History lessons on Europe

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The Independent Online
Ever since the Messina Conference 40 years ago, Britain has rued the cost it has paid for not being able to set up the European Community on its own terms. Hence the concern of pro-Europeans that we do not repeat the same mistake with the latest great project of economic and monetary union.

This fear, more than anything else, informs the conclusion of the Kingsdown inquiry that Britain should opt in to EMU if it goes ahead in 1999. Failure to do so would relegate us to the second division of outsiders. Once again we would score an own goal, losing our ability to influence the future of the European union, most particularly in the formulation of the new common European monetary policy.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors also has a history lesson in mind for us all - the more recent one of Britain's unhappy entanglement in the exchange rate mechanism. Similar consequences would be likely, it warns, from participating in a single currency, except there would no longer be an escape.

Where both bodies concur is that EMU is "an enormous step" in the words of the IoD, "a leap in the dark" according to the Kingsdown inquiry. In other words this is a project born of a political drive rather than one anchored in self-evident economic merits.

A premature and politically inspired monetary union that backfires could set European integration back by a generation. Maybe we need less history and more hard-headed appraisal of the merits of EMU for a world in which the centre of economic gravity is in any case shifting rapidly away from Europe to Asia.