Is the PM for it or against it?

John Major takes a flexible view on Europe, writes Stephen Castle

Sunday 12 February 1995 00:02

IS JOHN MAJOR in favour of closer ties with Europe? Or is John Major against? It isn't always easy to tell. Sometimes he's in favour, and sometimes he's against, and sometimes he's both in the same speech.That is because, no matter whether Mr Major was being positive or sceptical on Europe, his speeches have persistently pursued a quest for balance.

As a former whip and survivor in No 10 for more than four years, no one knows his party's divisions over Europe better. Thus, while below are some of the most quotable elements of his European pronouncements, many were off-set by passages designed to appeal to the other wing of the party. This trick was deployed in the first speech quoted, Mr Major's acceptance of the leadership. With Mrs Thatcher's tone on Europe jarring, a more positive lexicon was deployed. But Mr Major threw a bone to the sceptics by adding that "being a good European does not mean accepting every proposal from the Community".

And it was in evidence in his last offering, to the Conservative Way Forward group, where the warning of a Europe torn apart was balanced by a reminder of "plenty of opportunities in Europe that we must take".

This need for balance increases the importance of the "spin" put on the speech by the Prime Minister's aides. In the most recent speech, for example, they highlighted the presence of new conditions on the entry to a single currency when the speech was made. When that provoked a row, they sought to put a different interpretation on the speech as a whole.

There is a noticeable change in emphasis in more recent speeches. Out goes the Euro-vision and in comes the sceptical concentration on detail. First signs of a new scepticism were spotted in 1993, but the real turning point was the European election campaign during which a new, tougher tone was adopted. Then Mr Major vetoed the Belgian candidate for the European presidency. Since then nine Euro-sceptic Tory MPs have lost the whip, a position the Prime Minister is anxious to rectify. Very rarely, nowadays, does he remind us of his pledge to be at the heart of Europe.

Keen on being a good European ...

"THE European Community remains central to our place in Europe and the wider world. The Channel Tunnel, connected last week, re-emphasises yet again that we are part of Europe.

"I believe it is in our national self-interest to help build and shape the European Community as it evolves. We must be there, arguing, persuading and, yes, fighting for our interests and our vision of Europe - just like our partners."

- to the media and MPs, accepting the Conservative Party leadership at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Westminster, 4 December, 1990.

"My aims for Britain in the Community can be simply stated. I want us to be where we belong - at the very heart of Europe, working with our partners in building the future. That is a challenge we take up with enthusiasm."

- to the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bonn, Germany, 11 March 1991.

"Any who fear and oppose Europe are like the fat boy in Pickwick. They want to make your flesh creep. They think we are always going to lose the argument in Europe. That is defeatist and wrong. We learnt to swim in that sea long ago."

- to the Conservative Group for Europe at the Hotel Inter-Continental, Hyde Park Corner, London, 22 April, 1993.

"Have your reservations by all means. No one says Europe is perfect. But . . . since we joined, our exports to it have grown nearly 50 per cent faster than have those of our old European Free Trade Area partners".

- to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Midland Hotel, Manchester, 23 April, 1993

"Our vision is a positive one: we want a strong Britain in a strong Europe. We want a prosperous Europe; a Europe with more jobs; a competitive Europe; a Europe built on free trade and open markets; a Europe of independent nation states; a wider Europe, spreading peace and prosperity across our continent; a Europe which works for the citizen; a safer Europe."

- to the Focus on Scotland Dinner at the Hilton Hotel, Glasgow, 18 February 1994.

but he's a bit of a sceptic too

"I MAKE no secret of my view that we want a Europe that is a community of nation states. I do not want a United States of Europe. Such a concept would never be in the interests of the British people."

- to the Institute of Directors, Royal Albert Hall, London, 28 April, 1992.

"I hope my fellow heads of government will resist the temptation to recite the mantra of full economic and monetary union as if nothing had changed. If they do recite it, it will have all the quaintness of a rain dance and about the same potency."

- article in the `Economist', 25 September, 1993

"The plain fact is that much of Europe is becoming uncompetitive . . . we must stop taking measures which unnecessarily destroy jobs, for that is what has been happening in recent years."

- to Lord Mayor's Banquet, Guildhall, London, 15 November 1993

"Monsieur Oui, the Poodle of Brussels.''

- John Smith, the late Labour leader, House of Commons, 22 March 1994

"The European Union seems temporarily to have lost the self-confidence of the 1980s. Popular enthusiasm for the Union has waned. We need to listen to these warnings if we are to make the right moves in the future."

- at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, 7 September, 1994.

"The only real reason for anybody offering . . . a referendum would be if they were prepared to accept constitutional change in the negotiations, such as the ending of the veto, massive new powers for the European Parliament, or a firm commitment to a single currency. Anybody offering a referendum at this stage . . . can only be doing so because they expect to negotiate away one or other of those safeguards and I don't and I won't.''

- interview, BBC Breakfast With Frost, 8 January, 1995.

"I will tell you my fear: unless economic conditions are right, a single currency would tear the European Union apart. And, by the right economic conditions, the Government does not only mean the Maastricht criteria - they are a necessary but not a sufficient condition to justify a single currency."

- to the Conservative Way Forward group, Marriott Hotel, Grosvenor Square, London, 3 February, 1995.

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