Leading Article: Valencia's message to Brighton

Share
Related Topics
Britain's political parties, not to mention its bemused voters, may wish that the tortuous issue of a single European currency would simply go away. Until this weekend that outcome seemed possible. Amid German fears of losing the mark's stability, French difficulties in meeting the requirements of monetary union and British Euro-scepticism, time travel a la Stephen Hawking might seem as likely as sterling's disappearance.

But the weekend meeting of EU finance ministers in Valencia altered the political almanac. It revealed a dogged if perhaps unrealistic determination to create a single currency by 1999. Kenneth Clarke made it absolutely clear that Britain, unlike many other EU nations, will be purged of inflation and public debt, and so economics would not disqualify it from joining a multinational currency.

In short, as soon as 1998, a decision could be needed on whether Britain should combine with a rump of its European partners, probably Germany, France and the Benelux countries, in forming a single currency.

That may horrify John Major: the Conservatives seem unlikely to be able to deliver monetary union. Even if Mr Major favoured the policy, it would split his party just as surely as did the 1846 reform of the Corn Laws. This may explain why Mr Major has focused recently on discussing future relations between EU members inside and outside a Eurocurrency bloc.

What about Labour? As the party's conference opens today in Brighton, polls suggest that Tony Blair is the politician most likely to be prime minister in 1998. During his first year at No 10 he may have to decide whether to seal the pound's demise.

Yet Mr Blair and his party have been almost as agnostic about monetary union as the Government. Tomorrow, Labour will hold its conference debate on Europe and will enthusiastically embrace the European ideal. Yet the leadership will remain deliberately vague about Labour's attitude to monetary union.

This studied ambivalence is understandable. Labour has its own Euro-sceptics. The party's Europhilia has more to do with support for the European Commission's social policies than with sympathy for the strict monetary discipline that currency union demands. Labour's leadership wants to avoid being accused by the Tories of surrendering British sovereignty. Finally, of course, there may indeed be no point in debating the currency issue: given the poor state of the French economy, it may be impossible for it to meet the 1999 deadline. But if France and Germany do achieve their aim, then the economic and political shape of Europe would be transformed. Britain could not simply ignore the creation of such a powerful bloc: this country would almost certainly benefit more from being inside rather than outside it.

Mr Blair can no longer avoid these issues. His insistence on responsible economic policies, consistent with monetary union, deserves praise. But he must now educate his party and the country about a decision that he may have to confront in the first year of a Labour government. If Mr Blair fails to prepare the ground on Europe, he could find himself as powerless in 1998 as Mr Major is today, faced by an unruly party and an electorate starved of informed debate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

£35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Recruitment Genius: Electrician

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A qualified electrician require...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Researcher

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks