European Community comes to rescue in yacht race

It was pure magic. Rounding the northern tip of Denmark, three hours into the first leg of this summer's Round Europe yacht race, the 24-meter catamaran Formule Tag was demasted in strong winds and heavy seas. A replacement mast would have to be hauled up by truck from the boat's home port in western France over the weekend if the vessel wanted to continue racing -- and quickly. But trucks are prohibited from using the highways in most West European countries on weekends, including France. So what to do?

Enter the European Community, which had helped organize the race. Dozens of bureaucrats began working furiously in their offices at the organization's headquarters here, telephoning national authorities and pleading with them to let the truck carry the 92-foot-long, $40,000 mast (illegally) over 1250 miles of highway from Trinit'e-Sur-Mer in France to the port of Hanstholm in northern Denmark -- all for the sake of sport.

They were successful. Highway and customs officials along the truck's route were dutifully notified and urged to ease the truck's passage as it made its way north. And soon the Formule Tag was on its way again.

Like magic the EC had done for a sailboat race what it has not been able to do for commerce and industry in its 28-year history: create a true common market by breaking down barriers to the movement of goods, services, and people throughout the 10 EC member countries.

Businessmen operating in the EC have complained for years that long delays at borders owing to cumbersome customs procedures and paperwork, product standards that differ from country to country, national restrictions on cross-border services, and other such practices have hampered industrial growth.

This failure to create a European common market, they hasten to point out, has not been the fault of the EC bureaucrats in Brussels who are paid precisely to think of ways to break down barriers between EC countries -- as in the sailboat case. Instead, they attribute it to the 10 national governments which, under EC law, enjoy the final say on proposed legislation that could make life easier for businessmen and ordinary citizens alike. More often than not, they vote not to open markets and to protect th eir industries.

The Round Europe yacht race, which began in Kiel, West Germany, on Aug. 9 and ends 3065 miles later on Sept. 6 in Porto Cervo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, was conceived in part to promote the idea -- and ideal -- of the EC from an economic and cultural point of view.

But some critics note that only about 5 percent of the total cost of the event (some $600,000) is being put up by the EC, while more than half ($325,000) is being contributed by a rich businessmann. His name: Akram Ojjeh, the Saudi Arabian multi-millionaire who has also entered his own boat, the $735,000 Formule Tag, in the race, knowing good promotion when he sees it. His boat is skippered by Mike Birch, who is . . . Canadian.

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