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Countdown To The Euro: Sceptics converted in first wave of nations

THE EURO has clear public support in most of the 11 countries taking part in the first stage. Indeed, public opinion has favoured the euro since the idea came on to the public agenda in the early Nineties.

Meanwhile, the most recent official European Union opinion survey, the Eurobarometer, found a new swing in its favour.

Over the past five years the Eurobarometer has regularly found just over half of people in the European Union to be in favour, with just under two in five opposed. But in its last survey, in the spring, as the euro received the go-ahead, it found 60 per cent in favour and 28 per cent opposed. Opinion in the 11 initial member countries was even more supportive, with 66 per cent in favour and 23 per cent against.

At the top of the euro popularity stakes is Italy, with 83 per cent in favour and 8 per cent opposed. At the bottom among those countries joining on Friday is Germany, where 51 per cent are in favour and36 per cent are opposed. What for the Italians appears to be the attraction of a stronger currency is evidently for the Germans the fear of a weaker one. Indeed, this time last year more people in Germany were opposed to the introduction of the euro than were in favour.

In contrast, of the four countries not joining the euro at this stage, only in Greece does a majority of the public actually wish to do so. Greece was deemed unable to meet the Maastricht criteria. In Sweden, Denmark and Britain, only about a third were in favour and a half or more opposed.

But are those European governments who have opted out of the euro simply following their public opinion or have they created it?

In countries where the government wished to join the euro, the rise in support averaged 10 points. In none of the three countries where the government did not wish to join was it greater than five points. Public opinion was more likely to be influenced by the euro moving from idea to fact where their government was welcoming this.

Furthermore, the three countries that opted out are not those with the three most Eurosceptical publics. Only in Sweden is public opposition to the euro matched by the public's doubts about the wisdom of being in Europe at all.

John Curtice is deputy director of the ESRC Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends.