For centuries, dating all the way back to the days of the medieval knights and even earlier, the countries of Europe were at war with each other. The same people who make up such present-day countries as Britain, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria were frequently at odds with each other. Very often they tried to settle their differences on the battlefield.
Since the end of World War II in 1945, the countries of Western Europe have been at peace. The feeling since then has been that several countries pulling together can be far more powerful and have much more influence than if they stand on their own. What some European countries did 27 years ago was to begin to come together in a single unit so that they could work together for greater unity and prosperity. They started by pooling their iron and steel industries. They went on to lift a number of other restrictions on trade between the various member states. Bit by bit, it became easier for people to travel between member countries, to work in any of them, and to carry out their business more efficiently and more conveniently across international borders.
The name of the unusual organization that achieved this is the Common Market. The more formal name is the European Economic Community. The group can also be called the Ten. That is because the membership now consists of 10 countries: France, West Germany, Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark, and Greece.
Unfortunately, this idea of a united Europe has gone through a good deal of strain lately. So much so that the Common Market today is in serious trouble. Unless something is done about it soon, the Common Market may not be able to function anymore. Because of the urgency, the Common Market might have to call yet another special emergency meeting in the coming weeks.
The problem goes to the root of the whole idea of the Common Market, which was that there should be a kind of trade-off between the French farmers on one side and the German and British public on the other. Now, the British and the Germans say that the prices paid to Common Market farmers are too high. Britain, in particular, feels that it has to pay far too much to support the farmers and gets too little in return.
Britain is using this argument as a lever to reform the system, which needs much more money to prevent its going bankrupt. Britain says it won't contribute any more money until it gets a better financial deal and until the farm policy of the Common Market is changed.
Support for the farm policy, which goes under the fancy title of the Common Agricultural Policy, now takes up about 60 percent of the Common Market budget. The 1983 budget for the Common Market was $22.5 billion. A budget is the amount of money any country or organization sets aside to spend in any given year.
The farm policy is so costly because the Common Market promises that it will always pay farmers a high enough price to make farming worthwhile. For the farmer who knows he is going to get such prices, it means he can keep on producing milk, or beef, or whatever, without wondering if he is going to get a good price at the local marketplace. As a result, the European farmers are producing far more than is needed to feed Europe. So the extra food has to be sold outside Europe at much lower prices than originally paid to the farmers. This means that the Common Market is going bankrupt, because of the money that is being paid out to these farmers.
Britain is one of the countries saying that this is a wasteful way to farm and the system needs to be changed. But some countries, such as France, have found that the system protects their farmers, and they don't want it to change. Nevertheless, the French, too, are starting to feel the farm policy must be reformed.
How to do it so it will be acceptable to all member countries is the great challenge now facing the Common Market.