Common Market gives Britain -- and itself -- a boost
The European Common Market, mired for months in internal squabbling, is about to embark on a new period of involvement in its major problems and issues. Next week's EC summit meeting in Venice, which starts June 11, is expected to reflect this fresh lease of political life.
The optimism after months of crisis and stagnation follows the Common Market's success in resolving the controversial topic of how much Britain should pay into the general coffers.
Britain has argued strenuously that while it is the third-poorest country in the Nine its annual $1 billion allotment makes it the largest net contributor.
As a result of a compromise package in which Britain would get back $3.6 billion in 1980-81, many in the market hope, and anticipate, that the member countries will now turn from months of bickering and return to the more important issues of unemployment, energy, and international political issues.
Italian Foreign Minister Emilio Colombo, whose negotiation skills helped save the day, said after Friday's meeting that brought the compromise: "It opens the way to a phase of intense activity in the Community."
The package agreed to here in Brussels, if ratified by all the member states in the coming days, could herald a truce in the series of controversies surrounding Britain's membership in the EC that have raged almost since its entry into the group in 1973.
The period began with difficult renegotiations of the terms of British entry and the divisive referendum on the issue under the Labour government of Prime Minister James Callaghan. In turn, when assuming office just over a year ago, the Thatcher government began a forceful campaign for a refund of its contribution to the central EC budget.
What followed was a period of heightening friction between London and the rest of the membership, especially France. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher aroused considerable anger when she rejected a first offer of repayment at an EC summit in Dublin last November as "half a loaf," and a second more generous one just over a month ago in another frustrating summit in Luxembourg.
In a struggle to extract concessions or gain bargaining points on the budget issue, France and Britain also became embroiled over related agricultural issues. These involved trade in lamb and the annual review of the EC farm budget and subsidies.
In return for a better budget refund than offered in Luxembourg for 1980 and 1981 and a promise to deal with an anticipated 1982 budget deficit as well, Britain lifted its veto over a 5 percent increase in farm spending this year, which raises the EC budget and its contribution further. And each side compromised on a settlement to the "lamb war" and agreed to handle the fishing issue and others in a promising way.
Significantly the agreement was quickly ratified by the French government. It was also expected to be approved by the British government today.
An unexpected possible snag arose over the weekend, however, when the West Germans indicated that the financial settlement was much too high for their country, which would have to pay a large percentage.