Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference after Rhodes European Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Castle of the Grand Knights, Rhodes
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: Between 1430 and 1630. As always the Foreign Secretary was also present at MT’s press conference after the Council.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2883
Themes: Defence (general), Environment, Taxation, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Trade unions

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen, this European Council in Rhodes has been able to revert more to the type of Council originally envisaged, namely a stock-taking by Heads of State and Government of the development of the Community and world issues.

First, I would like to thank Mr Papandreou for his chairmanship and hospitality and to say how pleased we are to see his health improving.

Second, I think we have put in some useful work and a number of positive points have emerged. The first one: we are at the half-way stage towards 1992 and we shall, by the end of this year, have concluded virtually half the legislative programme needed to complete the Single Internal Market. That is some cause for satisfaction but there is still a lot to do and we shall need to go full steam ahead.

I am pleased that we have reaffirmed our priorities for further work in line with the decisions at Hanover.

The second point: this work is going ahead in the midst of what M. Delors described last night as a strong investment-led boom, indeed strong investment-led growth, throughout the Community, growth resulting from the kind of financial and economic policies we in the United Kingdom have long advocated and pursued.

There are also close signs that we are getting agricultural spending and production under control and therefore EC finances in a healthier state.

The next point: the Community has explicitly set its face against the concept of fortress Europe and, four, strengthening the multilateral trading system through GATT. That is a very good message for Montreal.

Fifth, we have issued a valuable statement on the need for Member States to take the lead in protecting the world's environment, where as you know it is a particular concern of mine, and I am pleased that the Community has specifically recognised the problems of the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect.

As you know, the United Kingdom Government is convening an international conference in London in March on the depletion of the ozone layer.

Going back to the Single Market for a moment, I would like to mention three additional points from which I draw some encouragement.

I think there is a growing recognition of the difficulties contained in the tax proposals of the Commission. I do not regard Community decisions on tax rates as necessary to complete the Internal Market.

It has again been recognised, as at Hanover, that the extra growth resulting from the Single Market is the best way to deal with unemployment and to advance the [end p1] living standards of all the people. Similarly, the crucial importance of training in helping to secure greater benefit from growth is also recognised.

The communique acknowledges that the question of open frontiers within the Community is linked to combatting crime, drug trafficking and terrorism.

The mention of terrorism leads me finally to have sadly to recall my meetings with Mr Martens yesterday and with Mr Haughey a short time ago on the Ryan matter. I have taken both my colleagues through the facts of the case and let them know the utter dismay, not merely of the British Government, but of the British people at being so badly let down.

I can only reiterate: it is not enough to sign ringing declarations against terrorism. What matters is effective action to bring before the courts persons charged with terrorist offences.

(Questions and Answers)


You say you took Mr Martens and Mr Haughey through the case but they are saying they took you through the case, that the legalities were such that they could not extradite?

Prime Minister

In the Belgian case the facts are these, as with the Heysel case, the police worked extremely closely together on preparing the evidence. The prosecuting services of Britain and Belgium worked extremely closely together on preparing the documents. The courts, the Courts of First Instance, reached the decision that extradition was warranted. The Court of Appeal reached a similar decision.

In the Heysel case the Home Secretary therefore extradited, in the Ryan case the Cabinet refused to extradite. That was the sequence, it remains the sequence. That is the case in the Belgian case.

In the Irish case of course the matter is not yet complete.

Question (John Dickie, Daily Mail)

Do you think your strictures on the Ryan extradition case will mean that there will be no repetition of such a fiasco in future or secondly do you think it might just mean more water off a duck's back?

Prime Minister

With which country are you …

Question (John Dickie, Daily Mail)

With Ireland.

Prime Minister

I think what is clear is that the procedures are not working satisfactorily. As you know, the present Extradition Acts under which Ireland works were changed unilaterally. They are designed to give a procedure for John Murraythe Irish Attorney General to take out a provisional warrant to detain someone, on evidence presented by our Sir Patrick MayhewAttorney General, or of course to back our Attorney General's warrant.

I think the provisional warrant only lasts for something like three days so presumably that is enough in the view of the authorities in Ireland to make a decision about whether our Attorney General's warrant should be backed or they should have an additional one themselves. [end p2]

Clearly the procedures are not working effectively. May I make it quite clear that the times within which I have been discussing in that reply are times to detain the person charged with offences. You detain him to make certain, him or her, that you can then properly consider the matter of extradition, which is of course a much longer process.

But at the moment the first steps are not working as they should and both the Attorney asked in the House and I asked that we have proper, agreed and workable procedures in which we can both have confidence.

Question (Don MacIntyre)

Did you ask Mr Haughey if the Irish Government would consider amending the Extradition Acts and if you did what was his reply?

Prime Minister

I pointed out that the procedures were not working properly. I pointed out that Charles Haugheythe Taoiseach had said that if the procedures did not work properly under the legislation that he was the then proposing, he would have a look at the matter again. I therefore asked him to have a look at the matter again.

Question (Mr Buchan)

The Summit declaration says that each Member State will appoint a special coordinator to help coordinate the various work done on crime control in a Europe with reduced or no border control. To what extent does that allay your fears in this area and secondly what sort of rank might this special coordinator have in the case of Britain?

Prime Minister

I do not think it is the actual coordination, it is some of the fundamental decisions that matter. There are those who are saying, and indeed it is part of citizens' Europe, that you have as few border controls as possible. But it is recognised that you simply must have some measure of control in order to fight crime, terrorism and drugs.

What has not so far been achieved is any alternative, effective alternative, to the kind of controls we have now. And it is quite clear that border controls are effective, both in catching some people charged with crime or who are detained to be charged with crime, and in catching some drug offenders.

In our case, most of our internal borders, if I might put it that way, are also our external borders. That is not necessarily the case with all of the Community and so one does say to those who want to get rid of this kind of control: “What alternative control are you proposing?”

Now there is of course a great experiment going on between the Benelux and Germany and I think they are learning quite a lot. Other countries in the Community have either identity cards or papers which you have to show either on demand or within a few days. But they have not yet got an effective alternative and that must be done if you are still to be able to combat crime, terrorism and drugs.

They talk about an alternative. So it is not the coordinator, it is finding an effective alternative. There are some who would not like it if everyone had to carry identity cards with full details upon them to be shown immediately or within a few days. There are others who might not object to that. But they have not got an alternative. [end p3]


Was the problem of European defence cooperation touched upon during the Rhodes discussions and what is the position of Great Britain as a Western European Union member state towards further enlargement of this organisation?

Prime Minister

Cooperation? Heads of Government did not discuss it. I spoke to Chancellor Kohl about it, but in the context of NATO.

As you know, we do have the Western European Union and I think many of us expect that Europe should be prepared to bear a fair share of the burden of its own defence and are prepared to do that. We most certainly do that. We are on about 4.2 per cent of our GDP on defence, which is very much higher than some others, but we expect to have to bear in Britain a fair share of the burden of defending Europe.

We expect the actual decisions to be taken within the context of NATO. The Western European Union, nevertheless, has a great separate role in discussing some of the problems and in influencing public opinion, therefore, through the discussions but the decisionmaking body is NATO.


Prime Minister, on the Middle East, some of your partners were anxious for the Community to go a step further in response to the decisions of the Palestine National Council in Algiers.

Why did the British Government not consider it a good time to do something else in recognition, especially since the Americans have sent a rather different signal with the refusal of a visa to Mr. Arafat?

Prime Minister

Our foreign ministers had, in fact, recently considered the matter and issued an appropriate and effective communique after very thorough consideration.

It is not really good enough to expect us suddenly to vary things in conversations over dinner, which is a viewpoint which many of us took, and therefore we all agreed to stick to the declarations—>both of them—previously put out by our foreign ministers, which I will ask Sir Geoffrey HoweSir Geoffrey to speak about now.

Foreign Secretary

I think that the point is that we did consider this at great length in Brussels last Monday. We issued a statement on it then. A further statement was issued on behalf of the Twelve in New York on Tuesday, and last night there was no difficulty in agreeing that no further action was now called for. Indeed, I think the majority of my colleagues came to the discussion with that as their starting position.

We discussed the way in which we should handle the Special Session of the United Nations that is to take place in Geneva and we agreed that we would be sending [end p4] our permanent representatives from New York to that meeting and that the Presidency would be represented at ministerial level and that they would make a statement agreed amongst the Twelve on behalf of the Twelve, but there was no disposition to consider any further action at this stage.

We want, obviously, to encourage further progress following the positive signals that emerged from the Algiers meeting; we want also to see further progress in the right direction from the Israeli side; and we also want to see renewed engagement by the new American Administration, and we thought that no further statement from us was called for beyond those we have already given.


Prime Minister, did you understand President Mitterrand, in the discussion on the Internal Market, to be linking agreement on further capital liberalisation to an agreement on tax approximation?

Secondly, can you tell us what is meant by your collective conclusions concerning the Social Charter and the “constructive dialogue” to be opened up between employers and the trade unions on a social Europe? Of what would this constructive dialogue consist?

Prime Minister

The dialogue goes back to the relevant Article in the Single Act, with which you will be familiar. It is a three-line article and you know precisely what it is. It is very short and it is a dialogue between management and labour at the Commission or Community level because they come round when you are President and you have it then.

The Social Charter refers to the Social Charter which exists with the Council of Europe. There is one already, as you know, as members of the Council of Europe, to which we belong. It is thought that that should perhaps be looked at by the Community in fashioning its own proposals for the way forward because all of us there are committed to the larger body.

I did very much gain the view that President Mitterrand considers that you can only have freedom of capital movement if you have tax approximation on capital-withholding taxes. It is not a view which many of us would agree with for the simple reason that we already have freedom of capital movement without any such approximation. It is neither necessary nor desirable and it certainly is not necessary—>we and many others, the Germans, the Dutch, now the Danes, have freedom of capital movement already and we do not need any tax approximation.

Foreign Secretary

May I just add one thing!

The final text on the Social Charter makes it quite clear that the European Council awaits such proposals the Commission might consider useful to submit, drawing upon the Social Charter of the Council of Europe. It is a reference back to the existing European Social Charter already established under the Council of Europe.


Prime Minister, to extend that point: you say that you do not regard Community decisions on tax rates as necessary for the completion of the Single Market. Does that mean you do not see the need for any harmonisation of VAT rates to avoid the sort of distortions of spending within the Community that other people fear? [end p5]

Prime Minister

Point No. 1: I said it is not necessary to have Community decisions on tax rates.

I think that the market itself would deal with any changes that needed to be made. For example, if you had one country with an enormously high VAT measure next to a country with a very very low one, you would obviously get so much traffic across the border that that country itself would adjust. You would not need to have any directive from the Community and that way is a better way. I must tell you that it does not always work logically.

We have no VAT on food, as you know—it would be a very emotive issue in Britain if it were ever suggested we should—and we shall keep our zero rate on food or we shall decide whatever rate it is, but we wish to keep our zero rate on food, so we get quite a number of people coming over to the southern towns to take advantage of our zero rate on food. But we also have quite a lot of people going to some of the northern French ports because they like the food and they do not mind paying tax on it!

So it is not just tax. Remember, when you are dealing with these things, which I do sometimes say quite fiercely to colleagues, tax is only a small component of price. There are much bigger things such as wages. There is another thing called “efficiency” . There is something else called “National Insurance Contributions” >; something else called “Occupational Pension Contributions” . To select out one single component of price and say everything is going to be harmonized because of that is absolutely absurd! Is that clear? (laughter)


Prime Minister, I am sorry to go back to it, but I wonder after today, how you would characterise Anglo-Irish relations and the position of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the operation of which is up for review and which many people, because of recent weeks, consider is actually not working?

Prime Minister

I made my views very clear to Mr. Haughey and I think that he can understand why we hold them so very seriously and why we regard it as a very grave matter.

We are on the receiving end of concerted terrorist attacks. It is our police, it is our soldiers—who may I say defend the whole of Europe as well—our civilians and our people who are on the end of being bombed, maimed or killed and therefore, we expect there to be efficient procedures so that those people who are charged with offences can be detained—if necessary extradited—>and brought before a court to decide the matter of guilt or innocence—and I think he understands that.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement is there and continues. The review of the working of it will be carried—as we have said—both in the intergovernmental conference and also it is necessary for us to consult some of the parties for their views as well—we must do that