European Council press conference
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
A transcript of Prime Minister David Cameron's press conference at the close of the European Council in Brussels on 16 September.
Welcome, everybody; thank you for coming. We have had a very good European Council on the EU’s relations with other countries. We were very keen to make sure that the focus was on results, things that can be delivered, and not just rhetoric and processes. I think, actually, the EU has demonstrated that where it speaks with a clear voice and shows political will it can get things done. We have demonstrated that recently over Serbia and also I think with great success over Iran.
William and I very much had three goals today that we wanted to achieve. The first was to make sure that we put trade - and our key relationships that the EU is building - we put trade absolutely at the heart of those relations. The language in the conclusions on trade is stronger than it was and we are very pleased with that.
The second key goal was to specifically get the free-trade agreement with South Korea agreed, something that I have been lobbying for, as has William, and that was successfully agreed this morning in the run up to the Council. I think that will make a great difference not just for encouraging growth and trade with Korea for Europe today, but also making sure we sign further free-trade agreements with other countries, including India, in the future.
The third key goal was to make sure that at this important European Council, at a time when there is a massive humanitarian crisis in Pakistan, we put Pakistan up front and centre in the conclusions of this Council. That is something that we have achieved. There is a humanitarian crisis in Pakistan; there is also clear and very worrying concerns about what can happen in Pakistan with all that is going on and all the dangers that everyone is aware of.
I believe this was a test for the European Union to make sure that when we talk about our external relations we show that we can deliver results and not just rhetoric. The declaration on Pakistan, that William played a very key role in bringing about, speaks about, ‘The European Council underlines its firm commitment to grant exclusively to Pakistan increased market access to the EU through the immediate and time-limited reduction of duties on key imports from Pakistan, in conformity with WTO rules, to be implemented as soon as possible.’
We very much wanted to try and speed up the accession of Pakistan to the GSP Plus provisions for free trade; that is also there as well and it is also good that the Commission, it says, ‘Is invited to explore options and to present its finalised proposal in October,’ so we make sure this is not something that is not endlessly discussed, this is something that is delivered. I think if you ask people in Pakistan and the leaders of Pakistan what is it that they want, is it aid or is it trade, they say very firmly they want greater market access, they want trade, and I am pleased that the European Union, with a very strong British lead here, has actually endorsed that approach.
The only other thing I would like to say - before asking William if he would like to make a comment and then answering your questions - is to give a very warm welcome, although I’m afraid I’m not in the same country, to His Holiness the Pope. I would like to offer Pope Benedict a very warm welcome to Britain for this incredibly important and historic visit. It is the first ever official papal visit to our shores and it is a great honour to our country; I think these will be a very special four days, not just for our six million Catholics but for many people of faith right across Britain and millions more watching around the world.
It is a great opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution that all faith communities make to our society and also to make sure that we work with the Vatican on issues that we care about deeply: world poverty, climate change and making sure that faith-based organisations can help build a big society in Britain and elsewhere in the world. Thank you.
Only to add that we have both put a lot of effort into Pakistan today, particularly trying to make sure that the measures that will be taken to open up market access for Pakistan to a greater extent into the EU are taken quickly and that there will not be a long process of delay in agreeing those measures or putting them into practice. We have agreed in the conclusions for immediate reductions of duties to be implemented as soon as possible. The Commission is to present its finalised proposal in October - hopefully before the meeting here of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan that takes place in mid-October -which means that this is being dealt with as a matter of great urgency.
Thank you. Some questions.
Thank you, Prime Minister. I’d like to ask you about the papal visit, but could I just quickly throw a question on Trident at you? There seems to be some lack of clarity about what you want to do about the nuclear deterrent. The continuous at-sea deterrent, not so long ago, you said if it wasn’t continuous at-sea it wouldn’t be a proper deterrent. Would you be prepared to reiterate that and to say that that is a determining principle in terms of the way in which you go forward on the nuclear deterrent?
Yes, of course. I mean, look, let’s be absolutely clear: we believe in Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. We believe in maintaining it; we believe in updating it. And the Coalition Agreement is very clear about that, but at the same time it’s quite right we should ask the question: are we getting full value for money from the renewal that will take place? And it’s right that we ask those questions and that’s exactly what’s taking place now.
I think, standing back from this a bit more broadly, I think every day, frankly, between now and October the 20th, there will be another story about another potential change or another potential saving or another potential piece of efficiency or - dare I even say it - another potential cut. That is going to be in the nature of British politics in the next few weeks until October the 20th. I believe the most important thing is to go through all of the programmes, to seek value for money, but to make sure we deliver the things that we care about - and Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is one of those things.
And, on the papal visit, the Pope has been speaking, obviously, today. He’s been talking about aggressive forms of secularism. I mean the quote is where he says that it might undermine ‘respect for those traditional values and cultural freedoms that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or tolerate’. Do you share his perception that there is maybe something in our society that undermines those traditional Catholic or Christian values?
Well, I think we are a very tolerant society and we should be a tolerant society, and part of that is actually respecting people of faith and respecting faith-based organisations and what they do, and recognising that they’re part of a big and rich society. And I think that’s something we should celebrate while the Pope is here. We should see faith-based organisations have a great benefit to our society and we should see people’s faith as an opportunity for them, rather than as some sort of problem. I think that is my view and I’m sure the view of many, many others in our country.
Prime Minister, you were at the lunch when the issue of the Roma was discussed. What’s the British government’s view on this subject?
Well, our view is very clear that it’s important that countries - that everybody - obeys the law. That is vitally important. It’s important that countries are able to take action - if there is a problem of people behaving illegally or being illegally present in your country, you are able to remove them. But it’s important that no one should ever do that on the basis of people’s ethnic group.
So there was a lively discussion at the lunch; you’re obviously right in saying that. But I think the principles are clear that you should of course have the right to remove people from your country if they’re there illegally, but it should never be done on the basis of membership of an ethnic group and the point I also made at the lunch is that members of the Commission have to choose their language carefully as well. Of course the Commission has a role in forcing and identifying community law, but I think it’s important that actually we respect people and speak in a respectful way and I note that the Commissioner in question has actually given an apology for the words that she used.
And how lively was the conversation between Mr Barroso and President Sarkozy?
Well, it was quite lively, but, you know, for reasons I can’t possibly fathom, we don’t allow the press into these lunches, so I suppose I can’t give you all the details of what happened, but, look, it’s right that we discuss and that arguments take place and views are aired, and that’s how matters can be settled, but I think the principles going forward are very clear: of course countries have a right to remove people who are in a country illegally; everyone has to comply with the law; these things should never be done on the basis of ethnicity and we have to comply with the rules, but those responsible for the rules should also speak calmly and clearly. I think if we do that we’ll be able to find a way through all of these issues.
Last question, I think, on the left.
There’s been some talk of us being asked to give up part of our rebate. I was wondering where you stand on that issue.
Well, the issue of the rebate, it’s only my second EU Council - I thought this came up at every EU Council, but it didn’t. I can faithfully say there was no mention of the rebate in the morning meeting, at lunchtime, in the margins there was absolute silence, but you know our position on the rebate. It has not changed and, more broadly, on the EU budget and future financing, we will be taking a very clear view that, as we are reducing expenditure at home, so it would be completely unacceptable to see increases in expenditure in organisations like the EU, so we will be arguing there should be efficiencies.
And, if you take the specific area that’s been under discussion recently - the European External Action Service - our view is very strongly that, as this is bringing together organisations that already existed and was supposed to lead to efficiencies, we want to see those efficiencies coming through. We are very pleased that Cathy Ashton, who I think does an excellent job as the High Representative, shares that view that there should be efficiencies and we should be striving to do, as we say back at home, more for less.
On that note, thank you very much for coming.