DUBLIN SUMMIT: Kohl aims to appease Germans over euro

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The Independent Online
Realpolitik has taken a toll on German ambitions. As Chancellor Helmut Kohl goes to Dublin vowing to do his best for his country, the federalist vision for Europe is in danger of being eclipsed by a war of attrition over percentages.

There is little debate in Bonn over Europe, but Mr Kohl is aware that out there in the streets, the cherished goal of monetary union elicits only fear and loathing among his once unquestioning electorate. His task in Dublin, above all else, is to extract a deal that will reassure Germans that the new currency will be as solid as the mighty Deutschmark.

A poll published earlier this week showed mistrust of the euro is rising, with 61 per cent of Germans professing "fear" of monetary union, and only 16 per cent sounding optimistic. Just over a quarter of those polled supported the enterprise that enjoys almost unanimous backing by the political elite and big business.

The fear also reflects something tangible: the realisation that the new currency is on the way, probably arriving early in 1999 as planned. The only question for most Germans is: what will it be like?

"I am confident we will find a solution that will demonstrate to all citizens the European Union's determination to create a euro with long- term stability," Mr Kohl pledged at yesterday's Europe debate at the Bundestag. Unless the Chancellor delivers on this promise, his own political future will be imperilled at elections sched- uled on the eve of monetary union.

Germany's leader will thus come to the Dublin summit in rather the same manner as his British counterparts have approached these occasions in years past: weighed down by domestic baggage. For electoral reasons, he must play tough. To save his skin, he will have to drive a hard bargain over matters deemed important by the voters, and in exchange sacrifice causes in which he passionately believes.

Egged on by the Bundesbank, Mr Kohl's main goal in Dublin is the "stability pact", an agreement signed by all EU member states to abide by rules dreamt up in Frankfurt. Governments participating in monetary union would be fined under the "stability pact" if they did not keep budget deficits within strict limits.

The Germans see the new European central bank in the role of both judge and jury, an arrangement that would go some way towards liberating elected national governments from the tedious chores of monetary policy. It has worked in Germany, they say, but their awkward allies in Europe - notably France - fail to appreciate the efficiency of the arrangement.

Mr Kohl seems determined to push the summit to the brink to obtain the precious piece of paper that he can then wave to his voters, but expects to yield on all other points of the agenda.