European Council summit makes a rare show of unity. But meeting fails to tackle key problems: budget, food surplus
It was as if the European Community was blissfully ignorant of the fact that it will run out of money next year and that vast agricultural surpluses continue to pile up. In a rare mood of unity that surprised everyone, the 12-nation European Council, in its summit meeting in London Dec. 5 and 6, agreed on the need to remove additional internal barriers if a true Common Market is to be achieved by the targeted date of 1992. Britain feels it has already facilitated this process by pushing the EC to remove 32 internal barriers during its current term of office as president of the Community.
What the Council did not do, or even attempt to do, however, was to address the two thorniest issues of the Community: the budget, a problem that will become even more troublesome when money runs out probably around October 1987, and the glut of food surpluses caused by the EC's Common Agricultural Policy.
This prompted French President Fran,cois Mitterrand to downgrade the London summit as ``a summit between important decisions.''
Not to be outflanked, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, speaking more in her capacity as British premier than as chairman of the meeting, shot back that, to take effect, important decisions required practical actions. ``You can't have one without the other, and we've done the other.''
For the British, it was the practicalities of a looming West German election which persuaded them that nothing would be gained by tackling the politically sensitive issues of the budget and the agricultural surpluses.
It's also true that Britain, particularly under Mrs. Thatcher, feels it more important for Europe to concentrate on organization and making things work effectively than getting caught up in what it sees as unattainable goals.
Thus, Thatcher's descriptions of the conference as ``very practical, very constructive, very workmanlike, and relevant to the needs of ordinary people in Europe'' are but Thatcher buzzwords for what she has seen all along as what Europe should be doing.
Apart from sidestepping the issue of budgets and surplus, the conference is being regarded as a success because it achieved what it set out to do.
The EC is well aware that, though it represents some 320 million people - a population considerably larger than that of the United States - it is far more sluggish in terms of economic competitiveness and creating new jobs.
The London summit went along with a British-inspired package intended to create new jobs and put the seal on the EC's commitment to operate as a single economic unit. This is to be done by removing barriers to the freedom of movement, goods, and services, as well as trying to operate as a single economic entity.
The 12 members have now called for decisions next year to make progress in opening up the market to financial services, including insurance, and to proceed to the next phase of freer movement of capital throughout the Community. There were also calls for the continued opening up of public purchasing and the easing of transport restrictions, so that trucks moving exports - say from Italy to Belgium - would not have to pay taxes to countries en route.
While the Community is working to free up the internal market, there was also a recognition that this must be matched by stronger controls at the points of entry on the EC perimeter to combat drugs and terrorism.
On terrorism, the summit agreed to the following principles: no concessions under duress, solidarity both in preventing crimes and bringing the guilty to justice, and concerted action in response to terrorist acts.
As troubled as Europe is by the disarray in Washington over the US Iran issue, the EC took pains to play down its concerns. At a news conference, Thatcher said that anything that weakened America weakens Europe, ``and therefore it is my great hope that things will soon return to normal in the US, and that in any event constructive, forward-looking policies will still go ahead.''