STEPS MAY HEAL RIFT
By JOHN DINGLE
BRITISH visitors to France just before Christmas found themselves called upon to explain or apologise for the growing hostility of our
national press. French visitors this side and journalists specialising in French affairs were equally liable to be faced with remarks about the sharpness of the Paris papers.
These appearances of a bitter quarrel are not entirely false and the outlook for Anglo-French relations seemed bad though some of the trouble was mere inability to distinguish between technical criticisms of national policies and fundamental ill-will.
In so far as bad feeling did enter into the matter, one must admit sadly that the chief blame lay on this side of the Channel.
It was British Ministers who had introduced the irritant words "reprisal" and "discrimination" into the quarrel over whether it was necessary to start to supplement the six nation Common Market with a looser knit free trade area cornposed of the whole of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (seventeen countries). Moreover, they used the word "discrimination" quite out of season as the Vice-Chairman of the Common Market Executive, M. Marjolin, pointed out just before Christmas.
At a press conference in Paris he called attention to the relevant clause in the 0.E.E.C. Code of Liberalisation. This lays down clearly that members of a customs union (such as the Common Market) have the right to extend to each other advantages that they are not prepared to grant to the rest of the Organisation.
Part of the British case for insisting on the immediate opening of a free trade area in spite of the great strain this would put on the French economy was based on the erroneous contention that to proceed with the Common Market alone would be to offend against the spirit of 0.E,E.C.
It is hard'
The other part of the British complaint against France was that she was willing to free her trade with her Common Market partners although she had failed to fulfil prior obligations towards 0.E.E.C.
This objection is now washed out since with one bold stroke the French have not only carried out their promises but have gone beyond them.
One paper here—the " Financial Times " — provides an unhappy illustration of the spirit in which some of the debate has been conducted with its brazen comment on Monday that the French finan
cial measures may well have an indirect but harmful effect on the free trade negotiations because they remove the juridical basis of the case for the eleven non-Cornmon Market countries against French discrimination, " It is hard." adds the Paris correspondent in this article. "to see how they will now be able to insist on 'no discrimination' from the start."
In other words the essential thing is to keep the French in an awkward position so that we can extract more than the pound of flesh allowed us by common membership of 0.E.E.C.
The report adds with apparent regret that the other five Common Market countries may show much greater solidarity with France now if the eleven should consider counter-measures. Yet it was the French who were widely accused (by us) of threatening Europe with a trade war!
This is an extreme case but there are others almost equally flagrant. Sir David Eccles, for instance, was openly jubilant about the apparent lack of solidarity among the Common Market Ministers at the 0.E.E.C. Council meeting.
Fortunately the tone of the official and unofficial comment here following General de Gaulle's broadcast suggests that the free trade area-Common Market quarrel will he buried with the old year and that the aim will henceforth be co-operation rather than