Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with French President (Francois Mitterrand)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Lancaster House, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

Late afternoon?

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4210
Themes: Agriculture, Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), European Union Budget, Transport, Defence (general), Terrorism

Prime Minister

François MitterrandMr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We have just concluded a short but productive Summit. We are delighted to welcome President Mitterrand, Prime Minister Chirac and some of their ministerial colleagues for this occasion.

I must report that these days we do see quite a lot of one another. I had at least two meetings with President Mitterrand last year and in addition to the European Councils and Economic Summits which we both attend; three with Mr. Chirac, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of an almost unprecedented number of direct contacts between Britain and France at all levels.

That is something we want to encourage and one reason why we are always hoping to increase the number of youth exchanges, officially sponsored, which we have. This was something which I agreed with M. Chirac on my last visit and we are hoping to step up the number of officially sponsored youth exchanges. We already have a very great number of private ones. [end p1]

What is also impressive is the very wide range of issues on which Britain and France now work and act together. The most dramatic is the Channel Tunnel which for me, and I think for most people, was the single most exciting and hopeful development in Europe last year which I may say owes a great deal to the enthusiasm of President Mitterrand.

But there are very many other matters where we are working together: arms control; our determination to maintain our independent nuclear deterrents; our respective naval activities in the Gulf; our support for an international conference in the Middle E* and the steady advance of our cooperation in defence.

These things amount to a degree of thinking alike and acting alike which, against the background of our history, would probably surprise both our peoples if they added it all up and realised just how much common ground there is between us.

I would like to pay tribute to the very major contribution made by President Mitterrand and Prime Minister Chirac to producing this change in our relations.

Of course, we have talked about the European Council which is to be held in Brussels in two weeks time. We would both like that meeting to be successful, but I think we both realise that there are still some very difficult problems to be resolved, particularly on agriculture. [end p2]

We must have effective agricultural stabilisers, which bring spending on agriculture under control, and put an end to the problem of surpluses, but there is still some distance to go before we can be confident of achieving a satisfactory outcome in Brussels and I shall be talking to Chancellor Kohl about these problems on Tuesday.

We have also talked about defence. Our cooperation on defence is increasing steadily, for instance in the field of equipment. We consult very closely on arms control issues. We are developing our exchanges on nuclear cooperation. We agree on the importance of strengthening the European pillar of the NATO Alliance without undermining NATO's existing structures. We want to encourage the United States to keep its forces in Europe, and I put some practical ideas to President Mitterrand for greater practical military cooperation between France and her other NATO allies, ideas whose purpose is to strengthen the European pillar of the Alliance, and I hope they will be followed up and discussed over the months and years ahead.

We also discussed a wide range of international problems—I will not go into them in detail—and we were able to confirm the excellent state of our bilateral relations. There were simultaneously discussions between Foreign Ministers, Agriculture Ministers, Trade Ministers and Home Ministers, so altogether, it has been a very productive visit, one of the many bilateral occasions in which we indulge and which I hope will grow in the future.

I will now ask President Mitterrand to give his views of today's meeting and on the matters which we have discussed. [end p3]

President Mitterrand

As the Prime Minister has just mentioned, the two really important fields that were the hub of our conversations today have been, on the one hand, defence and secondly, the preparations for the European Summit in Brussels—in other words, the Summit of the Community.

As far as defence is concerned, once again, as has already been mentioned, we have studied in yet greater depth our approach to the disarmament conversations, whether we are talking about nuclear weapons—so-called “intermediate weapons” —which are already the subject of two agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union. Also strategic weapons, conventional weapons too and chemical weapons, and we recalled once again the fact that the negotiation that is underway involves the two great countries, the Soviet Union and the United States of America and these talks, which are of the greatest possible interest of course for all other countries, in particular the countries of Europe, and we have approved the Washington Agreement and we remain keenly interested and will support all disarmament proposals as long as those two countries move ahead in the right direction and in good order.

British arms and French arms, as you know, are not at the present stage affected by the Washington Agreements, nor will they be affected by future agreements until the more distant and uncertain future. Nuclear disarmament and the super-powers has not [end p4] in fact gone through the many stages which are still necessary. You know the figures and you will appreciate that even a 50%; reduction in strategic arms would maintain such enormous differences in military potential that that would not yet be enough to justify our participating in any negotiation in that area, but we warmly encourage the two super-powers to proceed in that direction. As I said, we have approved and will continue to approve what they are doing, at the same time bearing in mind that a discussion on conventional weapons would be of the greatest possible interest right now, because that is where the imbalances can also in fact develop.

We have also today talked about the preparations for the Community Summit in Brussels which, as you know, will take place on 11–12 February, which is very soon.

There are three issues under discussion which concern the budget of the Community and, in particular, the resources of the budget.

In the usual terminology used in this type of organisation, one talks about the “fourth resource” because there are three others, and the fourth is the sort of calculation involving VAT and the gross domestic product of each country. [end p5]

There were difficulties here, but not difficulties between Great Britain and France. There are difficulties here among several countries because several countries do not agree with the method proposed by the Commission, in particular Italy, for example, but Great Britain and France, from this angle, both want to move in the direction indicated.

On the structural funds—or regional aids if you like—proposals have been made by the Commission which would increase by 100%; the amounts assigned to those countries which at present benefit from the structural funds. Great Britain and France agree that the resources be increased, but do not wish to engage in a series of procedures—in particular with the European Parliament—in connection with this and we would be in favour of a reasonable rate of increase, which will be discussed during the course of next week.

You know that the positions are as follows: the Commission suggesting 100%;, the countries most directly concerned with the structural funds would also be happy with such a percentage increase—100%;.

There is one idea which has begun to emerge, which was to establish some differentiation in the allotting of the funds, depending on the degree of hardship or development or non-development of the areas concerned and on this particular issue there is no difference of opinion between our two countries. [end p6]

Now this is not true of agriculture where our approaches are still—let us face it—fairly different, and today we have not noted, really, what might form the basis of a possible agreement, but the Brussels Summit will take place, the initiative having been taken by the Federal Republic of Germany. It was the Federal Republic of Germany that called for such a meeting when we last met at Copenhagen which, as you know, did not succeed, and it is the Federal Republic of Germany which is in the Chair in the Community for the first six months of 1988. It will therefore be for Germany primarily to organise the negotiations in such a way that we will be able to reach agreement in Brussels.

Our British friends know the French position, but what we know of the present positions would indicate that the discussion will not be an easy one, whether it is a question of the co-responsibility tax or whether it is what is known as “stabilisers” , in other words, ways of avoiding the constant increase of surpluses or whether it is a question of the maximum guaranteed quotas for cereals or for oil seeds. There is still quite a big gap between the British position and the French position, the French position being closer to the German position and there is a specific problem too concerning the stabilisers and that, of course, is the question of prices and how to handle prices, because price management can serve as a stabilising influence, but some countries do not wish that type of mechanism. [end p7]

We have made good progress in two out of the three really important issues and the third issue is still pending, but for the moment, we do not yet quite see—what has been said very often in public—we do not yet see how the twelve-country Community could in fact reach agreement on present positions, having on the one hand what the Federal Republic of Germany is proposing, and Chancellor Kohl and Mrs. Thatcher will be talking precisely about that during the course of this week.

There are agreements on matters perhaps of detail, but it is still important, and for example, France very much wanted imports of rum from the French overseas Departments for which there are fiscal tax exemptions—we wanted our eleven partners to in fact endorse and agree to this. Unanimity had been achieved but, for her own reasons, the United Kingdom had in fact objected, but we understand that this objection will be lifted subject to a certain number of other arrangements in that particular area.

And then, again, on youth and the increased exchanges of young people in all forms, this kind of thing is already going on between France and the Republic of Germany and there is no reason at all why this should be limited to two countries … these exchanges … learning the other country's language and so on, living in the country, living with the families of the other country and so on, working with schools, in particular art schools. There is no reason at all why this kind of development of youth exchanges be limited in Europe to France and Germany. We are very happy to [end p8] enlarge this, with the agreement of the United Kingdom, involving exchanges of young people and all sorts of activities related to young people in the framework of a kind of agreement which would in fact give us a blueprint for the future, as long as we can develop the European spirit and, of course, this starts necessarily in young people and necessarily by the learning of the other country's language and friendships that are struck up in universities, in schools. This kind of thing has been done, will continue, and one can say that real progress is being made and will be made in this area.

I have, of course, put all this in a nutshell and I will be happy to answer or listen to any questions you may have to ask.

I do not think that we have reached the end of a road—and it is not always an easy one—as far as the preparations for the European Summit are concerned. We have not yet reached the end of the preparatory work. We do not yet know really how we should deal with the question of agricultural surpluses. There are problems there that have to be solved and at present there are sort of two schools of thought in conflict, views which are not at all the same, philosophically one might say, but the first thing is one must of course economise and secondly—and you could say the secondly should come first, you have got to start somewhere—but you must also obviously respect the spirit of the Treaty of Rome. Well, that is the position we are in right now and I hope that we will be able to make progres speedily. [end p9]

Anyway, I would like to thank both the Prime Minister and Members of the British Government who have given us very warm hospitality and who have spoken to us with great frankness and have told us clearly that they want to move ahead in solving the problems I have been mentioning. [end p10]

John Dickie (The “Daily Mail” )

Prime Minister, did you have the opportunity to discuss how best to cooperate in handling the problems created by terrorism and did you reassert your firm conviction that there should be no concessions made for the sake of the return of hostages? Perhaps Monsieur Le President would also like to answer that from the point of view of France.

Prime Minister

There was a discussion on cooperation on terrorism which, may I say, is very close cooperation between Britain and France in all terrorist matters and we were very grateful to France for the way in which she apprehended the ship Eksund with its cargo of death on board.

Our view on hostages has not changed. We believe it is wrong to bargain with terrorists or over hostages, because it only encourages more violence and more kidnapping. But our cooperation on apprehending terrorists is close and effective.

President Mitterrand

On that question, I did not mention conversations between Ministers of the Interior and Security, because this conversation has not led to any new agreements. Relations are good, so there is nothing new, there is nothing special.

We continue to work together and our links are all the closer. [end p11]

We have nothing to add on trade either. I have just gone straight to the real essentials.

As far as hostages are concerned, I do not think that one can negotiate with people who are criminals, but the problem is of course very delicate because we are talking about human life. The freedom of our citizens—obviously they are important—their feelings have to be taken into account.

I have always said I was very much against any negotiations with terrorists. There are countries who protect them and we should know which they are.


I would like to ask you a question about cooperation on defence.

This project of developing a missile, which is going to be a French-British missile, is it making any progress or do you feel that there is some reticence from the British side and that they would prefer cooperation with the Americans?

President Mitterrand

I do not think there is any particular reticence, nor do I wish to denounce anyone. I do not think that we have advanced on that particularly. [end p12]


… cooperation between France and West Germany on the Brigade, there is also cooperation with Great Britain on defence matters. Is it possible that France might some day move to rejoin NATO?

If that is not the case, where do you see this French cooperation leading? What do you envision (sic) in the future for this increased cooperation?

President Mitterrand

We have very considerable cooperation in the field of defence because we are members of the same alliance. We are both of us members of the Atlantic Alliance. We are both of us present, through our troops, in Germany, in Berlin. We have many common interests and we are also the two European nuclear powers, in addition to the Soviet Union, so that we have many many things in common, as you see, and it is very much in our interest to talk about these things and we do so.

All right, you are adding to that the question: is France ready to go back into NATO, but that is not the question. We are members of the Alliance anyway and the Alliance involves certain military arrangements. Our fate is tied to the Alliance. We are loyal members of the Alliance and we are at one with the Alliance, but we will certainly not move back into the integrated command. Our nuclear deterrent is independent; there is no question of changing our strategy there. [end p13]


Prime Minister, would you welcome it if France came back into the integrated command of NATO and if you welcome it, would you ask France to do so?

Prime Minister

Well, I think François MitterrandMr. President has just answered that question.

He is a member of the Western Alliance, but not fully in the integrated command.

I think the important thing is that we do, in practice, steadily cooperate more and more together and in this connection one has put some proposals to the President in the past and I think that you will find that we do work more closely together in practice. I think it is perhaps what happens on the ground that matters rather more than trying to strain to achieve something which cannot be achieved for the present.

Question (In French) (French Television)

My question is for the President of the Republic.

Mr. President, do you think that NATO should continue to keep short-range nuclear weapons in Europe and in particular in Germany and if so, how do you fit that in with the fact that you do not believe in flexible response itself? [end p14]

President Mitterrand

The question was not raised.

We of course discuss this at length in the lobbies of conferences and the discussion became public through the press and people sense that there is a question there that is lurking in the background that one day there will be an open debate on the subject, but that is not the case right now.

No-one has asked us in clear terms, speaking from Government to Government, to embark on such a discussion, we the French, but I am not sure that the discussion really has even actually been started between the Soviets and the Americans.

My reasoning is really very simple:

Our nuclear weapons form a whole, whatever name you put to them. It is an arbitrary definition, after all, which is coined by the Russians and the Americans to define an armament on the basis of its range and how far it can go.

Remember, we the French are in Western Europe and if a missile whose range is 4500 kilometres or only 1500 km, well the danger for us just the same.

As to the very short-range missiles, true enough, that means less than 500 kilometres and so there the problem does present itself rather differently because such weapons would not directly reach enemy territory, but that problem has not really been raised and it is not my custom to reply to questions that other countries have not put to us, but I did not want to disappoint you, mind you, [end p15] and if the question were put to me I would say: “Well, look after your own business! Start by disarming yourselves! You have 13,000 nuclear warheads on one side, 11,000 on the other, we have about 300. Before thinking of us, please continue what you are doing yourselves, reducing the number of warheads, because why would we get rid of one of our nuclear warheads as long as there are still thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads over and above our figures in the two countries that I have mentioned?”

You raised a third question and that was flexible response.

I will merely say that you are right and that your information is correct and sometimes we do discuss such matters with Mrs. Thatcher. I would not say we entirely see eye-to-eye, but it is true I am against flexible response strategy, which has been the official doctrine of NATO now for fifteen years, even more.

All right! Well that is the way things are and NATO is NATO, and I fully respect the views of the other countries, but we do not ourselves apply the same theory and the French nuclear deterrent force does not obey that concept of flexible response.

I hope I have been full in my reply. What else would you like to know? Please come out with it! What else would you like to learn from me? [end p16]

Question (Same Man?)

The basis of the question is addressed not so much to French but to the Germans.

President Mitterrand

But we have received no request, no question, neither from the Germans, the Soviets nor anyone else.

Everyone knows that people are talking about this. It is in the air everywhere and it would of course avoid unnecessary conflicts, but I can assure you that I have never been officially in receipt of such a question.

Question (Same Man?)

Well, Mr. President, let us take this further.

Are you in favour of selective options, in other words arms that can hit the aggressor's territory?

President Mitterrand

Well you are taking me too far afield.

What I believe is this: that real deterrence is deterrence which can hit the aggressor's territory, but I will stop there in my explanations. [end p17]


Mr. President, have you discussed in today's meeting with Mrs. Thatcher the results of the talks with President Mubarak last Monday and what is your opinion regarding Mubarak 's initiative?

President Mitterrand

We did talk about this. Mrs. Thatcher was kind enough to tell me about the conclusions that she had drawn from those conversations and I will be seeing Mr. Mubarak myself—we are having lunch together next Monday—and I will be able to add to your information when my information is fuller.

This proposed international conference; well, I gave my agreement to that a long time ago.


Prime Minister, could I take you back to ground that the President has already talked of, that is the France-German Brigade?

Do you have any misgivings from a British point of view on a development which might be running at least in parallel to NATO rather than within it and secondly, could you give a British view on where we are with an Anglo-French Cruise missile?

Prime Minister

France and Germany have cooperated on defence matters for quite some time and it is a matter for them as to how it should continue. [end p18]

We believe that basically cooperation should be within the NATO structure and framework, otherwise it could undermine it.

With regard to the Anglo-French possible air-to-ground missile, discussions continue but we have nothing further to report at this meeting. But those discussions do and will continue for some time, because we shall have to modernise our present weapon that comes from aircraft.


Prime Minister, if I read you rightly, you are unhappy about the development between the French and the Germans on the Brigade?

Prime Minister

You are trying to take my words further than they would permit.

I think that cooperation should be within the structure of NATO. In practice, much of it is within the structure of NATO, whether it is called that or not, and designed to enhance the efficiency of all the forces in Europe in the event of any attack.


You are satisfied, therefore, that this is the case, that this brigade will operate within the confines that you describe? [end p19]

Prime Minister

I am not privy to the details of the operation. I indicated that I think that increased military cooperation should be within the framework of NATO and enhance NATO's efficiency. I believe that much of what happens will do that.


Following the ratification of the Channel Treaty in the Elysee Palace last July 29th and of course the debate in our House of Lords in Britain on Wednesday regarding British Rail's involvement, can the Prime Minister tell us please if there is intended to be any high-speed rail link from the Channel tunnel towards London and the regions of Britain, in particular if this is intended via Canterbury, where there was once a meeting on this and perhaps a Shannon Tunnel to Southend?

Prime Minister

We, at the moment, have no further proposals for a high-speed rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London.

Question (In French)

Mr. President, has this Summit been for you an opportunity to solve all your problems with Mrs. Thatcher concerning French-German cooperation? Have you managed to get rid of the misunderstanding, do you think? [end p20]

President Mitterrand

What misunderstanding?

I think the French policy is laid down in Paris and the policy of the Federal Republic of Germany is laid down in Bonn, not in London, and Madam Thatcher has never expressed the desire to take decisions in the place of her friends.

I mean, I read what you write, and my impression is that your words are not sort of spoken in a vacuum, but no observation was addressed to us and my feeling is that the Prime Minister, quite apart from her commitments, is always very firm on her own conceptions. She practises, I think very satisfactorily, relations with others and I have no reason to answer any questions from Mrs. Thatcher on that subject, so why on earth should I answer you on such a subject? Why should we make life more complicated?

Prime Minister

I did not hear the question, so I have no quarrel with the answer!