German carmaker Volkswagen AG breathed life into the EC's moribund Social Charter by signing an agreement here last week with labor unions allowing workers in its European plants the right to consult with management on a wide range of issues.

The deal covers plants of Volkswagen and its Audi AG subsidiary in Germany, Seat SA in Spain and Volkswagen in Belgium. Eventually, it will extend to Volkswagen's operations in Czechoslovakia, including Skoda, the Czechoslovak state-owned automaker acquired by Volkswagen last year.The agreement commits Volkswagen to consult a 17-member workers' council on investment, costs, wages, productivity, research and other matters.

The Volkswagen initiative is the first concrete response to the EC

commission's stalled proposal for EC-wide consultation of workers in companies with plants across the community.

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Top negotiators from the EC and European Free Trade Association are continuing their attempt to salvage an accord creating the world's biggest single market.

EC foreign ministers urged negotiators from the EC commission to adopt a more flexible stance on the issue of how to handle legal disputes arising in the planned 19-nation European Economic Area.

The EEA agreement stalled last year after the European Court of Justice said a proposed joint EC-EFTA court would undermine the court's jurisdiction within the EC.

Negotiations continue this week in a bid to strike a deal by spring. That would give the EC and EFTA governments time to ratify the agreement, which is scheduled to come into effect on Jan. 1, 1993.

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EC environment ministers approved strict checks on the transport of nuclear active waste both in and outside the community. The new regulations will ensure that nuclear waste is not shipped to countries lacking the technical and legal resources to handle the material.

Carlo Ripa di Meana, EC environment commissioner, said the agreement will help the EC's relations with the Third World.

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The EC Commission extended the mandate of Sir Leon Brittan, competition commissioner, to control EC mergers until the end of the year.

The decision nipped in the bud an attempt by other commissioners, notably Martin Bangemann, industry, and Karel van Miert, transport, to have a bigger say in the EC's competition policy.

Sir Leon will continue to handle merger inquiries jointly with Jacques Delors, president of the EC Commission.

Sir Leon, who has powers to make or break major mergers, agreed to keep his fellow commissioners informed about the progress of his investigations.