Cook to tell Japan euro is working

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The Independent Online
ROBIN COOK is to tell Japanese businessmen that the single currency is working, and that Britain will join it if continues to prove a success.

In the most positive comments by a cabinet minister about the euro's performance since its launch in January, the Foreign Secretary will say in Tokyo today that there are already signs the new currency is "bringing new strength" to the 11 countries which joined it.

Although he reiterated the Government's policy to join only when five economic tests are met, Mr Cook's speech is part of a fightback by ministers against Britain's Eurosceptics. "It is in the interests of Britain as much as any other member- state that the euro currency is a success story," he will say.

Although it was too early to reach a firm view, there were already "real benefits": interest rates in the euro zone were half the level of Britain's; the euro was a "major stimulus" for economic restructuring and France was creating jobs faster than anywhere in the world.

"If these trends continue, the single currency will bring significant benefits to those countries that are members of it," Mr Cook is to say. Britain would have to "watch with care whether the euro brings relative advantages to the industries of the countries within it."

He will seek to safeguard Japanese investment in Britain by promising that under Mr Blair its place in Europe is secure and there will be no return to isolationism.

"Our anti-Europeans delude themselves when they imagine that Britain could strengthen its ties around the world by weakening its ties with Europe."

Yesterday it emerged that Mr Blair intervened to stop the big unions trying to bounce the Government into early euro entry. Hours after returning from holiday last week, he rang John Monks, TUC general secretary, urging him to bang heads over the issue. Since then John Edmonds, GMB general secretary, has agreed to water down proposals due to be tabled at the TUC congress in Brighton next week.

While Mr Edmonds' original motion demanded the Government "actively pursue" early entry, he has since accepted a weaker formulation proposed by Mr Monks and Sir Ken Jackson, head of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. A "composite" proposition now says Britain should give itself "the option" of preparing the economy for entry early in the new decade. But GMB officials said news of intervention by Mr Blair could be counter-productive.

Nevertheless, the new wording makes it far more likely the motion will be carried. It could even mean that Mr Blair's own union, the Transport and General, which has been increasingly critical of the European currency, will back it.

Officials at the T&G pointed out that the compromise statement still said that Britain could only join the currency if stringent economic criteria were met.

Bill Morris, leader of the T&G, might give it his backing provided it is not presented as "Go, go, go for the euro", as one source put it. Mr Morris will also be anxious to test out the opinion of Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has recently been counselling caution on the European currency.

Sources close to Sir Ken believe the change brings the motion into line with government policy, although GMB officials ventured that it was still in advance of the Government position "by quite a significant margin".

The only big union unlikely to back the position is Unison, Labour's largest affiliate, which is tied by a Eurosceptical conference decision.

Yesterday sources at the AEEU said Sir Ken wanted an "informed debate" about the benefits of Europe as a whole. "All trade unionists have benefited from European legislation. We need to set a standard of debate which the rest of the country can follow."