CBI to tell ministers when Britain should join Emu

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S leading employers organisation will next month tell the Government when - and even at what rate - to join the European single currency, if its members decide firmly in favour of one option.

The Confederation of British Industry is polling its members on when - and if - they believe Britain should sign up to economic and monetary union (Emu).

If there is overwhelming support for one date then the CBI is expected to include it when it revises its policy statement, which currently recommends joining when economic conditions are right.

The CBI is also asking members what euro exchange rate they believe would be "appropriate".

A pro-euro decision would add to pressure on the Government to abandon its "wait-and- see" policy at a time when exporting companies are being hammered by the strength of sterling against a weak euro.

The Government said in September 1997 that it was committed in principle to joining the euro when the economic case was "clear and unambiguous" and laid out strict tests that would have to be met.

The CBI is consulting member groups, including its regional councils, committees on Europe and economic affairs, and 39 trade associations, which speak for 600 members.

On the crucial question of timing for entry into the euro, members are being given seven options:

n as soon as possible (ie before 2002);

n between 2002 and 2005;

n should join in principle but without a timetable;

n wait and see how the euro develops before making any decisions;

n decide now not to join either in this Parliament or the next (ie not before 2007),

n never.

Members will also vote on five exchange rate options, ranging from below 1.33 euros to above 1.48 euros. The current rate is 1.53 euros - equivalent to a level above DM3.00.

The CBI is simultaneously carrying out a survey of 5000 companies including 2,037 direct members and 2,963 members of participating trade associations.

Although the policy will be based on the voting results, the survey will be used to confirm the outcome .

It is understood that initial votes from regional councils, sector councils and policy committees are strongly in favour of joining - either before 2002, between 2002 and 2005 or simply in principle.

However, the survey has angered Business for Sterling, an organisation representing the anti-euro sector of the commercial community. It complained that a preface to the question on the timing of entry is biased. However, last week Nick Herbert, chief executive of Business for Sterling, held a meeting with Adair Turner, the director general of the CBI, which both sides described as "constructive".

The row has been complicated by the fact that Bob Worcester, who runs MORI, the polling group working for the CBI, has attacked Business for Sterling's polling group ICM over a survey that found 64 per cent of business did not want to join the euro.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Business for Sterling said: "We have grave concerns over the way that MORI has conducted this survey. Since the survey is self-selecting it is not all trade associations - simply those trade associations that have agreed to participate."

A CBI spokesman defended the way the survey was being carried out and said it had never claimed it would represent the opinions of business - simply the views of CBI members.

The issue of support for the euro will intensify later this week when Business for Sterling challenges the pro-euro Britain in Europe organisation at the British Chambers of Commerce national conference.

Euro opponents Norman Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor, and Sir Michael Edwardes, ex-chairman of British Leyland, will debate with Chris Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, and Guy Walker, former chairman of Van den Bergh Foods.

Ian Peters, BCC deputy director general, said: "Government must give a firm lead on how it proposes to steer the UK towards economic convergence and when it will judge we have achieved it."

Diane Coyle,

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