Haughey pushed prescient vision of ‘citizens’ Europe’ during presidency

State Papers: Taoiseach saw future of cheap flights, open borders and common currency

West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, French president François Mitterand and taoiseach Charles Haughey at the European Community summit in Dublin in March 1990

West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, French president François Mitterand and taoiseach Charles Haughey at the European Community summit in Dublin in March 1990

 

Taoiseach Charles Haughey pushed the idea of a “citizens’ Europe” where people could expect cheap air fares, unrestricted travel, no border controls and a common currency in future, during Ireland’s presidency of the European Community (EC) in 1990.

In a series of meetings with European heads of state including German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president François Mitterand – as well as commission president Jacques Delors –- Haughey also proposed the concept of a green Europe with a strong statement from the EC on environment, as well as a charter of the rights for community citizens on the environment.

The comments, which were prescient on the future shape of Europe, are included in records from the Department of the Taoiseach in the 1990 State Papers which are now being released to the public.

The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition held two summits in Dublin during the course of the year: an informal one in April and a full summit in June.

At the April summit, Kohl and Mitterand formally proposed, for the first time, deeper political union for the 12-member community, which included further integration, monetary union as well as a foreign affairs remit for the community. Other priority items for the Irish presidency were the environment; continued sanctions for South Africa; the future of Russia; and international drugs crime.

At a meeting with Delors in January, Haughey stressed that people needed to know that in future there could be cheap air travel, open borders, a single currency, energy interconnectors and fast ferries.

In a note taken by government secretary general Dermot Nally, he stated that Haughey raised the question of the people’s Europe and said: “The community was important to the man [sic] in the street and must be seen to be important. This meant cheap airfares, no frontiers, common access, etc. The president agreed.”

He continued: “The taoiseach stressed the need to bring out clearer the concept of a citizen’s Europe. He cited cheap air fares, unrestricted travel, no border controls, a common currency eventually. He proposed to push strongly on air transport during his presidency.

‘Energy interconnectors’

“The taoiseach mentioned our strong interest in energy interconnectors, particularly gas, and cheap and fast ferries and the air channel. [Delors] acknowledged that interest and also mentioned free movement of students and workers as part of the citizen’s Europe. He agreed that the June council should have a statement on what Europe means to the ordinary citizen.”

In their separate conversations with Haughey, Delors and Kohl both discussed Margaret Thatcher’s opposition to political union and a single currency

However, when Haughey asked Delors’ views about German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher’s view that a byproduct of the end of the Warsaw Pact would be a European Community of 26 or 27 countries, the commission president was dismissive.

“That just was not on,” replied Delors. “That would not be a community any more. It would be an intergovernmental organisation without efficiency. We would have to deepen the concept of association.”

The European Union now comprises 27 countries.

In their separate conversations with Haughey, Delors and Kohl both discussed British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s opposition to political union and a single currency.

Delors urged Haughey to “show Mrs Thatcher that the community can implement both the internal market and the Single European Act (introduced in the late 1980s to remove non-tariff barriers to trade).

“The two things go in parallel just as EMU [European monetary union] and political union go in parallel,” he said.

In a meeting in Paris in February, Mitterand told Haughey there had, in fact, already been a form of political union for many years.

“The European Community discussed foreign policy for many years, the Middle East, South Africa. We were not terribly daring. We should not do less but do more,” he told Haughey.

In May, Haughey also met Kohl in Bonn. The German chancellor said Thatcher was difficult at present, particularly in her opposition to a political union. “Her idea of the world is different. When I visited Churchill’s grave – an idea she supported enthusiastically – I told her: ‘You lived before Churchill, I lived after him.’ She never really accepted his Zurich speech of 1946 [where he advocated French-German rapprochement and a ‘united states’ of Europe].

‘Excuses’

“I am not making any excuses for Hitler but many things at that time favoured him. The Weimar Republic was the most democratic we have ever had – but its foreign minister had never been to Warsaw. It was isolated. They thought they were clever but they were very stupid.”

There will be three powers in the coming decade: One is the US and Canada; two is Japan, Korea and the Asiatic Rim; three is Europe

Haughey replied that British prime minister Anthony Eden and the British government had tried to stop the European Community being formed, but that Churchill had restrained him.

Kohl said of Thatcher: “She thinks the empire is at stake. She must understand that we are not in 1901 but are coming towards 2001. Europe will be one of the safest regions in the world: on the economy; on ecology; on administration; on the social dimension; on the standard of education. We will be world leaders.

“There will be three powers in the coming decade: One is the US and Canada; two is Japan, Korea and the Asiatic Rim; three is Europe.”

The German chancellor was keen to devote an hour and a half of the June summit to the growing problem of drugs, international crime and the mafia.

He also promised a letter to European leaders on progress with German unification. Turning to Russia, Kohl predicted the break-up of the USSR would create huge financial difficulties for its leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

“I will tell you this now privately. Gorbachev will be coming to the West for a credit line by June. His difficulties are immense. And by the autumn he will have enormous problems. Western economies may have to help.

“We know Gorbachev. We do not know who will come after him. I spoke to president Bush yesterday on the telephone and took this up with him.

“I said he should pat the pride of the USSR a bit – not wound it There is now a public opinion in the USSR which Gorbachev must handle. The times are not comparable to when Stalin was in power. He also has problems with parliament which did not exist in Stalin’s time.”

Nally noted that Kohl had told the taoiseach, “You are doing an excellent job.”

The government secretary general then added: “There was then some light conversations on fleas and mice, and the meeting finished in an extraordinarily cordial atmosphere.”

(Records: 2020/3/246 and 2020/3/411)