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European Community hunts for a compromise

The European Economic Community's crisis deepened this week following its second failure in a row to resolve long-standing financial and farm problems. Quickly arranged meetings of foreign and farm ministers here Monday and Tuesday, called to repair the damage caused by last week's summit-level deadlock , stumbled over the same contentious issues: the British contribution to the joint EC budget, and reform of the Community's costly, surplus-producing farm support system.

The impasse has led some national and Community officials to express fears that the EC, so arduously built up over the postwar decades, could now begin to unravel. More optimistic analysts say there is still time to reach a reasonable compromise and stave off approaching bankruptcy.

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During the period between this week's and last week's meetings, some hopes had been rekindled by the more conciliatory attitudes shown by the British and other governments. But then the British again stood firm in their demands for a refund of some $1.25 billion from the EC treasury in the face of offers of a $1 billion rebate by the other nine Community members.

Disillusioned by this second display of British firmness, other EC leaders expressed their frustration in strong terms. They renewed their hints that Britain should be excluded from joint decisions and programs.

West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, emerging from the gathering, said it was ''the end of the road.'' Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans decried Britain's ''parrot'' negotiating tactics of repeating its position over and over again.

And a high Dutch official said his country was ''fed up'' with the British hard line.

The British, for their part, insist they are taking their stand not only for their own good, but also for the sake of the EC's long-term health. They say the farm system must be reformed to avoid current overproduction and excessive costs.

The French, on the other hand, are caught between this rigid British stand and their own farmers, who are taking to the streets to emphasize their demands for continued supports.

Following Tuesday's meeting, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, who chaired the negotiation, also renewed the hint made earlier by President Francois Mitterrand that the EC might resort to majority rather than the traditional unanimous decisions that have assured a national veto over all EC issues.

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Ironically, it was the French under Charles de Gaulle who first forced the Community to adopt the system of unanimous voting.

President Mitterrand, however, has several times alluded to the possibility that the Community might function better on a voluntary rather than the present consensus basis, with countries participating only on projects that will benefit their interests. Others feel this could eventually lead to the breakup of the 10 -nation grouping.

The foreign ministers decided to meet again at a regularly scheduled session early in April, and another summit is planned for June in France. In the meantime, a flurry of intense diplomatic activity aimed at reaching a compromise is expected on Mr. Mitterrand's return from a week-long visit to the United States.

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