“The euro, our adventure”, by Christine Ockrent, journalist, editor of L’Européen

EU:s Infeuro, May 1988

Eleven countries have decided to prepare their citizens officially to live with the same currency in the coming years. As provided for in the timetable, the Commission of Brussels and then the European Monetary Institute in Frankfurt announced last March the list of countries which will be taking part in the euro. France is one of them. The European Council at the beginning of May confirmed this decision.

The moment has come to pay tribute to the perseverance of those who have believed in Europe, staring with Jacques Delors, and also to give due recognition to the enormous amount of work accomplished by the technicians in Brussels and the national administrations.

Under the guidance of a French commissioner, Yves Thibault de Silguy, they have succeeded in harmonising in fifteen countries the criteria for assessing public finances, in revealing all the compromises each one had made with orthodoxy, in defining new common procedures, and in keeping strictly to the timetable.

Since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the saga had seemed too long and troubled, the final date so far off, the issues so complex and our politicians so reticent to explain them to us that it was hard to believe that we had now arrived. The Cassandras who had announced, the better to discourage us, that the criteria imposed on all in order to get there would never be met, and that our public opinions would never agree to it, were way off the mark.

Europe has often proceeded in this way: crabwise, by stealth, as though bored or indifferent, and often back-to-front. In any case, this is what is commonly thought in France where our lyric, declamatory and pseudo-Cartesian temperament prefers announcements accompanied by fanfares and ceremony. Elsewhere, preference is given to the pragmatic method, concrete results, planning by stages and sticking to the timetable. We have arrived. The psychodramas that had been prophesied have not occurred, Germany has accepted Italy, who is brushing aside tears of pride for in successful efforts, Spain is beaming at having done better than France, the overall economic situation is good, the stock exchange is in euphoria and apparently free of traumas, and the Bank of France is on the point of abandoning in monetary sovereignty.

We can no longer limit ourselves to theoretic debates and specious arguments: the process of the common currency is under way. It is without precedent in history and for our generations in Europe it will mark the true turning-point of the century. Now we must be sure to under-stand, master and control this new tool, according to our interests and the democratic principles shared on our continent, and to make good use of it, so that it may be of service to the peoples and their economies, bringing as much effort to bear to press forward towards an effective social policy against unemployment. We must specify goals and stop avoiding the real issue which will be the substance of our generations: what is to be the political project of our continent?

Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission

EU:s Infeuro, May 1988

So, by making the creation of the euro a certainty, the decision of 2 May has given Europe a new lease of life.

The euro is not an end itself but an instrument of economic development. By reinforcing the stability of the macro-economic environment and consequently encouraging growth, the introduction of the euro is likely to lead to greater prosperity for business firms, consumers and wage-earners who, in a healthy and invigorated single market, will be able to invest, consume, travel and work more easily.

As a key guarantor of growth without economic strain, the European Central Bank will ensure that price stability is maintained. As Member States pursue budget targets that are in near balance or in surplus in the medium term, in line with the pact on stability and growth, this will give governments room for manoeuvre in managing their own economies, and is likely to lead to a fall in interest rates. Improved budgetary margins can then be devoted to reducing the social security component of payroll taxes, which will encourage business firms to take on more staff.

Systematic recourse to the mechanisms for co-ordinating economic policies provided by the Treaty, in accordance with the conclusions of the Luxembourg European Council of December 1997, will make it easier to define a balanced policy mix for the entire euro zone.

Likewise, this greater co-ordination will need to be used to good effect in moving forward the Community's structural policies, especially in the field of employment and taxation. EMU will therefore be helping to develop a more stable framework, free from exchange rate fluctuations and inflationary risks, based on healthier economies and better structures - a framework upon which it is possible to build the sustainable growth that is required for job creation.

However, the euro is also a powerful factor in forging a European identity. Countries which share a common currency are countries ready to unite their destinies as part of an integrated community. The euro will bring citizens closer together, and will provide a physical manifestation of the growing rapprochement between European citizens which has been taking place for the past forty years or more.

This symbolic aspect of the euro will also be evident in relations with the outside world: in view of the strength and solidity of the economies on which it will be based, it has the potential to become a major international reserve and transaction currency. The Union will finally be endowed with the currency which its position in the world requires, and which its partners expect as a factor contributing to the stability of the international monetary system.

Building a united Europe is a long, drawn-out task, and one which is constantly under review. It is a cause that needs to be ceaselessly defended. Though at times dogged by frustration and deadlock, the road towards European integration has also been marked by historic meetings which have paved the way forward. Since I started campaigning for the European cause, few of the meetings that I have witnessed have been as far-reaching as that of 2 May: it will go down in history as a landmark date on which European integration took on a new momentum.

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