The Summit: High rise event brings new dialogue

France and Britain wrapped up a notably friendly summit with agreement that the UK should have a seat on the board of the future European Central Bank as soon as it joins the single currency. Rupert Cornwell assesses the results of the Docklands meeting.
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The Independent Online
A seat on the six-man ECB board is of course not in the gift of Paris alone, but clear endorsement of the idea from both President Chirac and his socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin removes the largest potential source of opposition.

France's stance yesterday conclusively rules out the notion, apparently floated by German officials last week, that a seat on the six-person board of the future central bank should be kept vacant for Britain. "A country that is not part of the Euro cannot be part of the central bank," Mr Chirac told the press after the summit in the Canary Wharf Tower.

But he insisted there was a "broad measure of agreement" that once Britain adopted the Euro, it would have a seat. Mr Jospin was even more unequivocal: "As soon as Britain joins, it will be on the ECB board." The board had been structured, he said, to ensure that a seat would automatically fall vacant in the year Britain joined - on present indications 2002 or shortly thereafter.

In another gesture which should still some apprehensions in London, the French President declared that the planned informal "Euro-council" of finance ministers of the single currency countries would not exclude Britain and other non-Euro members from key policy decisions.

The council would handle the "political management" of the single currency, Mr Chirac said, but non-participating countries had to have their say in the "general monetary management of Europe". He called for a "close articulation" between the Euro-Council and non-members - likely to comprise Sweden, Denmark and Greece as well as Britain.

What this language means in practice remains to be seen. But there was no mistaking the friendly nature of yesterday's proceedings, with both Mr Chirac and Mr Jospin speaking admiringly of the Canary Wharf tower, conceived under Mrs Thatcher but chosen by Mr Blair to depict the thrusting new Britain of new Labour.

The meeting had been "immensely successful," the Prime Minister enthused, refusing to join the chorus of criticism from elsewhere in the EU at France's blatant attempt to derail the overwhelmingly favoured contender for the ECB governorship, the Dutchman Wim Duisenberg, by proposing a rival candidate.

Not all loose ends, however, were tied up yesterday. On Iraq, the French are palpably less willing than Britain to contemplate a renewed use of force against Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair also urged the French not to exploit Commonwealth sanctions against Nigeria for its own commercial and political aims in West Africa, while much time was devoted to the need for Europe to streamline its defence industry.

Summit hint of defence accord, page 25