Britain looks toward a new role in European Community affairs
London — Britain's big chance in Europe? A stronger European voice in world affairs? More money from the "have" nations in Europe flowing to the "have-not" nations in the third world?
All three prospects are being raised by foreign policy analysts studying implications of the election of socialist Francois Mitterrand as President of France.
In the short term, the analysts agree, Britain has a real chance to exercise the kind of influence within the European Community long denied to it by the dominant axis of out-going French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
France is in a period of internal fluidity which is expected to last for some months. There is no guarantee that Mr. Mitterrand will be able to win the kind of left-wing majority in the coming National Assembly elections he will need to push through his policies at home and abroad.
If he does control the assembly, it will take some months for him to shape specific policies. If he does not control it, the entire constitutional framework of the Fifth Republic will be tested as never before.
Meanwhile, Britain finds itself allied with West Germany over the need to reform the Community budget -- and on the general objective of sharpening and amplifying Europe's foreign policy voice.
Perhaps symbolically, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Mr. Schmidt were meeting in London the day after Mr. Mitterrand was elected. Both seemed to have overcome the sharp dispute they had at the European summit in Maastricht over fishing rights.
While both said they looked forward to working with Mr. Mitterrand, both were emphatic that the structure of the Community budget must be reformed soon.
As one British official explained by phone from Brussels May 14, Community President Gaston Thorn must report by the end of June on ways to end the current system, by which West Germany and Britain finance virtually the entire budget. All the other states, including wealthy ones like Denmark, are net beneficiaries.
"The Community has decided in principle that this system is unacceptable," the official said, "but the trick is to find acceptable ways of changing."
Britain managed to persuade other members to refund some of its own contributions last year, leaving Bonn with an even bigger share to pay.
Specifically, Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Schmidt want to reduce payments to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which takes the lion's share of the budget.
Mr. Schmidt wants a ceiling on member contributions to the budget. Both countries want the present formula continued under which contributions to the budget by each state are limited to 1 percent of Value Added Tax (VAT) collections.
Some experts here also believe Mr. Mitterrand will favor more Community money for poorer nations.
It is not thought likely here that France, whose farmers benefit greatly from the CAP, will agree to modify it. Mr. Mitterrand's election won't change that.
The significant point is that Bonn and London find themselves united on a major issue at a time when France is preoccupied with its internal situation.
The Giscard-Schmidt axis was forged between two men who had each been finance ministers, who had known each other for years, and who virtually ran Europe at a period when Washington (under presidents Ford and Carter) was failing to provide coherent leadership to the Western world.
One of the pillars of that axis has now fallen.
Basic national interests change slowly: Mr. Mitterrand is anti-Soviet and in favor of European unity. But Britain can now exert influence on the budget, and on foreign policy, just as Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington is about to take over day-to-day running of the Council of Ministers, by normal rotation, from July 1 through the end of the year.
Lord Carrington wants to set up a permanent cadre of European officials to coordinate policies such as the Mideast initiatives now being pursued by Christoph A. van der Klaauw, the Dutch foreign minister. (The Netherlands currently chairs the Council.)
West German Foreign Minister HansDeitrich Genscher also favors a more cohesive foreign policy structure for Europe.
Although the latest foreign ministers' meeting, at Venlo in the Netherlands, heard Mr. van der Klaauw say it was too early to discuss a permanent secretariat , that meeting also decided to include security issues from now on in European discussions on for eign policy (known in Brussels jargon as "political cooperation.")
Lord Carrington, vigorous and forceful, is backed by an even more forceful prime minister, at a time when 43 percent of all British trade is with Western Europe, and when Bonn has just replaced the US as Britain's best customer for exports.
Britain's long-term voice in the Community will remain limited by its faltering economy. But observers here believe it now has a real short-term chance to have a bigger say than before.