Outlook: Duisenberg is too leisurely by half

WIM DUISENBERG, president of the European Central Bank, has decided on one thing at least - that the Queen's head, or any other national emblem for that matter, will be erased from Britain's bank notes should we opt to join the single currency. So this is the sort of trivia Mr Duisenberg is occupying his time with, is it?

With just three and a bit months left to kick off time for the single currency, not much else seems to have been settled at all, to judge by the ECB president's evidence yesterday to the European Parliament's monetary affairs sub committee, and to the dismay of many already signed up to the euro. The Queen's head must go even if everything else is still up in the air, seems to be about the sum of it.

Thus it has not yet been decided to what interest rate the eleven countries forming the Euro should converge, though the hint seems to be towards the lowest common denominator, regardless of the possibly disastrous effects of this on the boom economies of Italy, Ireland and Spain. Nor has it been decided whether this convergence should take place in one jump or through a series of little moves.

Then there's the little matter of precisely how monetary policy should be determined, whether by reference to money supply, as in Germany, or an inflation target, as in Britain.

The ECB has said it should be a mixture of the two, but has yet to explain the proportions. And finally, the ECB has to decide which rate of inflation - which index - it is going to use for inflation targeting. Given the imminence of the single currency, it might be thought that all these matters require rather more urgent attention than they seem to be getting.

According to Mr Duisenberg everything is proceeding according to schedule. At best this seems a dangerously leisurely one. It is perhaps just as well for Britain that we are not entering in the first round after all, for it is surely bizarre that such important matters of detail remain undecided so close to D day. A general that went into battle so ill prepared could reasonably expect slaughter.

By rights it should be Mr Duisenberg's head on the chopper, not the Queen's. Perhaps unfortunately, it seems rather easier to behead the queen that a president of the ECB. Mr Duisenberg cannot officially be removed until the end of his eight year term in 2006.

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