29 MAY 1964, Page 4

Corn in Europe

PAUL LEWIS writes from Brussels:

Once again the Common Market Ministers find themselves facing a deadline that is self- imposed when they return next week to the tired problem of harmonising their cereals prices. At the beginning of this month everyone agreed on a timetable which would produce a • solution the first week in June. This time, how- ever, the familiar masochistic technique has hardly been so effective.

On the surface, it is still the Germans who are causing the trouble by refusing to accept Commissioner Mansholt's revised plan for agree- ing the broad questions of principle now and leaving the technical side-issues till later. The German Agriculture Minister, Dr. Schwarz, told a preliminary meeting of his colleagues last week that if the Bundestag were to accept an eventual lowering of the German wheat price, it must be satisfied on some eight side-issues first, in-• eluding an automatic formula for revising the harmonisation price in the light of economic changes, grain transport cost regulations, etc. The other five saw no point, however, in agreeing on details while principles remained in the air.

But perhaps more significant than this dead- lock is that the almost traditional five-to-one line-up against Germany on agricultural ques- tions has now begun to waver. Gleefully the German spokesmen can now claim their govern- ment is not the only one to oppose the ManSholt Plan, and that the real distribution of fdrces in the Six depends on the question being asked. There is no doubt that Germany appears isolated when the proposal is to settle the principles of a common cereals policy now and fix 1966-67 Bitter Harvest.

as the implementing date, but almost everyone dislikes the actual prices—especially the Italians, who have strong reservations about the com- pensation plans too. For all his accommodating hints, hOw much unity Dr. Mansholt can restore among the Five remains to be seen. It is at least clear that throughout the long tussle some mem- ber States have been letting Germany do their dirty work for them, and the question now is how far anyone supports the Commission.

It is not just self-imposed deadlines that the Six face next month either. The end of June is now generally regarded as the last possible date for fixing this year's harvest price levels. By linking a settlement of the long-term prob- lem to a decision on this year's prices, Dr. Mansholt has given the debate an increasing sense of urgency. But if the Six remain dead- locked, he may have to deflate the balloon, divide the package and make proposals for this year in isolation.

This would play into the hands of the Ger- mans, of course, who have already suggested postponing the whole matter until the autumn. The Bonn Government's calculations are not easy to unravel. Some factors are clear, however: Dr. Erhard obviously has to be seen to do his best to protect his farmers' high wheat prices and it is part of the German case that the longer the delay the narrower the gap between com- munity prices will become as inflation rampages. But more important to Bonn may be the cal- culation that, as the Kennedy Round slowly gets down to business, the offer of a lower German wheat price, with the possibilities this opens up, for French farmers particularly, is the last weapon left for keeping the General to his promise not to sabotage the industrial tariff- cutting. The irony of such an impasse is that, while few tears may be spilt over another harmonisation delay, the belief appears to be gaining ground that, with the notable exception of some segments of the German and Italian economies, if tariffs are cut it will be Europe, not the United States, who gets the worst of the deal.