Below are extracts from Mr Major’s opening speech to the UK Presidency Conference on “Europe and the World After 1992” held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Monday 7th September 1992.
Two weeks from now we will know the result of the French referendum on Maastricht. It is a pivotal event and it is in the forefront of our minds today.
The Danish referendum has already narrowly said “no” to the Treaty. The combination of that and of a French ‘non’ would be decisive. Without the consent of all twelve Member States the Maastricht Treaty cannot proceed. It would be dead. That is a statement of fact not conjecture. Even if, as I hope, the French vote “yes” the Danish difficulties must still be overcome. And then, across Europe, national Parliaments must approve the Treaty. In the United Kingdom it may have a bruising passage since – uniquely in the Community – we in Britain will scrutinise the Bill line by line, clause by clause and vote on it in the same way. I believe myself that this is a more effective scrutiny than referenda where many votes may be cast on matters wholly unrelated to the Treaty. In Britain we do not face a referendum and, given our Parliamentary procedure, I have no hesitation in rejecting the concept.
The Maastricht Treaty is a product of compromises by 12 nations. A hard-fought outcome. No one member state regarded it as ideal. But we all regarded it as the right outcome for the development of Europe.
Overall the Treaty is good for Britain and good for Europe. However, important as Maastricht is, we should not let this particular strand of European development blind us to the other issues before us. Maastricht deserves approval but it is by no means the whole agenda. It is but part of a bigger agenda.
Now, as all the certainties of a year ago are in question, there is a temptation for onlookers to think that the train could be derailed. I do not believe that is likely or desirable. It can be stalled. It can be sent off in a different direction. But it cannot be halted. The Community cannot fossilise. Europe cannot stand still as the world changes.
The founders of the Community rightly recognised the destructive force of nationalism. But, in their reactions to that, I believe they did under-estimate the durability of national self interest, national identity and national pride. And they failed to recognise that this is wrapped up in political and economic structures as well as in culture and language.
This is what has often brought such criticism to the Community despite its achievements. And these are many. The European concept has delivered peace, security and growth over nearly three decades. European citizens know that and few in any country will admit to wanting to dismantle the Community. Even its fiercest critics fight shy of that. But there are concerns about how it develops that European governments must address. Many European citizens fear for national self-identity. Will it be lost? Will their domestic interests be subordinated? Will they forever face frustrating restrictions?
You could sense that debate in Denmark. It is alive in France. It is an every day currency in the German Laender. It flourishes in the UK: there are instincts rooted here deep in the blood: they are not to be swept away by rhetoric about growth or slogans about unity.
The Community must show that these fears are phantoms. To do so it must recognise and build on national identity and national pride, not appear to ride roughshod over them. For the reality is that no nation’s identity will ever be lost. Whatever happens in the Community the French will be no less French, the Germans no less German, the Danes no less Danish and the British no less British. No legislation by politicians can wipe away the instincts of nations forged in a thousand years of history even if, as in the case of Britain, that thousand years began with English and Celtic blood freely mixed with Roman, Viking, Saxon and Norman.
The problem is a political one. The politicians must carry their nations with them. The ten years to 1990 were years of growth, prosperity and confidence and of a favourable climate for developing Europe. In some Community countries the political parties vie one with another to be the most pro-European and they do so because for them the Community has been an undiluted good.
The Treaty under which we are operating explicitly says that the institutions of the community cannot ride roughshod over Member governments: the governments must all agree before they propose important changes. And then the individual nations, through their democratic procedures, must have the final say. And that is why if Denmark and France, or any other Member States, says “No”, then all must think again. There can be no question of leaving one member behind. Britain would not be party to such an agreement.
At Maastricht there were other significant developments. The Maastricht Treaty enshrines two very important ideas. The first is that the Community should only do those things which cannot be better done at the level of Member States. That implies scrapping some existing, overbearing legislation, as well as avoiding new, unnecessary regulation. This process, which makes subsidiarity a living concept is vitally important to Member States throughout the Community. The second is that we can act together in unison without necessarily acting within the framework of Community law. This is a revolutionary change. In foreign policy and in matters of interior affairs and justice we shall work together as Twelve within a Treaty framework, but that framework will be distinct from the Treaty of Rome, outside Community law, outside the sole initiative of the European Commission, outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The fear had always been that if we could not do things as a Community we would revert to doing them on our own, each of us going our separate ways. Now the Maastricht Treaty sets out a new way of cooperation that should reassure the sceptics and build a new cohesion. It is the key to progress. So what would be the position if the Maastricht Treaty was not ratified by all the Member States and could not be implemented? Would all those gains be lost?
The fact is that you could not set aside the results of a hard fought negotiation and expect to keep all the gains. I believe that what we won at Maastricht is worth preserving. The easiest way to preserve it is through ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. If the Maastricht Treaty is not ratified, the arguments within the Community will not go away. They will have to be gone through again.
So, over the next ten years, what happens outside the present borders of the European Community will be as important to our development as what happens inside the existing Community. The Community will be joined by countries who have rediscovered their nationhood. It is the nation states of the Community that remain the fundamental political units in Europe. People feel loyalty first to their country. European democracy begins with the traditional institutions that people understand and feel close to; those are the Parliaments, Assemblies, Folketings, Bundestags of each of their own countries. The Community and the countries that make it up are two inseparable sides of the same coin.
In ten years time, I want to see a series of solid democracies to our east, on the road to prosperity and with the real prospect of EC membership. I want a Europe freer and safer. More open and more competitive, if we can do that, it will perhaps be our most important achievement.
Maastricht reflects that view of the Community. The achievements won at Maastricht will need to be saved if the Community is to develop as we wish: liberal, open to the outside world, responding to the wishes of its citizens.
As I intimated earlier, no Treaty is ever perfect: they are all the outcome of a hard negotiation and therefore a compromise. That is true of Maastricht. But if Maastricht did not enter into force the alternative would not be the status quo ante. The real issues which affect the Community: our economic development, enlargement, our response to international events and crisis, all require a response. To be effective that needs to be a response agreed among all of the Member States. Maastricht gives us the means of doing just that.