Thatcher's Speech to the Czech Federal Assembly
On September 18, 1990, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher addressed the Czechoslovak Parliament in Prague. In her speech, Thatcher raised three main points that reflect the major tenants of her European policies in the wake of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. First, she highlighted the long history of cooperation and cultural ties that existed on a bilateral level between Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, highlighting the long tradition of democracy in both countries.
Second, Thatcher emphasized the necessity for the markets to provide the bulk of economic assistance as Eastern Europe rebuilt and retooled its economy. Her major initiative in this area was the Know-How Fund, which fostered the transfer of knowledge and experience through Western direct investment in Eastern Europe. She also reiterated her support that the European Community move quickly to integrate the new economies in the East.
Finally, Thatcher returned to the importance of human rights and democracy as the only real guarantor for security in Europe. Thatcher called on the Czechoslovak leadership (and by extension all East European countries including the Soviet Union) to not stray from the democratic reforms that had begun and strengthen the individual liberties of citizens - calling for a European Magna Carta that would guarantee these rights for all Europeans.
Margaret Thatcher. "Speech to Czechoslovak Federal Assembly," speech, Prague, Czechoslovakia, September 18, 1990, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).
It is with a very great sense of respect that I congratulate you on restoring a free Parliament and on returning your country into the mainstream of Europe's democracies, where you truly belong.
I was also proud to lay a wreath yesterday at the Memorial to some of our forces who fought and gave their lives in your country. Your decision to commemorate that wartime association by re-naming one of the squares in this beautiful town after Winston Churchill will be a lasting memory of our wartime comradeship which we cherish, for it expressed the true spirit of both nations.
It is in that spirit that Britain wants to help you through the difficult period which lies ahead, as you restore free institutions and a free economy to your people.
When your President came to Britain on a very successful visit in March, he said that Czechoslovakia needed ideas, cooperation and investment rather than charity. We can and will provide those things and a start has been made through the know-How Fund.
Now that the Cold War is dead, and the barriers down, we must not lose time. The momentum which brought your freedom must now be harnessed to the task of reuniting Europe.
This is no time for the European Community to say that it is too concerned with its own development to take the longer view. We must grasp the opportunity which these great events in Eastern Europe give us to build afresh.
We should also pay due tribute to the courage of President Gorbachev, without whose vision these events could not have happened. But victory is not an end, it is a beginning. The first task is to ensure that democracy takes root.
The second essential is the market economy. The lessons we have all learned from experience since the last war is that regulation and central control of an economy do not lead to prosperity. It is ordinary enterprising people, given the freedom to follow their natural instincts in a system where markets are allowed to operate, who make themselves and their country prosperous.
Czechoslovakia has chosen this route and we admire the bold economic reforms which you are undertaking, painful as their short-term consequences may be. But then reform that is effective is usually painful. People will always preserve and endure hardship if they understand that it will lead to a better life. And they see the way people live, the freedom, the prosperity they enjoy, in the countries which practise the economies of liberty. As they see that, they will surely feel that a measure of sacrifice is worthwhile if it brings a better future for their children.
But in case you should conclude from this that uniting Europe requires you and the other countries of Eastern Europe to make all the effort while we in Western Europe sit comfortably and wait, let me make clear that it cannot and must not be like that. A few weeks ago in the United States, I proposed—and I repeat today—that the European Community should declare unequivocally that it is ready to accept all the countries of Eastern Europe as members if they want to join, when their democracies are strong enough and when democracy has taken root. The Association Agreements which we have offered are intermediate steps but there must be the prospect of full—and I mean full, not second-class—membership for all European countries who wish to join us (applause) and just as the Community reached out in the 1970s to strengthen the new democracy in Greece, in Spain and in Portugal by offering them membership, so in the 1990s we should be ready to open our doors to the countries of Eastern Europe and that means that we for our part must create the sort of Community which you and the others in Eastern and Western Europe truly want to join, a European Community which is fair, which is open, which preserves the diversity and nationhood of each of its members.... No-one can travel in Eastern Europe without experiencing the desire to get away from bureaucracy and central control and without experiencing the strength of national feeling.
Mr. Chairman, I have made a proposal for a European Magna Carta to be agreed at the Summit in Paris this Autumn. Like its great predecessor in the year 1215, this would be a landmark of freedom from tyranny and a guarantee of fundamental liberties and I hope the proposal will have wide support in Eastern Europe. If we can create a great area of democracy stretching from the West coast of the United States right across to the Soviet Far East, that ... would give us the best guarantee of all for security because democracies do not go to war with each other! (applause)
Over the past forty years, we have grown accustomed to a divided Europe in which nothing much changed. There was little impetus to think constructively or adventurously about the future of our Continent. Now, all of a sudden, we have an opportunity to do just that but let us do it in a way which is true to Europe's traditions, not according to some abstract intellectual concept.
Mr. President, I have spoken today of a new Magna Carta for Europe. It was our Magna Carta drawn up nearly eight hundred years ago. It dealt with the grievances of the time in a practical way. It gave legal redress for the wrongs of a feudal age, but it was expressed in language which has had its impact on future generations. It put into words the spirit of individual liberty which has influenced our people ever since.
In its thirty-ninth clause, perhaps the most important of all, we find the guarantee of freedom under the law. This is what it said but remember it was nearly eight hundred years ago:
"No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the land." (applause)
These words have echoed down the centuries and their constant repetition helped powerfully to shape our national character.... You yourself have said, Mr. President, that Magna Carta was a source of inspiration for Charter 77 and for your long campaign for human rights in Czechoslovakia and so today, I would like to present you and leave with you a facsimile copy of the Magna Carta, to you, Mr. President, in recognition of the role you and many other men and women of fearless spirit and dauntless courage have played in the transformation of your country and through you, to the Czech and Slovak peoples as we welcome you back into the family of free nations, to be held in safe keeping by this Federal Assembly as you, the elected representatives of your people, set about your great task of creating lasting freedom and democracy in your beloved country. Thank you for the honour of addressing you (prolonged applause).