After Venice summit, EC work moves backstage
Despite French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the European Community (EC) still aims to admit Spain and Portugal on schedule. It also aims, at long last, to reduce its staggering subsidies of agricultural surpluses. The concrete planning for these two goals, however, is being removed from the political limelight and turned over to the technocrats until after the French election next May. This could be read between the lines of the tight-lipped press conference at the end of the June 12-13 biannual summit of EC heads of government (plus the French head of state) in Venice. It was confirmed in slightly less cautious British and West German briefings during the summit. At the general press conference Italian Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga president of the Council of Ministers for this half year said only that the original plans for EC enlargement remain unchanged. And one sentence in Mr. Cossiga's printed "summary" of the summit notes the EC's commitment to "structural changes. "This commitment is a fundamental prerequisite, especially bearing in mind the prospect of enlargement," the summary continued. At the final press conference, Roy Jenkins, president of the European Commission (the bureaucratic organ of the EC as distinct from the political European Council of Ministers), added that the "normal" administrative routine would now be resumed as the commission prepares its recommendations for financial reform by the target date of June 1, 1981. The clear implication was that the technocrats have been commissioned to work out concrete measures to reduce the 70 percent of the EC budget that now subsidizes surplus butter mountains and wine pools. The combined EC formulation on enlargement and budgetary reform echoes West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's modulated response when President Giscard d'Estaing dropped his bombshell on Portugal and Spain a week before the EC summit. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, with an eye on the votes of southern French grape and olive growers who fear competition from Spain and Portugal, suddenly announced that since the EC has not yet digested the last round of new members (i.e., Britain), it is hardly ready to digest the new round (i.e., Portugal and Spain, but not Greece, whose EC membership has been ratified for next Jan. 1.) Portugal and Spain reacted in alarm. Chancellor Schmidt, however, suavely gave the French President's outburst a positive gloss. He noted publicly that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing had put his finger on an important issue and promptly flipped President Giscard d'Estaing's complaint on its head. Instead of concluding that EC budget problems require postponement of Portuguese and Spanish membership, Mr. Schmidt concluded that their forthcoming membership requires acceleration of EC reform. The EC can carry out the political task it has assumed in reinforcing democracy in southern Europe, Mr. Schmidt asserted, only as its own economic house is put in order. One informed West German source confirmed that Mr. Schmidt is serious this time about reducing the EC's agricultural burden. When asked what the difference was between Mr. Schmidt's current protest against high subsidies and his past ritual protests as finance minister, the source remarked that this time, if nothing is done, the costs will "ruin it (the EC) completely." A second differences is that West Germany, having just coughed up enough money to keep Britain in the EC, is now replacing Britain as the largest net contributor to the community. And any future budgetary tussle between Messrs. Giscard d'Estaing and Schmidt will be altogether different from the recent tussle between Anglophobe Giscard d'Estaing and Europhobe Britain. But on both issues curtailing of agricultural subsidies and Portuguese and Spanish EC membership the West German leadership seems to think that resolution will be possible after the French election next spring if, that is, President Giscard is re-elected.