreed with our assessment in Britain that Geoffrey Howe is the right person to conduct that visit.

Michael Evans (Daily Express)

Mr. Lubbers has made the point that if all fails and in three months time you come to consider the list of measures, that he has [end p5] got a verbal agreement that not one or two or any members of the EEC will be able to block or rule out the sanctions.

Do you understand this as the correct interpretation?

Prime Minister

As I recall, the wording was that we all agree that further measures are not excluded. Those were the words as translated into English—I noted them at the time.


If I could quote the interpretation of Mr. Mitterrand, he said that no member state would exclude the implementation of the package of measures if the Council of Ministers decided that Sir Geoffrey's mission had been a failure.

Would you not put that interpretation on it?

Prime Minister

If I were you, I do not think I would put any interpretation on it. I would look at the wording. Why do you need to put an interpretation on what is clear wording? Let me read you the wording:

“In the meantime, in the next three months, the Community will enter into consultations with the other industrialised countries on further measures which might be needed covering in particular a ban on new investments, the import of coal, iron, steel and gold coins from South Africa.”

Those were the words which we all agreed, and I do not think it is helpful or constructive to try to put a gloss upon them. [end p6]


Prime Minister, the Dutch Prime Minister said that there had been an understanding around the table, over and above, beyond the words, that if, after three months, progress had not been made, it would not be possible for one or two EEC states to block further measures being adopted. Was that your understanding?

Prime Minister

Look! Stick to the words which we all agreed. That was a very considerable advance and a very considerable agreement, and I am not going to have anything to do with attempts to try to find differences between members of the Community. This is the thing to which we have all put our names. That is the thing on which we are going forward, and I hope we shall succeed in helping to get the requisite negotiations going.

John Fraser (Glasgow Herald)

I am sorry to pursue the point, but is your message to Mr. Botha that if he does not agree to reforms in three months, the Community will get tough, and given your failure to get tough today, do you think he will really listen to you?

Prime Minister

Look! I have read out the requisite paragraph. As I have indicated, the phrase we used inside, when we were having a look at this, was that further measures are not ruled out— “excluded” was the actual word used—but we are actually agreed completely on every word here and please stand by that. Our message to President Botha [end p7] is the message contained in this communique and not a hundred-and-one different interpretations of it, and we will stick to the message in this communique.

David Adamson (Daily Telegraph)

What in your view constitutes success for Sir Geoffrey's mission? Is it just the release of Mandela, unbanning of the ANC, or does there have to be something more substantial?

Prime Minister

We believe, as you see in the communique, that the dialogue cannot take place so long as recognised leaders of the black community are detained and their organisations are proscribed.

Now, so long as that happens, you are not going to get negotiations going. The object is to get negotiations going, and it was in that context that the European Council called on the South African Government unconditionally to release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and to lift the ban on the African National Congress and the Pan-African Congress and other political parties. But the object is to get negotiations going. You cannot, with some of the black African leaders who are detained. Some, not all, as you know.

Julia Langdon (Daily Mirror)

Prime Minister, in the event of the negotiations not getting underway in the way that you would like, would you be prepared to enthusiastically endorse the kind of measures that are mentioned in the communique possibly being necessary? [end p8]

Prime Minister

In that event, we shall have further to consider the matter along the lines in paragraph 5.

Julius Fisher

Mr. Lubbers will go to Moscow, but he is not the first man in Europe. You come now. I want to ask, do you think it is important to go to Moscow?

Prime Minister

I am sure Mr. Lubbers does not need our support to go to Moscow. I am sure he will have our goodwill.

Victoria English (Ap Dow Jones)

Mrs. Thatcher, there are some people who see this agreement as an attempt by Britain to gain time and I was wondering if you could comment a little bit on British thinking over a longer period of time. Would you see yourself responding to the South African emergency in a graduated increasingly punitive way and whether the British Government might be making an announcement at the Commonwealth meeting in August—it would be slightly stronger then, the position that you have taken today at the EEC Summit?

Prime Minister

The purpose of this communique is to obtain the positive result we want: an end to apartheid, a negotiation on the future constitution of South Africa, between all the peoples, including full representatives of the black African community. We cannot decide [end p9] what decisions they will come to or even more, what the possibilities are; we can only undertake to do everything we can to get that negotiation going so that they can then decide for themselves.

It is very easy in life to go on hitting out. It is much slower but more positive and more worthwhile to take measured steps to try to achieve the results you want. That is the message of this communique—do not hit out; try to get negotiations going; try to be positive; try to be constructive. And once again, we are going to have another go at that and we believe that Sir Geoffrey Howe has possibly the best chance of anyone to succeed.

Question (Turkish Daily)

Last night, during dinner, Mr. Papandreou has exposed his objections for the normalisation of EEC-Turkey relations and he has voiced his worries that the Turkish-Greek bilateral relations should be taken by the EEC—that the EEC should take a position on them. What is your reaction to that?

Prime Minister

The EEC has not taken a position. The EEC has received some documents from Mr. Papandreou. The EEC has not reached any conclusion or had any major discussion about the way forward in this particular matter. We know that as far as Cyprus is concerned, that is in the hands of Mr. Perez de Cuellar and we are content that it should continue to be so. As far as the Community is concerned, there is an association agreement with Turkey and there has been no change as a result of this Community Conference. [end p10]

Question (American)

In terms of both trade and East-West relations, with increasingly restricted trade policies being discussed in the US, with Reagan 's current policy on SALT, a number of issues; is there a concern in Europe in general, and on your part in particular, that Washington is not listening as much any more?

Prime Minister

But I think Washington is listening very much indeed.

First, do not forget the G5 agreement, due very considerably to Jim Baker. This indicated not merely a willingness but active association on the part of America when dealing with matters of world economy, to consult and to act with other partners.

We are very much aware that on the agricultural side we simply cannot act alone. Surpluses is a matter of world moment. There are surpluses in the United States, surpluses in the Community, sometimes surpluses in India, sometimes surpluses in China, surpluses in Australia, surpluses in New Zealand, and therefore, we really have to decide between us how best to deal with this problem because it is not going to go away unless we take steps to work together and we will deal with it, bilaterally and also in GATT and OECD. That, I think, was a great step forward at Tokyo and we will take it further forward here, and then, when it comes to this matter, as you will see, again in paragraph 5, in the next three months the Community will enter into consultations with other industrialised countries. If ever you are considering the possibility of further measures, you have to take into account what other industrialised countries would do and therefore you have to consult with them, including the United States. [end p11]

I would think that the level of consultation—and it was very much fostered by the Ronald ReaganPresident before he met at the first meeting with Mr. Gorbachev—has been increased, because we all understand that we live in a smaller world and one world, and what one does affects the other, and therefore consultations are not a luxury but a necessity.


In specific terms of SALT, are you concerned with the swing in policy of late?

Prime Minister

Well we are obviously concerned, because we are all concerned about arms control measures. As I understood what Ronald Reaganhe said, no decision has been taken and he has given until November for the treaty—both the SALT 2 and the ABM treaty—to be complied with, and seen to be complied with. I hope it will be complied with, because as you have heard me say before, in a very uncertain world, where there is no real certain international law in the same way as we have a certain national law, the only extra stability and certainty you can look to is that great nations which negotiate treaties will keep those treaties, and where they are coming to an end, will do everything in their power to ensure, for greater stability and safety, that there is predictability on what will happen in the future, and therefore a considerable time before any such treaty is brought to an end, so there is time to negotiate something else.