Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Joint Press Conference with French President (Francois Mitterrand)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1240-1330. MT took questions on the local elections at the end of the press conference.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3621
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Local elections, Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Community charge (“poll tax”), Terrorism, Transport

Prime Minister

First can I say how pleased we are to welcome President Mitterrand and M. Dumas and M. Chevenment to this great house which itself brings together so much of what is best in Britain and France and we are very fortunate in having a lovely day to complement a very beautiful house.

We have had very good talks. There is so much to discuss at a time when things are changing rather rapidly. Naturally the situation in the Soviet Union, which both of us will be visiting shortly, has in fact dominated our discussions together with East/West relations. We have also talked about Lithuania which statements were issued upon when Foreign Ministers met in the European Economic Community. I think you know our views on that particular topic, neither of us have ever recognised Lithuania as legally annexed to the Soviet Union, we recognise her right to self-determination and she has expressed her wish as to what she wishes to do about independence and we still think that the [end p1] situation, having said that, can best be resolved by continuing discussions and we hope that those discussions are coming nearer to being brought about. I shall be ready to see Mrs. Prunskiene when she comes to London, as she has also seen President Bush.

We also talked a good deal about the future shape and structure of Europe, not only the European Community but the wider Europe, obviously that is dominating our thoughts at present. The European Community is in the first instance going to have association agreements with East European countries but we are very conscious that some of them could perhaps join the Council of Europe so that they come more firmly into the democratic fold earlier.

We have, too, discussed defence matters. As you know, President Bush will be making a major speech later today and we are going to have a NATO Summit in London, hopefully at about the end of June. We are both of us independent nuclear deterrent powers, the only two in Europe, and therefore we have certain things in common that no other countries in Europe have. We feel we should cooperate more closely on security and defence matters and therefore we have asked our Foreign and Defence Ministers to supervise an enhanced programme of cooperation on these issues, with particular emphasis on future security arrangements in Europe. [end p2]

When it comes to the Community itself, we are both agreed that the strengthening which is required really are the powers and cooperation of the Council of Ministers which is the executive deciding unit of the European Community and it is good to know that we are so close on that.

We have also discussed, as we are both going to see President de Klerk, the situation in South Africa which of course is going in the right direction. We are all anxious to see the end of apartheid and the real negotiations begin to bring that situation about.

Now I think those are most of the subjects which we have had time to talk about, we shall of course continue over lunch. I will invite François MitterrandMr. President to add to those comments and make his own. [end p3]

President Mitterrand

My initial remarks will not be of any real international universal moment because what I want to say is first of all thank you to Mrs. Thatcher and the Ministers who are with her for the quality of their hospitality and also our hosts I would like to thank for receiving us in this mansion and in this wonderful place and I am quite convinced that the journalists who are members of the press who are here appreciate the way we do the conditions under which we are being welcomed here today. This perhaps takes us a little bit further away from the sort of general views that the press is, I am sure, in a great hurry to hear from our lips but I wanted to say this to start with, especially as I have not very much to add to what Mrs. Thatcher has said.

There may perhaps be different approaches to certain things but it will be for the members of the press who are present here today to detect those differences or to see them emerge for themselves but I think we can say that we have worked hard and well. [end p4] We have dealt with a number of questions and I think we have found that in a very general sense there is considerable agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France and if sometimes there are different approaches, for example on matters of European unity, if there are certain points which emerge under circumstances which you are familiar with already, as was seen in Dublin, the fact remains however that we all wish to contribute as best we can to the success of the Community.

I think now the best thing probably is for the members of the press who are present here today to start the ball rolling with a conversation on subjects that they mainly want to hear about but seem to them to be the most important, the most urgent. We are not going to rebuild the world in this late morning session obviously but now I am ready for questions. [end p5]

John Dickie (Daily Mail)

Prime Minister and Mr. President, you mentioned the fact that you had agreed on enhanced cooperation on defence. Could both of you spell out whether that could also mean cooperation in nuclear matters?

Secondly, does yesterday's decision by President Bush not to modernise short-range nuclear weapons mean that either of your governments may decide not to update your own nuclear deterrent?

President Mitterrand

The Foreign Ministers have discussed this and we decided to coordinate our cooperation on all these matters that relate to security in Europe and our own security. Nothing is precluded from our conversations nor from our cooperation. [end p6]

With regard to the specific question asked on the non-modernisation of the Lance missiles, all I need do is to refer the questioner to the position that I adopted myself quite some time ago because at the last two meetings of NATO—this was 1988 and 1989—that already was my position but what France will do for her part, well France already has defined her programme—this was quite some years ago—because it was during the last ten years that the transition from Pluto missiles to Hades has been established without claiming to want to take further than actually required neither the modification of those weapons nor their modernisation.

It is well understood that we want to link any further progress in that field to the concrete results that would emerge from the Vienna talks. We need to know where we stand, how the negotiation on conventional disarmament is going. We want to know that obviously before going further in other fields.

So personally, I entirely approve of the position taken by Mr. Bush, which is the position that I had in fact adopted myself in March 1988, so I remain consistent with what I said in the past.

Prime Minister

May I just add to that? I think we both of us discussed this position with President Bush when each of us met him separately comparatively recently. The present short-range nuclear weapons will of course remain effective until 1995. The decision not to [end p7] modernise those will put increasing importance on modernising the present free-falling nuclear bombs—they will need to be modernised to a missile from air to ground and that will enhance the need to modernise those.


And cooperation?

Prime Minister

And cooperation yes, in every possible way. We are, as indicated, the only two nuclear states in Europe. Our forces, I think, are of a very similar structure and we feel that we must draw up a programme for enhanced cooperation.


Edith Butterworth (Associated Press)

Prime Minister and Mr. President, President Bush yesterday said that he sometimes worried that the military might take over or do something to get rid of Mr. Gorbachev—it was a fear that he had. Is it a fear that you both share and if so, what do you think the ramifications might be for the future of Europe? [end p8]

Prime Minister

President Gorbachev has done wonders. He has brought about a complete transformation in East/West relations and I think has been the first person to have the courage to see that the communist system would not work for the Soviet Union. It is he, I think, plus the staunchness in defence of the West, that has helped to bring about the tremendous hope which we see now before us and I personally both hope and I expect that he will continue as President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union.

President Mitterrand

We realise, of course, the difficulties that the President of the Soviet Union is up against to achieve the aims that he has set himself. This is pretty obvious and one detects here and there certain elements of fragility, things that could become dangerous, but what we have in mind is that I think we should contribute as much as we possibly can to the possibility for Mr. Gorbachev for continuing his work of innovation, reform and modernisation so, if you like, we are not sort of gambling on his failures.

It is impossible to apply international political relationships without of course thinking of all possible scenarios and possibilities but the hypothesis that we are definitely working on is the continuation of the renovation process that we very much hope for and we hope that it will succeed, but we are not just sort of discussing with you here about what might happen if things were to take a turning for the worse, so I would rather not say anything further on the subject. [end p9]

Question (The Express)

I would like to ask the Prime Minister and the President if, in terms of European political union, you had during conversations found certain points of convergence and if so, which ones?

Prime Minister

It was very much with that in mind that I pointed out that we both agree that it is the Council of Ministers in the European Community that is the decision-making body and that its powers should be enhanced for the future.

Of course, there are other things that we need to do to make the institutions of the Community more efficient but the decision-making body must continue to be the Council of Ministers and ever closer cooperation between the Ministers round that table.

President Mitterrand

Yes and also I think we have really said more or less everything that could be said on the subject. Today is Friday but last Saturday, I think we said everything there was to be said on the subject so we have tried to talk about other things. There is a real difference in appreciation if you like, but not on the subject that Mrs. Thatcher has just raised. [end p10]

It is true that the political reality of the Community is asserting itself every day with greater strength and the proof lies in the fact that last Saturday we talked about German unification, we talked about Eastern Europe—that is a political debate and we reached full agreement on all that.

So the question now is to see how we can structure or how we can refrain from structuring this kind of discussion. Do we give it a sort of formal nature or not? And there, on that our positions are different and we know this and we are talking about the subject, so this in no way contradicts what Mrs. Thatcher has just said on the pre-eminence of the European Council.

Prime Minister

We should remember that we really are both the architects of the plans for the Channel Tunnel and we both hope to be present when the English tunnellers meet the French tunnellers hopefully in the same spot to break through in November this year—we both hope to be present at that breakthrough. It will be a great occasion and if I might say so, the completion of that Channel Tunnel—and we both hope to take a first ride through it in about 1993—will actually alter historically the position with regard to the United Kingdom and the mainland of Europe I think more fundamentally and the attitudes and approaches more than anything else. So that is something very practical that we can look forward to. [end p11]

President Mitterrand

I would just confirm that. 1993? That is, I think, something that we can achieve!

M. Duval (French TV Channel 5)

Did the question of hostages come up and do you find you have more common ground on that now?

Prime Minister

No. We did not discuss the question of hostages and I have nothing further to add to what I said at some considerable length in the House of Commons yesterday.

We very much hope, obviously, that all hostages will be released and that will need to be brought about by the customary means of discussion and putting the case that there should be no hostages in the modern world.

Question (Spanish News Agency)

What is the current thinking on the future of the Euro-fighter?

Prime Minister

There will be a statement made, I believe, in the House next week about the European fighter. I do not think we can in fact anticipate that but we believe the Euro-fighter will go ahead. [end p12]

David Lloyd (BBC)

With the permission of the French President, could we ask just one question about the elections last night?

Prime Minister

You will have your go in a minute but really can we, in courtesy to our guests …

David Lloyd (BBC)

I am thinking of the One O'Clock News (laughter).

Prime Minister

Have you finished all the other questions?



Mr. President, have you explained the Franco-German initiative on Lithuania? Is Great Britain prepared to associate herself to a future initiative perhaps, a European initiative?

President Mitterrand

No, I have no explanation that I need give on the subject, particularly on the substance of the question. We noted that there was considerable agreement between us and as Mrs. Thatcher said at the beginning, the purpose of our action is at the same time to [end p13] safeguard the right to self-determination on the part of Lithuania as our diplomacy has been doing in fact for many many years, at any rate since Lithuania was unduly annexed to the Soviet Union but at the same time, we know perfectly well that this is something that should not be settled by force and that it is in the interests of the partners and in the particular interest of Lithuania to achieve a dialogue in order to defend its interests.

French diplomacy had in fact started taking steps in that direction even before we discussed the matter on the occasion of the Franco-German Summit and when our German friends said that they wished to associate themselves with a specific written demarche on our part—to this initiative in other words—that we were taking, which became therefore a Franco-German initiative well, in certain circles this was misunderstood to some extent but I think the position adopted by the present President of Lithuania shows that we had in fact safeguarded the principles and perhaps, I hope, helped to move the dialogue forward a bit. That is precisely the attitude, the position, that Mrs. Thatcher expressed to me. We must combine as best as we possibly can in everyone's interest the respect for the right of Lithuania and its implementation for the benefit of both parties concerned. [end p14]

Question (Robert Mauthner, Financial Times)

Prime Minister and Mr. President, whenever you talk about Anglo-French defence cooperation you do so in very general terms. Is it not possible to give us a few more details about what you are actually trying to do and what you are aiming for?

Prime Minister

On what?


In the field of defence cooperation.

Prime Minister

I have indicated that we have asked Foreign and Defence Ministers to supervise an enhanced programme of cooperation on these issues. For example, one thing that François Mitterrandthe President and I have discussed previously, if there were to be anything very unfortunate [end p15] happening in Europe we should need to bring our reserves from this country to the continent through French ports. We could, for example, in fact practice that which we have never done at the moment. That is just a very very practical thing, it is that kind of thing which we could look at. But also because the structure of our forces really are very similar we can look at much more cooperative issues on equipment as well as on other things.

President Mitterrand

No field is precluded from such cooperation, let us move forward. We will not overnight achieve coordination as complete and as full as I would wish but we will move forward.

Prime Minister

I think, gentlemen and ladies, it sounds to me as if you have virtually run out of questions on the Summit, you are searching hard. So I wonder therefore if we could call that a day. Can I just say thank you to Lord Rothschild and the National Trust for letting us meet in this very wonderful house and very beautiful gardens and can I just ask some people to take our guests back to the house while I will stay for about five minutes to answer very briskly any questions about home affairs which you should wish to put to me. [end p16]


With the fact that Labour have taken apparently four hundred seats, most of them at your expense, does that not mean a pretty bad result for the Conservative Party nationwide?

Prime Minister

No. We have also gained quite a considerable number of seats and some Councils and we have gained some Councils very very well indeed, far better than our opponents expected but we have learned that our canvassing returns were actually more accurate than the opinion polls.

Of course we have lost some which we had hoped to hold, for example Eric Pickles put up a tremendous campaign in Bradford and increased his vote but we were not able to hold it. So we will rejoice with those who were successful, we commiserate with those who were not, but we have a very good basis from which to go forward and win the General Election.

Question (Central Television)

Last night in West Oxfordshire where eighteen Councillors resigned over the Community Charge, many stood as Independents and many won against official Conservative candidates. Are you concerned about such a turn of events? [end p17]

Prime Minister

No, I hope they will come back and fight again as Conservative candidates. As you know, there were two problems in that area, one was the enormously high Community Charge put on by the Shire County, a very very high one indeed, and then also there was a local problem about council houses and there is an outstanding question on the determination of subsidy. At the moment, as you know, central government gives subsidies to council houses, an amount nationally of £3 billion. The question there was how much in fact was spent on council house renovation and on the purchase of land and they have asked for a new determination of that subsidy. That is a technical question but I hope all Independents will return to the fold and fight and win as Conservatives next time.


You spoke warmly about travelling through the Channel Tunnel in 1993, what changes in policy do you think will be necessary to ensure you are in a position to do so?

Prime Minister

The policy is working very well and so is the tunnelling, the policy of private enterprise is working very well and so is the tunnelling. [end p18]

Question (BBC Radio News)

Given the results of the local elections last night, what implications do you take from that and what are you expecting to happen or will you now look at the Poll Tax?

Prime Minister

I have nothing further to say than what has been said in the House of Commons about the Poll Tax, we have some adjustments to make and when we have any more details we shall in fact make a full statement. We have from these local elections a very good basis to go forward and win the General Election, as you will see from previous local election results at about this time which were followed by very good Conservative results in the following General Elections and I believe that that will also happen this time. I believe our people have worked extremely hard and very very effectively and that this has been overall a better result than I think our opponents expected. It has been a good result, we had hoped to hold a few more Councils and to win one or two more, but my goodness me the people fortunately had a very good organisation there.

Question (Financial Times)

Was it the endorsement of the Community Charge you expected? [end p19]

Prime Minister

I am very glad to hear you say that it was an endorsement of the Community Charge by implication in your question, that I think is a great advance. I think that it is quite clear that where we had Councils which had a low Community Charge but good quality services, coupled with careful use of money, there we got undoubtedly many people turning out especially to vote for both those things. And may I point out that we had an extremely good result in my own local authority which has a low Community Charge and the best education in the country. That seems a very good note to end upon.