Comment: Watch Kohl fight for EMU

If Germany can't meet the Maastricht criteria in time, all bets are off. The chances of Helmut Kohl persuading the German public to plump for the euro on the back of a figure-fudge are slim. And European monetary union without Germany is inconceivable.

But the possibility of EMU going ahead at all recedes if the timetable crumbles. Without the credible excuse of a looming deadline, plenty of European politicians will find it hard to persuade their voters to swallow the horrid medicine that a successful currency union demands. All in all then, the growing opinion that Germany can't squeeze its economy into the Maastricht corset on schedule should cast serious doubt on the prospect that our pockets will jingle with euros in the early years of the next century.

The abysmal German unemployment figures announced last week were only the start of it. This week the markets picked up on rumours in the British media that German officials were revising their deficit forecasts upwards - to 3.5 per cent of GDP rather than the current projection of 2.9 per cent - to cope with extra spending on unemployment benefit.

But hang on a minute. Is this really credible? The German and French governments are as aware as anyone that if the timetable is missed the entire project starts to flake. The German government will do absolutely everything it can to meet the timetable. Watch this space for a supplementary budget later in the year if the public finances deteriorate too far.

Not that a budget nip and tuck here and there will be easy. Fiscal tightening while unemployment is so high could be extremely bad for the economy, and deeply unpopular with the German public, not to mention the opposition- dominated Bundesrat, which would have a veto on new legislation. Even so, it is too soon to close the curtains on EMU. Never underestimate what Chancellor Kohl and his colleagues are prepared to do to see the European project through.

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