501.BD Europe/1–2348

The British Embassy to the Department of State 1



M. Myrdal, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, has summoned the third session of the Commission for the 31st of March, 1948. This date represents a postponement from January, 1948, since the General Assembly recommended that the first two sessions of 1948 should be merged.

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2. The United Kingdom representative, supported orally by the United States representative, has recommended further postponement until May. He was instructed to give as his reasons:

The need for additional time for committees and working parties to report to the Commission.
The fact that two major United Nations conferences (Maritime and Freedom of Information) were to meet in March and April and that E.C.E. should not clash with these conferences.

3. The Department of State agreed to support a postponement until May unless there was wide support for a March meeting or unless urgent new problems should arise in the meantime.

4. After seeking the advice of the Danish Chairman and Polish Vice-Chairman of the Commission, the Executive Secretary has decided to disregard the United Kingdom request and to go ahead with plans for the 31st of March. It appeared from a talk between M. Myrdal and the permanent United Kingdom representative to the Economic Commission for Europe that the real reason for the former’s change of mind (he had hitherto been strongly in favour of a postponement from the Secretariat point of view) was a visit from the Soviet Minister at Berne, who had told him that his Government had no objection to the March date.

5. The United Kingdom views have been represented to Mr. Owen, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs, who seems to think that a short postponement may be necessary. The United Nations Secretariat, for their part, are independently preparing a paper which, by showing that a meeting of the Economic Commission for Europe in April is organisationally and financially impossible, suggests that in their opinion May is the earliest practicable date.

6. The Governments of Belgium, France, Iceland, Norway, and the Soviet Union have agreed to the 31st of March.

7. Mr. Bevin has now asked His Majesty’s Embassy to approach the Department of State and invite them to instruct their representative in Geneva to renew the United States request for a postponement until May with added vigour. The Foreign Office advance the following arguments for such a postponement, which the United Kingdom representative at Geneva will continue to support:

A considerable number of meetings of the Committees, subcommittees, and working parties of the Economic Commission for Europe are scheduled for January, February, and March, during which these bodies will be only just passing through their organisational [Page 375] period. Postponement of the full session of the Commission from March until May will give them a better chance of producing material worthy of consideration by the full Commission.
The United Nations administrative staff in Geneva for their part are already heavily committed, especially with the Conference on Freedom of Information in April.
Over and above considerations (a) and (b), the Soviet Government are likely to use the third session of the Economic Commission for Europe to attack the European Recovery Programme at a critical moment and may succeed in weakening, if not actually breaking, the unity of the sixteen countries. Whether or not the Soviet Government have any particular strategy in mind, this meeting will give them an opportunity to sabotage the European Recovery Programme of which they can scarcely fail to take advantage.
M. Myrdal, who appears to be lending himself wittingly or unwittingly to the Soviet tactics, may be anxious to have an early meeting in order to extend the scope of his committees, with the Commission’s authority, beyond their present range, to a point which might well prejudice the C.E.E.C. continuing organisation and also cause a split in the C.E.E.C. ranks on this issue of the Economic Commission for Europe versus the C.E.E.C. continuing organisation. If successful, these efforts would cause a duplication of activity in the Economic Commission for Europe and in the C.E.E.C. continuing organisation for which His Majesty’s Government cannot afford the manpower.

8. The Embassy has already discussed the relations of the Economic Commission for Europe and the C.E.E.C. with the Department of State, whose view is that the United Nations organisations should be used whenever possible and that the Economic Commission for Europe should not be prevented from doing any really useful work. In particular, the Department of State are unwilling to take a definite lead in the Economic Commission for Europe where they think that the majority wish of European countries should prevail. They are therefore unwilling to discourage an extension of the Commission’s activities at this stage and have intimated that, only if any clear attempts are made to use the Commission to sabotage the European Recovery Programme, would they consider such action to be grounds for attempting to restrain further expansion and to shift the real work on any particular subject to the C.E.E.C. continuing organisation.

9. Mr. Porter, however, the United States representative to the Economic Commission for Europe, is said strongly to favour a postponement until May. The Foreign Office, who attach great importance to averting developments which might seriously prejudice the establishment and smooth working of the C.E.E.C. continuing organisation, [Page 376] are therefore hopeful that, on further consideration, the Department of State will agree that the third session of the Economic Commission for Europe should be postponed until May.2

  1. The aide-mémoire was presented to Ambassador Douglas, then in Washington, by Ambassador Inverchapel.
  2. In a memorandum to the British Embassy of January 31, the Department indicated that it prefered a postponement of the ECE meeting, and noted that: “While there is some doubt as to how the matter can be appropriately reopened, the preference for a May session will be expressed by the United States Representative if an appropriate occasion for the expression of such views arises. It is not felt, however, that the United States should take the lead in urging postponement of the next session of the Commission. As has been stated on previous occasions, it is the view of the Department of State that the initiative with regard to the forms and methods of economic cooperation between European countries is essentially a European question, to be determined largely by the European countries concerned.” (501.BD-Europe/1–2348)