World Cup boost for euro kick-off date

Optimism is growing that European monetary union will start on time a year from now, as Britain prepares for its first full week as president of the European Union.

There are only five months to go until the crucial Council of Ministers meeting in May to decide which countries will take part in the launch of the single currency on January 1999.

Julian Jessop, an analyst at Nikko Europe, has raised his forecast of EMU starting on schedule to 85 per cent from 80 per cent in the light of the increasingly positive tone of the new year message of German politicians.

But Mr Jessop said he still retained a one-in-five chance of a delay or collapse of the whole programme as there was still the possibility of a hitch cropping up in the next 12 months.

Alison Cottrell, of Paine Webber, who rates the chances of a successful launch at 95 per cent, said it was too late, in both political and economic terms, for any of the leading European Union countries to throw a spanner in the works with just five months until the final decision.

One boost for the project came from a surprising source - the World Cup in France this summer will increase tax receipts for the French government, thereby helping the country's deficit.

Meanwhile, the Bundesbank president, Hans Tietmeyer, said yesterday that any appointments to the European Central Bank must guarantee monetary policy stability.

He said that any countries joining currency union must prove themselves ready and willing to live together in a Europe marked by long-term stability.

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