Kohl insists on a hard EU currency

TOM HENEGHAN

Reuters

Karlsruhe - Germany's postwar democracy would be in danger if the European Union produced a single currency that was unstable and inflation-prone, Chancellor Helmut Kohl told the opening session of the Christian Democrats' annual congress yesterday.

Bonn would insist on strict adherence to the tough Maastricht criteria for a single currency, he said, no matter what other member countries wanted. Mr Kohl also promised to throw all his political weight behind the European unity drive.

Delegates saw this as a heavy hint that he wanted to run for re-election in 1998, to see through the planned launch of economic and monetary union the following year. Mr Kohl, 65, has coyly declined to state his intentions.

The Chancellor, recalling how inflation destroyed public faith in democracy before Hitler took power in 1933, said stable money was not "just another issue" for Germans. To loud applause from about 1,000 delegates and guests, including the President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, he added: "So, dear friends in Europe, it is not some German hysteria if we stress again and again ... that the Maastricht treaty stability criteria must be maintained and not questioned. This is a question of the very destiny of German democracy, [as we can see] from the experiences of the century now drawing to a close."

Arguing that Germany had to push for a united Europe, Mr Kohl said: "No matter what is being whispered in the corridors of power in European capitals or being said in parliaments, we are sticking to this course."

Mr Kohl, who often departs from his prepared text, left out a passage warning that Germans could turn away from their traditional pro-European stand if the EU's monetary union produced an unstable and inflation-prone currency. But delegates said his ad hoc warnings about threats to German democracy and Europe drifting apart if it did not follow the Maastricht timetable made his appeal just as dramatic.

Under the Maastricht treaty, EU member countries must trim their deficits to 3 per cent of gross domestic product and cut total debt to a maximum 60 per cent of GDP, but there is no provision for assuring these levels are maintained after EMU's planned start in 1999.

Delegates said the Chancellor's oratory showed he wanted to run again in 1998, although he sidestepped the issue in his speech. Mr Kohl, Europe's longest-serving leader, is all but unchallenged, both within his party and in Bonn, after 13 years in power.

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