- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

LONDON Britain's Labor government is showing signs of accelerating its campaign to ditch the pound sterling in favor of the new European Union currency, the euro, amid growing indications that it will call a nationwide referendum on the issue next spring.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has straddled the euro fence since he was first elected in 1997, now says he would have "no problem" with history recording him as "the person who said to the British people it is in their interest to be in the single currency."
Euro notes and coins became the currency in 12 of the European Union's 15 member nations this year. Britain has held on to the pound, and all opinion surveys on the issue including a new one by Mr. Blair's pollsters show that the majority of Britons do not want to give it up.
But some political and economic analysts say Mr. Blair's administration has tentatively decided to call a referendum in spring 2003, and some suggest a date has already been pencilled in May 1, May Day, a symbolic day for the prime minister's Labor Party and other European socialist parties.
When questioned in a television interview whether he wanted to be known as "the man who killed the pound," Mr. Blair described the European Union as "an economic union," with the euro currency at its heart. "We shouldn't, for political reasons, stand aside," he said.
Meanwhile, Stephen Byers, the transport minister in Mr. Blair's Cabinet, confirmed in leaked private comments that the government plans to introduce legislation in the next session of Parliament to open the way for a referendum on whether Britain should adopt the euro.
Peter Mandelson, a former Blair Cabinet minister and one of the prime minister's closest friends, said last weekend, "I think we may well see a referendum next year."
He added, "We're now seeing the politics moving in favor of the euro," although he conceded that "the economic convergence is still troubling."
Convergence among Britain's economy and that of its continental EU partners is wrapped up in the five tests that Mr. Blair's treasury chief, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, has said Britain must meet before it can embrace the euro.
These include whether adopting the EU currency would be good for jobs and foreign investment, whether it will boost London as a financial hub and whether the UK economy is "in step" with the rest of the euro-zone countries.
Mr. Brown, seen as a potential successor to Mr. Blair, has shied away from commitment to the euro. However, one of his closest political allies, Nigel Griffiths, suggested that the referendum could come next year, without being rebuked for it lending strength to speculation that Mr. Blair's office is putting pressure on the chancellor.
But political observers see a key to Mr. Blair's new muscle behind the pro-euro campaign in a poll conducted by the GGC/NOP research firm, whose founders, Philip Gould and Stanley Greenberg, are the prime minister's main public opinion advisers.


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