Column Eight: Slippery surface for treaty

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The Independent Online
Forget subsidiarity and the Bundesbank, forget the ERM. None of the above has half as much power to destroy the Maastricht treaty as - the banana. The stormiest row within EC countries at the moment rages specifically over cheap, long and firm Latin American bananas.

Matters came to a head yesterday in Luxembourg, where EC trade ministers vented their rage over banana quotas. Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands (supported by Belgium and Luxembourg) were fighting for the right to continue importing Latin American bananas. France, Spain and Portugal were ranged against them, pressing for greater protection for their producers in the French West Indies, Canary Islands and Madeira.

So intractable was the arguing that diplomats quoted the German Economics Minister, Jurgen Mollemann, as hinting that Germany might refuse to ratify the Maastricht treaty if its right to import the cheap Latin American bananas was infringed.

Britain is, for once, not involved and not causing friction. But if Lord Tebbit were only to get involved . . .

Ritual humiliation of the pound abroad continues. A weekend visitor to Paris who triumphantly tracked down an exchange willing to accept an English cheque was rewarded only with a sneering offer of five francs to the pound.

Further embarrassment lurks in Nice, where British tourists already depressed by the rain-sodden south of France are discovering that the airport's change machines no longer accept pounds.

Still, it's worse for Italians, who are being refused francs not only at Nice airport but even at the humble post office in St Tropez, which will not buy or sell lira at any price.

At home, campaigners against currency union have adorned vending machines on the London Underground with this sticker: 'A Euro currency is a step closer to one world currency is a step closer to one card, no cash and total control over you.' It's obviously debtors of Access and Barclaycard getting desperate.

A sailing colleague and weather expert says the north-easterly gales that have sliced through the City for the past two days are rare. He remembers well the last such gales, because they were the precursor to The Hurricane. Which was the precursor to Black Monday, whose fifth anniversary looms on 19 October. Strange weather patterns, volatile markets? It must be a coincidence, mustn't it?