THERE can now be little doubt that the major nations of Europe must make every possible effort to ensure the survival of the 10-nation Common Market - and the very goal of European economic and political unity itself.
The current impasse over financial contributions from member states and overall agricultural policies must be considered the most serious challenge facing the European Economic Community in its 27-year history. Yet, as pointed out by French President Francois Mitterrand, Europe is far from finished. What must be kept in clear perspective is that despite the collapse of this week's meetings at Brussels - following the failure of an earlier round of meetings at Athens last December - some important progress was achieved.
The member states agreed in principle that the community's costly and counterproductive protectionist agricultural subsidies would have to be revised. Members also agreed to increase the Common Market's budget to expend more resources on industrial and technological development. And members agreed in principle to admit Spain and Portugal into the community, probably later this year.
Surely European leaders realize that for the Common Market to splinter at this juncture - or at least lose so much financial and political authority as to become irrelevant - would be enormously regressive. The Common Market is the world's largest economic trading partnership. That in turn has enabled European firms to develop the economies of scale necessary to effectively compete with large American and Japanese firms.
A new round of discussions will be held near Paris in June. But Common Market officials might well consider moving up that date. Member nations will also have to follow through on revising current agricultural policies - the current effect of which is to pay farmers to increase, not limit, production, as is the case in the United States. The order needs to be reversed. Two-thirds of the community's investment resources for industry and high technology. Some major tradeoffs will be necessary, since sizing down the community's farming constituency could initially boost already high European unemployment. The Common Market, to its credit, has already begun to take steps to rein-in farm subsidies and production , such as recently announced restrictions on milk production.
The community should also be fair about a rebate for Britain, which pays in close to $2 billion more a year than it gets back in subsidies and other benefits.But until such time as a compromise is reached, would Britain really consider withholding funds from the community? Would that not add up to an unfortunate precedent that could be used by other nations, for reasons of their own?