MEPs back off from euro showdown

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The Independent Online
THE European Parliament voted for Dutchman Wim Duisenberg to become the first president of the European Central Bank yesterday, despite raising serious objections to the manner in which he was given the job, writes Katherine Butler in Strasbourg.

Mr Duisenberg is cleared to become head of the Frankfurt-based bank, set to become the most powerful monetary institution in the world, on 1 June.

In a gesture of defiance to the French President Jacques Chirac the Strasbourg Parliament urged Mr Duisenberg to stay on beyond June 2002 when the Paris government expects him to give way to Frenchman Jean Claude Trichet. But MEPs backed off from an earlier threat to reject the appointment outright on the grounds that a fudged compromise reached by European heads of government at the Brussels summit on May 2 was in breach of the spirit of the Maastricht treaty.

British Tory MEPs reacted furiously to the Strasbourg vote. John Stevens representing Thames Valley denounced his colleagues as "cowards".

EU leaders appointed Mr Duisenberg for eight years in theory but in a separate political deal cleared the way for the French rival candidate Jean-Claude Trichet to step into his shoes mid-2002 when the euro notes and coins have replaced the separate national monies. This followed a "voluntary" declaration on Mr Duisenberg's part that he would not want to see out the full term.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who represented the EU presidency at yesterday's vote in Strasbourg insisted it was "clearly in accordance" with the Treaty because Mr Duisenberg will take his own decision about the date of his retirement.

After cross-examining Mr Duisenberg an overwhelming majority of MEPs said they were satisfied he had demonstrated his independence.

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