Europe's leaders haggle to the end

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The Independent Online
THE European Union approved the Gatt deal yesterday, but only after Britain was defeated on trade measures that could hit Eastern Europe. Foreign ministers met yesterday to agree a deal and tie up the loose ends. A threat from Portugal was defused by the traditional EU method - an injection of cash. The Portuguese economy depends heavily on textiles, the market for which is to be opened up. So Lisbon was offered 400m ecus ( pounds 307m) of extra assistance, taken from an unallocated slice the EU budget.

France had also demanded that if the EU were to agree a market-opening deal, it had to toughen its trade defences. Britain was outvoted in an attempt to block looser voting rules on one area of trade retaliation, which covers safeguards in the event of a sudden rise of imports. This measure will hit countries that have preferential trading agreements with the EU, including Eastern Europe.

But the closing stages of the deal were an event for celebration, with everybody full of praise for Sir Leon Brittan. His position before the selection of a replacement for Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission now looks much improved. He walked into the canteen of the building where ministers met yesterday, gathering a crowd of onlookers and journalists, but his officials claimed he was 'only looking for a sandwich'.

In Paris, the French Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, easily won a vote of confidence in his government's handling of the Gatt negotiations and announced 10 reforms to take advantage of 'this new stage'.

Cheered liked a conqueror, Mr Balladur won by a 466-90 margin. 'The cultural identity of Europe is protected,' he said. 'The future of French agriculture is assured.' Given that his conservative government is supported by the 484 members of the Gaullist RPR party and the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) in the 577-seat National Assembly, the result was a foregone conclusion.

The real purpose of the debate was to draw a line under the Gatt issue and give a parliamentary victory to a prime minister who had inherited an intransigent position from his Socialist predecessors.