18 MAY 1962, Page 4

Waiting for De Gaulle

By our Common Market Correspondent THE British delegation to the Common Market negotiations approached last week's much- publicised meeting in Brussels with a brave front but considerable gloom. The French had for the last fortnight been pouring into the ear of every correspondent hints about 'grandes difficuhes' which derived, not so much from the economic facts, as from the disastrous row among the Six on April 17 about political union—a fracas directly attributable, according to the French, to Mr. Heath's somewhat equivocal speech to Western European Union the week before.

The British detected in all this an alarming pattern. The French evidently proposed to play for time in Brussels and turn on the screws as September and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference approached. This, like most French diplomatic machinations, promised to be extremely effective, and it was essential to counter i. by quickening the pace of the negotiation.

The comparatively sunny remarks of Mr. Heath at the end of the meeting were due chiefly to the fact that this limited objective had been achieved. It was accomplished largely by assiduous cultivation of the Italians, currently chairmen of the negotiations. Mr. Heath's visit to Rome a fortnight ago, several consultations with the Italian Ambassador in London and a final lunch on Friday with Signor Colombo, the young and formidably intelligent Italian Minister who was due to preside, bore fruit. On Friday afternoon Colombo presented his col- leagues in the Six with a draft speech which he proposed to make in the opening session that evening in which he would suggest a speed-up of the talks, longer Ministerial sessions, and a target date at the end of July for a general view of the solutions. This speech was sufficiently well received by four of the other delegations to make it difficult for the French to object.

Accordingly, when the confrontation with Britain occurred, Mr. Heath was in a far stronger position than he might have been and was able to induce the Six to translate the long pre- liminary survey of the problems prepared by officials, into a mandate to Ministers' deputies to start looking for solutions.

This does not, unfortunately, mean that results are at hand. Britain remains at a strong tactical disadvantage since, as the suppliant party, the onus will always be placed on her to suggest solutions which can then be pulled limb from limb in a leisurely fashion. This became im- mediately obvious when Britain tabled her first proposals on Commonwealth manufactured goods. The FrenCh produced a paper of great length and detail which, besides a number of very reasonable objections, contained a collec- tion of minute and carping criticisms.

The French also seized upon the British work- ing paper dealing with the problem of food from the temperate zone of the Commonwealth. This proposed that until the conclusion of world-wide agreements on commodities, Commonwealth producers should be guaranteed 'comparable out- lets.' We concede that at the end of the tran- sitional period (1970) there should be a review, but we insist that unless a change is mutually agreed the special arrangements shall stand. The French answer is that the Commonwealth can- not expect special terms for a longer period than the individual members of the Common Market.

This insistence on the Treaty and nothing but the Treaty could, if it is maintained, be the end of the negotiations—and it is by far the best line for the French since it produces a strong echo in the breasts of the genuine 'Europeans' in the other delegations. The crucial question is whether it will be modified, and that clearly de- pends upon whether French tactics are aimed simply at exacting the highest possible price for British entry or whether they are the prelude to a serious attempt to prevent Britain's joining altogether. No one knows the answer. The de- liberate evasiveness of President de Gaulle on this point at his press conference suggests that he has not yet made up his mind and is waiting to assess world events and the persuasions of Mr. Macmillan.

'E's no bovver, ducks, if yer grip's right.'