Bonn and Paris smooth path to Gatt-free summit

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The Independent Online
AS THE leaders of France and Germany met in Bonn yesterday to forge a common strategy before the Edinburgh council, their foreign ministers were joined by their Spanish counterpart who flew in at short notice.

French sources made it clear that President Francois Mitterrand and Chancellor Helmut Kohl would avoid the issue over which they disagree most - France's threat to block a Gatt world trade deal - and suggested the issue would also be avoided at Edinburgh. They said the French priorities at Edinburgh - which the French Minister for Europe, Elisabeth Guigou, has described as a 'make-or-break summit' - are a deal on the EC budget and a 'firm timetable' from Britain on ratification of the Maastricht treaty.

The summit is likely to feature fierce wrangling over British and Community proposals for funding of the 12-nation bloc until the end of the century. But whether Bonn and Paris could forge a common stance on the budget is in doubt. Sources say France has done a tacit deal with the Spanish to support them in calls to reject British proposals to reduce a cohesion fund which would benefit the poorer EC states. The reason is that France needs Spanish support if and when it eventually abandons threats to veto the Gatt agreement and calls instead for compensation from the EC. Germany, on the other hand, is one of the keenest to keep financing costs down and thus is likely to support British proposals.

The Spanish Foreign Minister, Javier Solana, said on Wednesday: 'It's absolutely impossible for us to accept the British position.' Spain is set to do best out of the cohesion fund, with some reports yesterday suggesting that it might get as much as 68 per cent of any new package. This would leave little for Ireland, Greece and Portugal, the fund's other intended beneficiaries.

Spain's Farm Minister will be among half-a-dozen expected to attend a foreign ministers' meeting on Monday. Britain has refused to call a full meeting of agriculture and foreign ministers to discuss Gatt and the US-EC deal reached last month, as France had called for.

Spain has not, like France, threatened to veto the Gatt deal. But Madrid is very unhappy about some aspects of the agreement. It is likely that the meeting will see the first salvoes in France's campaign to gain compensation for the US-EC agreement. But under Britain's budget proposal, farm spending will not be increased.