BENELUX: Friendly Difficulties

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In the vacuum of exile during World War II, the governments of Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg spent much of their time working out plans for the happy day of liberation. Their most ambitious scheme was for economic union: interstate free trade, a common tariff and excise, a free exchange of workers. The beginnings proved more modest: after liberation came a customs union with a catchy name, Benelux, and talk of how the three nations would prove "an example of unity in a divided world."

Benelux's international trade is now the biggest on the Continent, though its population (20 million) is smaller than France. Italy or West Germany. Yet there is friction. Postwar politics complicated the unity: Holland lost her colonial empire in Indonesia, Belgium grew rich on hers; the population of Holland increased rapidly, that of Belgium remained fairly static; Holland's constitutional monarchy remained steady, Belgium was uncertain about her King; the Dutch worked for low wages, the Belgians demanded high wages. When cheap Dutch goods flooded the Belgian market, Belgian industrialists complained. Full economic union, due to take place in 1950, was postponed.

Last week representatives of the three friendly countries met to reconcile their growing differences. They agreed on "temporary safeguard measures" to be applied in the event of a 15% drop in any industry's production. In such case, they would

1) fix minimum export prices, thus protecting the higher-priced Belgian goods;

2) use credits from a common "adaptation fund" to even out production differences;

3) reimpose customs duties. Some Dutchmen grumbled that they had made all the concessions. At any rate, the arrangement falls so far short of economic union that pessimists feel that the old ideal of unity has been abandoned.