Salami -- and chagrin -- at EC meet

When the European summit folded up near midnight on Monday, April 28, the only things being given away here were salami sandwiches in the press lounge. The nine heads of state of European Community countries, with their foreign secretaries, were ill disposed to give away anything more. The discussions, which were carried into the early hours of April 27 and dragged on relentlessly the following day, had brought them within shouting distance of an agreement.

But they failed, in the end, to cross that last chasm. It was, said commission president Roy Jenkins, "the most tantalizingly disappointing European Council I have known.

"We came nearer to agreement than I had hitherto believed possible," he added , "and just failed to grasp it."

Eluding their grasp was a compromise that would have reduced the British cost of Community membership and given Europe's farmers a price increase. Britain, alone among the Nine, rebelled at the farm package, which would have raised prices on such things as milk and sugar, already in great surplus.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also wanted to pay Community costs of no more than L360 million ($810 million) for no less than three years.The other eight offered that amount for two years -- but tacked on an inflation-proofing L 150 million ($338 million) surcharge for the second year.

Britain balked. Time ran out. Tempers ran up. Exhaustion set in. At one point France called for its limousines, threatening to leave. They were separated by only L150 million.

Those are the details. Beneath is a more general truth: What they really failed to grasp was a string to lead them out of old, hard fears.

The first of these fears is nationalism -- which involves belief that the other fellow is the foreigner, traditionally disinclined or temperamentally unable to see things the "right" way. Some see Italians and French as hotheads accustomed to haggling in street markets over prices for the sheer perversity of it. Others see British and Germans as frigid, preferring to shop at Harrod's, where nobody questions prices. Some believe the various groups will never mix.

The second fear, based on envy, is that somebody is getting something for nothing. If they aren't paying, the reasoning goes, they might take advantage of you.

Either of these fears, is enough to inhibit generosity, a basis for fruitful compromise.Diplomats believe the combination of nationalism and suspicion undermines diplomatic success.

To some extent this explains what happened at Luxembourg. The EC is supposed to be a barrier-free exchange. So far, that freedom applies less to attitudes than to things -- and, in the case of France's embargo on lamb, it doesn't always cover things.

But that is not the whole explanation of the summit. The talks fortunately, had both domestic and international consequences.

Domestically, it admittedly missed the mark. Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Giscard d'Estaing did not give in. "If I had been President Valery Giscard d'Estaing," a German official was overheard to say in the lounge when it was over, "I would have paid $200 million just not to see her [Mrs. Thatcher] for one whole day."

Mrs. Thatcher was more philosophical. "The Community has survived differences of opinion before," she asserted, "and it will survive them again."

Internationally, however, the summit was a success. It brought the EC together on the issues of -- Iran, Afghanistan, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. And even with its own house in disarray, the EC gave a hand to its allies -- proving that it could keep internal strife from affecting international agreements.

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