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LETTERS : In for a penny, in for an ecu?

YOUR European contributors Tony Barber and Andrew Marshall do no one any favours by continually presenting anywhere south of Calais and north of Italy as a unified haven of moral, political, and social certainty ("Europe bets on single currency", 5 February).

Under this scenario, doubt begins at Dover not because it is justified but solely because the UK is combative by nature and suspicious of intellectual visions, particularly those originating in Brussels or Strasbourg.

The fact is that whatever Britain does, the single currency ambition contains huge political and economic risks for mainland Europe. Curiously the central bankers can see this but the politicians cannot; and to their credit the German bankers, upon whom the responsibility for administering this great white elephant will eventually devolve, can see it clearer than most.

Like the visionaries who promote it, I love the idea of having all my European transactions in one currency, but unlike them I do not perceive anything resembling the necessary European institutions to control it.

We are years away from the political structures needed to give the average European voter a say in how those institutions behave. The convenient fiction that every sensible person in Europe is "for" and only the British are "against" is stifling debate in Europe on what is an important practical (but not moral) issue.

Regrettably the European ideal appears to have been kidnapped by a French political movement still fighting the battles of the first half of the 20th century and which believes that European peace is still the main issue, and that this will be secured by tying up Germany in a huge pan- European institutional web. Politicians tend to theorise in centralist and bureaucratic ways and they have now been joined by those who can see where this huge bureaucracy will have to be based.

The real tragedy is not the creation of an institution that will make the Common Agriculture Policy seem a model of efficiency and good sense. It is about priorities. The 21st century is going to be about the emergence of China and the other large Asian economies, the future of the United States and, above all, the environment and our claims on resources. In Europe we will probably be too busy quarrelling about regulations and political authority to notice.

Tony Aston

Sevenoaks, Kent