A Monitor reporter who briefly overlapped with Margaret Thatcher when he was Paris correspondent recounts her outsized presence at European gatherings.
But to this reporter (who briefly overlapped with Mrs. Thatcher as the Monitor’s Paris correspondent from 1989 to 1994), she is remembered as the British leader who could be counted on for a good quote.
Amid a sea of mild, if sometimes dull, European leaders, Thatcher stood out for always speaking her mind.
At the end of various summits of the European Council, reporters fretted over which of the many simultaneously scheduled press conferences with this president or that prime minister to attend. But there was no such deliberating over Thatcher. She always got the big auditorium while other leaders had to settle for diminutive side rooms.
Part of Mrs. Thatcher’s draw was her reputation. This woman among men, who always carried her handbag with her to the press conference stage, was remembered for telling Europe in 1984, “I want my money back!” (Her actual quote, as she insisted that Britain deserved a refund of its contribution to the European budget, was, “We are simply asking to have our own money back.”)
But she never disappointed. One of her more memorable quotes came in 1990 (although not at a council summit): “No. No. No,” she declared in response to Frenchman Jacques Delors, then president of the European Commission, and his prediction that European institutions would become the seats of democracy in Europe.
Thatcher had enjoyed a remarkably close bond with President Reagan, once describing him as “the second most important man” in her life. But by the time George H.W. Bush arrived at the White House in 1989, things were different for the Anglo-American relationship. Thatcher was under attack at home, even from within her own party, and a crumbling Iron Curtain had President Bush focusing more of his attention on West Germany.
Eager to manage the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in an orderly and stabilizing manner, Bush would use a trip to Europe to underscore the importance his administration would give to US-Germany relations. And so in Brussels, Europe’s capital, Bush would leave Thatcher “cooling her heels” (to quote from an earlier dispatch), as he met with the European Commission president first.
It was not an order of importance that Thatcher was accustomed to from a US leader.
Thatcher would be out of office before Bush, but she would not go before supplying one last juicy quote. As Bush mulled over what to do in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 – to repel the Iraqi leader militarily or not – Thatcher would tell Bush in an aside at an Aspen Institute conference, “Remember George, this is no time to go wobbly.”