On 6 May 1994, the Queen and France’s President Francois Mitterrand formally opened the Channel Tunnel during two elaborate ceremonies in France and Britain. Eurostar passenger operations began in November 1994.
Channel fog lifts for smiles at the end of the tunnel
Rebecca Smithers, transport correspondent
7 May 1994
The Queen was yesterday whisked in her Rolls-Royce through the Channel tunnel in 32 minutes – three minutes less than Eurotunnel had promised it would take her to get back to British soil from France.
Early in the day, fog had engulfed the British terminal at Folkestone, threatening to scupper an RAF fly-past over the site. But by the time the royal party drove off the train at Folkestone, the clouds had cleared and the sun glinted on the rows of empty shuttle trains at adjacent platforms.For the first time the famous phrase symbolising British isolation – Fog In The Channel, Europe Cut Off – could no longer apply.
But unbeknown to most of the thousands of guests, the Queen’s Rolls-Royce Phantom VI had been shipped out early in the morning to Calais. P&O, now faced with losing a chunk of its most profitable ferry business, had thoughtfully waived the £105 fare for the 17-year-old car and its driver.
The Queen made the return journey in the car accompanied by President Mitterrand in one of the hi-tech shuttle trains that will eventually carry cars, coaches and caravans through the 31-mile tunnel. The Duke of Edinburgh and Mrs Mitterrand had followed in the train seated in the state Citroen once used by President de Gaulle.
Earlier in the day, the Queen, Prince Philip and other guests had travelled to Calais aboard a Eurostar train for the inaugural ceremony there for the £10.5 billion project.
But most of her subjects will be unable to make the same journey until October at the earliest, when Eurotunnel expects to launch its delayed “turn up and go” fare-paying service.
After disembarking in Folkestone, President Mitterrand paid tribute to Britain’s role in the project. He told the Queen: “I’ve had a very comfortable journey in a very comfortable car, and it just happened to be yours, Ma’am.”
In her speech to inaugurate the Folkestone terminal, the Queen made veiled reference to the problems that have beset the tunnel. “Enterprises of this scale and scope have always shared an element of the unpredictable,” she said.
Sir Alastair Morton, co-chairman of Eurotunnel, who has seen the last eight years of his life dominated by the project, told the Queen and the President: “In a year or two the journey you have both made will be an everyday experience for millions of people. “But today is unique and will be a treasured memory.”
Editorial: a snipped ribbon, and a sea-change
6 May 1994
British political life bristles with ephemeral wittering about Europe. Are we at the heart of it? Can we leave it? Is it moving towards us or we towards it? Most of these speculations are the thinnest of querulous fantasies. By contrast the Channel Tunnel is a hard, built-to-last, fact. And today is day one of our future.
Nothing in history has shaped the British more than insularity. Living on an island defines us. It gives us our sense of independence, our feeling of continuity, our awareness difference. But from today – or at least once normal service is at last established – we are no longer an island. The Channel divided us. The tunnel unites us. If ever there was a turning point in national psychology, then this surely is it.
It is not surprising, therefore, that few will cheer wildly when the Queen and President Mitterrand snip the tape later today. This is not one of those self-conscious agate moments in history – the multi-racial South African election or the Arab-Israeli handshake, for example. It isn’t a longed-for consummation. Life won’t change very much, very soon in Britain, France or the further corners of Europe. But a process begins from which there can be no return. The building of the tunnel is an expression of confidence in the perpetuity of European peace which would not have been imagined by our ancestors. Or, to put it more accurately, which was hastily rejected by our ancestors when they did imagine it.
Presented with the draft of an earlier tunnel scheme, Lord Palmerston dismissed it on the grounds that “it would shorten a distance we already find too short”. There are still some who fear that the tunnel epitomises a fundamental and threatening erosion of difference between the British and the nations of continental Europe. To such people the tunnel is Maastricht set literally in concrete, unwanted, unneeded and foisted upon us. But this is surely a nonsensical conceit. The British will remain British. Rabies, potato blight and the IRA may do their worst – but don’t count on it. If anyone has anything to fear from the tunnel it is probably the burghers of Calais, who have suffered long enough from our national addiction to cheap drink without having even more of us visited upon their historic but unlovely town.
The importance of the tunnel is both real and metaphysical. It is a means to an end, or rather to two ends; for us to get ourselves and our produce there, and for them and theirs to get here. The implications for infrastructure will multiply irresistibly, reprimanding us for our initial dilatoriness. In time we shall get the designated link to London and the refurbishment of rail lines to the north which ought to have been in place already today. But meanwhile Europe will creep ever more closely in on our minds. This is a two-way link. Paris for lunch for Londoners also means London for lunch for Parisians. And with every British journey closer to the heart of Europe, Europe gets closer to the heart of the British: with inexorable and hopeful consequences for us all.
No longer an island
6 May 1994
To celebrate Britain and France’s newly strengthened bonds, the Guardian and French national daily Libération produced a special supplement on 6 May 1994. As part of the cultural exchange, the Guardian in French was distributed with Libération and an English version appeared as part of G2.
Towards a new sort of special relationship
6 May 1994
“If Britain’s voice is less influential in Paris or Bonn, it is likely to be less influential in Washington.” These stern words, were not, as you might expect, spoken by a French or German official looking for an argument to counter British Euro-sceptics. They came from Raymond Seitz, outgoing Ambassador to the United States in London, speaking at The Pilgrims’ Society recently. Having made the decision to make something of his final speech, Seitz added: “While Britain’s role in the European Union is indisputably complicating our relationship, it is also indispensable to the relationship. . . America’s transatlantic policy is European in scope. It is not a series of individual or compartmentalised bilateral policies and never has been. It is the policy of one continent to another.” There are plenty of French officials who will have hoped that ambassador Seitz’s words were heard by the zealots of the Anglo-American “special relationship”. On a good day, this is considered in France as an indication of the total incompatibility of Great Britain and the Continent and on a bad day as proof positive of a plot to sabotage any effort to build a united Europe.
French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who often despairs in private of the lack of Anglo-French understanding and hides his face every time the war of the tabloids starts up again, would be particularly glad to hear the words of Raymond Seitz. But only in private: with a mentor like Georges Pompidou – whom orthodox Gaullists will never forgive for letting Britain into the European Community – caution is his middle name. And this is just as well. The squabbles at the heart of the Conservative Party have led John Major to take a stand on the issue of the veto minority in the European Community and this could confirm France’s worst prejudices.
But the French and British governments have better things to do than talk about the Fashoda Incident and Napoleon, (two world wars, for instance) and thus get sidetracked by everything that separates them today: just one of those things is the economic and social definition of a united Europe. And even if it isn’t polite to say it, Europe will have to undergo major institutional changes if it is to reinforce the links between some of the member states at the same time as enlarging the community.
Once this has happened, the Continent will still be made up of three “great powers”: France, Britain and Germany. But perhaps they will grow to realise – or perhaps they already do – that their common goal should be the stability and security of the Continent. Then again, perhaps they will make the mistake of falling into the old alliance game, like the one mentioned by Margaret Thatcher in her memoirs – a proposal to Francois Mitterrand to attempt to stop future German unification.
There are certain reasons for optimism. Mitterrand has not wavered from the path of European union, despite being wary of the speed of the unification process. And there are few people who would now say that he was wrong to refuse to compromise Franco-German reconciliation, without which there would have been no Franco-British rapprochement. As far as we know, the British have abandoned the crazy idea of isolating Germany and trying to deny her a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, as long as the Germans have pronounced a willingness to assume their international responsibilities.
And not before time: in these times of world chaos, surely co-operation between the three powers at the heart of the United Nations could only be for the best, and not only in defence terms. Despite all the setbacks it has caused, the crisis in former Yugoslavia is a case in point: Britain and France have co-operated in the area. After a good deal of trial and error – and many contradictions, the governments of Paris, London and Bonn have arrived at the point where they finally agree on supporting the peace process.
Jacques Amalric, diplomatic editor of Libération
Fabrice Rousselot interviews the prime ministers of Britain and France
6 May 1994