Ecu by any other name smells sweet to Bonn

The dispute over what to call the European Union's planned single currency sharpened this week with Germany and the European Commission in public disagreement over whether or not to christen it the "Ecu". EU governments want to settle the matter in December when they hold a summit in Madrid, but it is unclear if the Commission or the German government will blink first.

Germany's Finance Minister, Theo Waigel, said in an interview with the German magazine Focus that every national currency that joins the monetary union, to be launched in 1999, should simply be given the prefix "Euro". This would mean that Germans would buy goods with Euromarks, Frenchmen with Eurofrancs and, in the seemingly unlikely event that Britain signed up for the project, Britons with Europounds.

Germany opposes the Ecu on the grounds that ordinary Germans are well aware that the existing Ecu, which represents a weighted average of European currencies, has steadily lost alue against the mark. Bonn argues that the German public would never support monetary union if they thought they were giving up the mark for a weaker currency.

Mr Waigel's remarks drew a blunt response from the EU Commissioner for monetary affairs, Yves-Thibault de Silguy. In a speech to businessmen in Bonn on Monday, he implicitly accused Germany of quibbling over the name in order to force other changes in the single currency project.

"This question of the name must not hold back preparations for the single currency or offer a pretext to certain member states for trying to obtain changes in other provisions of the Maastricht treaty. Let us avoid opening a Pandora's box," he said.

Mr de Silguy said Ecu was the name used at Maastricht and so it should be retained unless one government proposed an alternative acceptable to everyone else.

Mr Waigel underlined German apprehensions when he said that countries joining a single currency must accept "additional measures to secure budget discipline" apart from those stipulated in Maastricht. The treaty envisages that countries forming the monetary union should have budget deficits of 3 per cent or less of gross domestic product, but Germany fears that some governments may let their deficits grow after the single currency is launched.

Mr de Silguy pointed out that the treaty allows for financial sanctions against countries that run excessive deficits.

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