19 MAY 1961, Page 5

Britain and The Six

From a Correspondents


THOUGH General de Gaulle and Dr. Adenauer meet as regally as ever on Friday, Europeans are for the moment paying more attention to Mr. Macmillan. The General's widely suspected plans for political co-operation among the Six do not weigh much in the balance against the prospect 01 Britain's entering the Common Market. While In London the politicians keep on asking whether 'the French will let us in,' in Paris they are won- dering whether Macmillan will make up his mind. Adenauer's position is clear : he is on record as wanting Britain in the Common Market. De Gaulle would feel insulted in his statesmanship if he were ever clear : 'Prestige,' he wrote in an early essay, 'is inconceivable without mystery. Mastery over men's minds requires . . . a habit of giving nothing away, a preference for spring- ing surprises.' The surprise in this case might well be a welcome for the British. The General is rumoured—in this political regime of carefully Planted rumours—to have said the British must sooner or later join the Common Market.

That at least is what a good many Frenchmen Would think today. There is no doubt that as long as there were no ifs and buts a British request to join the European Community would get a far better reception than the Free Trade Area did. The French regarded this as a scheme to preserve Britain's independent 'great power' status and have a bite at the European cake as well; their Political jealousy was aroused as much as their economic fears. But now if Britain joined the Common Market, they would feel their policy had succeeded and that class differences among great Powers had been wiped out. In other ways, too, times have changed. De Gaulle's intentions Worry France's Common Market partners, but the thought that even Adenauer can hardly go on much longer worries the French. Are Erhard and Strauss nationalists? Might they not one day work out their own terms with the Russians? When things are uncertain, Britain's sober vir- tues exert a certain charm. So, last week, Le Monde published an article that may surprise People who remember the Free Trade Area quarrel but forget that the French Assembly re- jected the European Army treaty because Britain was not a party to it: 'If Britain is at last bound UP with the Continent, this will put an end to centuries of rivalry and "divide-and-rule." It will ensure that Germany's vitality is contained in a framework large enough to hold it. It will offer the promise of new progress to western unity. And it will show that a threatened world has the resilience to face the threat and get together to aid the people that need help to avoid totalitarian regimes.'

Of the three groups in France that laid the Free Trade Area low—the 'Europeans,' the industrial- ists and the farmers—only the farmers might battle again. The federalist 'Europeans' are divided between those who agree with Le Monde and those who fear that Britain on top of de Gaulle will be the last straw to break the back of the European institutions; but even the latter would swallow their fears if Britain accepted • Darsic Gillie is on holiday. those institutions by becoming a full member of the European Community. As for the industrial- ists, they have astonished themselves by their success in the Common Market. Between 1958 and 1960 they have doubled their sales to Ger- many and even tripled them to Italy. The old fears that dated back to the rise of the Ruhr in the nineteenth century have vanished with an almost suspect speed.

The farmers alone—if that is the right word for live million people—are really afraid. When the Common Market was negotiated they were promised a preferential market for their growing surpluses in Germany. The Germans have shown they are in no hurry to take them, and tempers have been rather high. Britain's entry, which could only mean the maintenance of food imports from abroad, would at first sight take away the farmers' last hopes of preference. But even they realise larger issues are at stake than getting rid of surplus milk and wheat. If a compromise were found—if for instance it were recognised that Europe, like America, may have to subsidise sur- pluses—they would probably resign themselves to Britain's entry.

So here, as always, the last word lies with de Gaulle and his ambition to lead Europe—against the 'Anglo-Saxons' as readers of his Memoirs are apt to remember. But memoirs are written after the event and are a poor guide to the future. Since de Gaulle has based his foreign policy on the German alliance and the Common Market that cements it, he is not, for all the gloss he puts on events, a free agent. This became apparent last year when he criticised the European institutions and attacked NATO in a press conference. When Adenauer grew indignant, he back-pedalled and has spent the better part of a year assuring him of his fidelity to Europe and the American alliance. If he were now to oppose Britain's entry into the Common Market he would be in grave danger of breaking it up and of isolating himself diplo- matically. The behaviour of the French Govern- ment shows he has no intention of doing this. The closer the British edge towards the Common Mar- ket, the more the French respond. It started two months ago when the French Foreign Minister, M. Couve de Murville, stressed the Common Market was open to newcomers. Since, French officials, in talks with their British opposite numbers, have been unexpectedly co-operative.

Everything, then, indicates that if Britain takes a clear decision there can be no French veto. Such a decision is not impossible despite agricul- ture, the Commonwealth and EFTA, for Britain could certainly modify the policies of the Six from within the Common Market, especially where they have not yet been defined, as with agriculture. But anything short of full member- ship would arouse the old mistrust, not only in France. French opposition, starting with the farmers and federalists, would become over- whelming and another brave scheme would sink without trace in a sea of technical argunient. To avoid this the British Government must couch its offer in such terms that everyone is aware of a revolution in British policy. The French are already half-convinced that history is in the making. But it is up to Britain to make it.