German mood of hostility to euro begins to thaw

 

The German Chancellor, Dr Helmut Kohl, predicted yesterday that the single currency would be launched on time and would remain strong, amid growing signs that hostility to the euro among Germans is crumbling.

"The euro is coming, punctually and as a stable currency, with full compliance to the criteria agreed in the treaty," Dr Kohl told a group of German magazine publishers in Bonn.

The Chancellor's latest expression of confidence in the euro comes as a number of polls show Germans abandoning their previously solid opposition to giving up the deutschmark.

During the past year, the number of Germans against Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has fallen from 63 per cent to 45 per cent and, for the first time, four out of 10 Germans explicitly favour the euro.

Pollsters believe that Bonn's success in siting the new European Central Bank in Frankfurt and agreeing a rigid stability pact on all EMU members has reassured many Germans that the new currency will be almost as stable as the deutschmark.

Younger Germans have a less emotional relationship with the mark than their parents' generation, who regarded it as a symbol of national renewal after the ignominy of defeat in the second World War.

"The sense of self-worth will not be affected. The mark will not be lost but will form the indispensable core of a Europe-wide currency," according to Mr Gunter Rinsche, a Christian Democrat (CDU) member of the European Parliament.

The most enthusiastic support for a single currency comes from Green and neo-liberal Free Democrat voters, while most left-wing voters, who support the Social Democrats (SPD) and the ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), remain opposed.

The trend towards popular support for the euro could dissuade the SPD from making EMU an issue in next year's Bundestag elections. Mr Gerhard Schroder, the prime minister of Lower Saxony and the man most likely to challenge Dr Kohl for the SPD, is unenthusiastic about the euro. However, with 90 per cent of Germans convinced that EMU will happen whether they like it or not, politicians of all hues may decide to steer well clear of the issue.

Voters are unlikely to be upset if the euro is not debated thoroughly during the election campaign - the issue comes far down the list of their priorities, well behind unemployment and securing pensions.

The mayor of Nuremberg said yesterday his city wants to host the permanent International Criminal Tribunal which the UN plans to create to judge war criminals and genocide perpetrators.

International criminal justice began in Nuremberg in 1945, where former Nazis were judged for the crimes committed during the second World War, the Nuremberg mayor, Mr Ludwig Scholz, said.

He added that in Nuremberg there was a particular awareness of human rights issues, and that the city awarded a human rights prize every year.

The Netherlands is the only country so far to have expressed its interest in hosting the court, in The Hague.