EU poll finds British desire for euro at an all-time low

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Tony Blair's hopes of persuading the British public to join the single currency suffered a major setback yesterday when an official European Union survey showed that support for the euro had slumped to an all-time low of just 22 per cent.

Tony Blair's hopes of persuading the British public to join the single currency suffered a major setback yesterday when an official European Union survey showed that support for the euro had slumped to an all-time low of just 22 per cent.

The poll suggested that the Prime Minister's plan to boost support for Britain's membership of the EU as a first step towards winning a referendum on the euro has failed. Only one in four Britons believes being part of the union is a good thing.

The hostility among the public coincided with the dismissal by Sir Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England, of the idea that the country had "a window of opportunity" to join the euro.

"I have to confess that when people start talking of windows of opportunity, it makes me nervous, because what is involved is a judgement about the sustainability of convergence," Sir Eddie told a journal for international bankers.

"A window does not seem to me the right sort of analogy. We must put the emphasis on sustainability rather than transient opportunity."

His comments were a calculated rebuke to Wim Duisenberg, president of the European Central Bank, who said last month that Britain had such a window of opportunity.

Sir Eddie's views will also strengthen the hand of the Gordon Brown in his battle with pro-euro cabinet ministers. The Chancellor has insisted that the convergence between the British and eurozone economies must be sustainable. The euro poll, conducted by the European Commission across the continent, showed support for the single currency, which stood at 36 per cent in autumn 1998, now stands at 22 per cent. In contrast, the number of people against has risen to 61 per cent.

Mr Blair has stepped up his "softly, softly" campaign in recent weeks by spelling out the potential benefits of joining the euro - which Mr Brown is reluctant to talk about. But the Prime Minister is faced with the most sceptical public opinion of any of the 15 member states.

Approval ratings for the EU, trust in the European Commission and belief in the benefits of membership of Europe are lower here than in any European country. The number of people who believe the United Kingdom has "on balance benefited" from EU membership has fallen from 29 to 25 per cent since last autumn. In contrast, 86 per cent of those polled in Ireland said their country had benefited from the EU, and 81 per cent of Italians backed the euro.

But even outside Britain, Europe is still gripped by a crisis of confidence with less than half the EU's population now describing membership as a "good thing".

Trust in the European Commission, which resigned en masse in disgrace last year is still at only 45 per cent, although confidence is returning slowly in several key countries, such as Germany and France.

The poll bodes ill for Denmark's referendum in September on membership of the euro, with the single currency backed by only 40 per cent of Danes with 51 per cent against.

And there has been a collapse in support for Europe in Austria which has been subjected to political sanctions by 14 member states over the inclusion of the far-right in government.

Last night Keith Vaz, minister for Europe, dismissed the findings, saying they "do not reflect the reality" of opinion at grassroots level.

Britain in Europe, the campaign which promotes the benefits of EU membership, also rejected the findings, saying the survey field work in the UK was in April and May this year.

Simon Buckby, the campaign director, said: "This poll has been overtaken by events. The damage done in recent months to inward investment by the high value of the pound has shown that Britain is suffering because we are outside the single currency.

"The myths and propaganda peddled by the anti-Europeans over the past 25 years are being proved wrong by events."

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