Delors, Jacques: It Is Necessary to Work Together

Speech to Trades Union Congress, Bournemouth, 8 September 1988.
From The Pro-European Reader, Palgrave editions, 2002.

delors1[The election in 1979 of a Conservative government, under Margaret Thatcher opened a difficult period in British relations with the European Community. It coincided with the discovery that, despite the re-negotiation of British membership terms under Harold Wilson, the British financial contribution was set to grow disproportionately large. Mrs Thatcher reacted violently to this, thumping the table at the Dublin summit in December 1979 and demanding ‘our money back’. It took nearly five years of ill-tempered haggling before a settlement (involving large rebates) was reached at the Fontainebleau summit in 1984. Unfortunately, the Labour Party, together with the trade unions, had reverted to outright hostility, and fought the 1983 election on a platform of withdrawal. A crucial stage in coaxing them back was the speech made by Jacques Delors, who had become President of the Commission in 1985, to the Trades Union Congress. In a subtle speech, ostensibly in support of the 1992 programme for completing the EC’s internal market, he emphazised the Community’s concern for social issues, and made it clear that the TUC’s voice would carry weight in Brussels, even if it was effectively ignored by Mrs Thatcher’s government. The delegates responded with enthusiasm, giving him a standing ovation and serenading him with a chorus of ‘Frère Jacques’.]

President, dear friends,

It was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to address congress today. Europe is again on the move. This is confirmed by your report ‘1992: Maximizing the benefits – minimizing the costs’, and the wide interest in the topic, evident from the large number of motions that have been put forward. I look forward to hearing the debate that follows.

Europe matters to each and every one of us. As your general secretary says things have changed, there will be more change, as your excellent report demonstrates. We are living through a peaceful revolution in which we must all participate. We must all adapt. This is why the challenge of 1992 is now being taken up by Trades Unions across Europe. The commission will respond.

Today I wish to concentrate on four main themes:

First, there is the challenge before us. The potential benefits of completing the internal market by 1992 are very large. But we must, as your report says, maximize these benefits while minimizing the costs, we must also preserve and enhance the uniquely European model of society.

Second, we must again become masters of our destiny. It is only by relying on our own strengths that we will be able to resist adverse external pressures.

Third, close co-operation and solidarity as well as competition are the conditions for our common success.

Fourth, the social dimension is a vital element; your report shows that you are ready to be involved.

1. The challenge

Your organization has played a pioneering role in the history of the trade union movement. It has served as a model for other trade unions in neighbouring European countries in their fight for the rights of workers and for the defence of their dignity. This historic achievement helped to forge in Europe a new model for society, a model based on a skilful balance between society and the individual. This model varies from country to country, but throughout Europe we encounter similar mechanisms of social solidarity, of protection of the weakest and of collective bargaining. This model was associated with three decades of expansion following the Second World War. In recent years it had been threatened by adverse economical developments, some of which have an external origin. Europe has grown increasingly vulnerable. We must now rely on our own forces.

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