Growing British support for single currency

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OPPOSITION TO the European single currency in Britain has fallen below 50 per cent, according to an official EU survey. Those hostile to the euro now make up 49 per cent of the population, a drop of 10 per cent since the last similar survey.

More than one-third of those questioned in the UK now back EMU, an increase of 5 per cent, with "don't knows" rising by the same margin to 17 per cent. The trend in Britain reflects growing support for the project throughout Europe. Within the EU it is now backed by 60 per cent, a nine-point increase from the survey six months ago. Among the 11 countries that will participate in the launch in January next year, that figure rises to 66 per cent. The findings, welcomed yesterday by the European Commission, will hearten advocates of EMU ahead of the launch of a big public information campaign in Britain next month.

They also call into question the tactics of William Hague, leader of the opposition, in balloting his party members in support of a policy of ruling out membership for the lifetime of the next parliament. The European Commission has been buoyed by the success of the Euro-zone currencies in withstanding the economic shocks from the Far East and Russia.

Approval ratings for the euro are at their highest level since the survey began in 1993. Support is strongest in Italy at 83 per cent, but in Austria, Finland and Germany backing for the project now exceeds 50 per cent for the first time. The UK and Denmark have the fewest active proponents of the monetary union, at just more than one third.

In Denmark 57 per cent are hostile to EMU and less than 10 per cent say they don't know.

A thousand people were questioned in Great Britain and 300 in Northern Ireland as part of the bi-annual survey, which revealed Britons to be among the most ignorant people in Europe about EMU. Only 37 per cent know the name of the currency, as opposed to 95 per cent in France and 73 per cent in Sweden. The survey also reflects poorly on the British government's attempts to project a positive image of Europe during its six-month presidency of the EU, which ended in June. Just over one-third of the population (36 per cent) was aware of the presidency.