'Can You Spare a Euro?' Perhaps Not in Britain Yet
Kohl, Major face different attitudes toward single currency
LONDON — The contrast between German and British attitudes towards Europe could hardly have been sharper.
On July 22, the German Finance Ministry in Bonn began circulating 1 million copies of a 70-page pamphlet extolling the virtues of a single European currency. In London, British Prime Minister John Major faced a new revolt in his ruling party on the very same issue.
David Heathcoat-Amory resigned as treasury minister, declaring: "I am leaving because I can no longer support the [British] government's policy towards the European Union."
While Chancellor Helmut Kohl was throwing his considerable weight behind a nationwide campaign on the theme "The Euro [European currency unit] is coming soon," Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and other Conservative critics demanded that Mr. Major reject a single currency for at least the next five years.
For Britain to adopt the Euro would be "disastrous," Heathcoat-Amory said.
In a resignation statement Heathcoat-Amory asserted: "The government's policy is not working. The drive to political union in Europe is relentless, and has already gone beyond what most people regard as acceptable."
Heathcoat-Amory has joined a growing number of members of the House of Commons who describe themselves as Euroskeptics. They number about 70 - roughly one-quarter of Conservative parliamentarians.
John Redwood, who challenged Major for the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party last year and opposes a single currency, welcomed Heathcoat-Amory's resignation and declared: "I do not believe the Conservative Party wants to abolish the pound sterling."
Mr. Redwood claims that rank-and-file Conservatives throughout Britain are unhappy with the government's EU policy, and that to change course now "would unite us and make it easier to fight the general election."
Major may be wishing he was as firmly in control of his government's European policy as his counterparts elsewhere in the EU are.
In Germany, newspapers, magazines, and soccer calendars this month have started to carry the government-sponsored slogan: "Get ready now - the Euro is coming soon."
Leaflets folded into in-flight magazines aboard Lufthansa jets tell passengers the Euro will be "as strong as the [German] mark."
As in France, Belgium, Italy, and other EU states, the public in Germany is being prepared by its government to accept the Euro by 1999, according to the terms of the 1993 Maastricht Treaty on European integration.
On July 23, Major set about filling the gap left by Heathcoat-Amory's resignation the day before and began reshuffling middle-ranking posts in his administration.
British analysts are quick to point out that whereas the German and other EU governments tend to approach the issue of a single currency in a mood of deep political commitment, Major is wrestling with a profoundly divided party, which fears it is destined to lose the coming general election to a confident opposition Labour Party.
Lord Blake, a leading political historian, says the split in Conservative ranks is "as serious as anything the party has experienced this century."
Lord Howe, a former foreign secretary, argues that Britain should "keep its options open" on a single currency "in order to be able to influence the debate in the EU."
That is Major's view also, but he, unlike Chancellor Kohl, cannot claim to be heading a united government.
A leading pro-EU member of Major's Cabinet, Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke, is reported to have threatened to quit the government if Major were to rule out British membership in a single currency before the next century. This delay in membership, however, is the essence of what Heathcoat-Amory and other Euroskeptics are demanding.