Letter: The consequences of a French 'no' vote on the Maastricht treaty

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The Independent Online
Sir: Hamish McRae's attempt (2 September) to sketch a future for the European Monetary System (EMS) after a French 'no' vote on Maastricht - with the system perversely becoming 'more important' through the abandonment of the single currency goal - is both politically nave and


The EMS is not just a technical mechanism; it is a political statement about the importance governments attach to the very existence of a European zone of monetary stability. It is very difficult to imagine the EMS surviving the impact of a French renunciation of the over-riding political imperative that Paris has long attached to Germany's future power being firmly rooted in common European structures.

Germany and France together constitute the economic and political motors of the EMS. A 'no' vote in France would challenge directly the viability of that relationship, at a most dangerous time. It would fuel scepticism on both sides of the Rhine about the other's motives.

It would leave many outside Germany believing that Bonn and Frankfurt's remaining commitment to the EMS - now that monetary union had disappeared - was the simple desire to offload on to others the enormous costs of German unification.

Europe after a French 'no' would not stand still, as Mr McRae, among others, assumes. It would be put on the defensive, at a time of growing recession, rising nationalism, ever-increasing external competition, and declining confidence in our own potential as Europeans.

That is to say nothing of our lost opportunities to realise the supply-side growth that a fast move to a single currency might have offered, and the humiliation that would follow from Europe speaking less clearly and authoritatively in the world than virtually every other major capital expects of us.

The costs of losing the 1992 elan, in general, and threatening the Franco-German axis, in particular, would not be confined to the EC at a macro level. These costs would bear on individual countries, such as France, directly. The economic achievement of the French since their difficult 1983 decision to stick with the EMS as a framework of monetary discipline - witnessed today in their relatively favourable growth, inflation, trade, debt and currency performance - would be put at risk. The French would have bailed out just as the long-term benefits of discipline were coming on stream.

For France to vote 'no' now would be more than just ironic. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Raymond Barre and the other architects of the EMS are not exaggerating when they say that it would be an act of self-indulgence and folly of huge proportions. For weaker economies such as Britain, cast adrift from the only economic anchor available to us, the effects of a Europe moving backwards could be graver still.

Yours faithfully,


London, SW1

3 September