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Tuesday, September 22, 1998 Published at 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK


Special Report

Off with the Queen's head



European bank chiefs in Frankfurt have ruled out the prospect of the Queen's head appearing on euro notes if Britain signs up to the single currency.


BBC Business Correspondent Greg Wood reports
The surprise decision - taken behind closed doors some 10 days ago - overturns the wishes of European Union governments to keep a space for national symbols on the notes as a way of retaining a link with the past.

Instead, all the notes will display the European flag, superimposed on designs of windows, doors and bridges symbolising cooperation and openness.


[ image: Wim Duisenberg: No national figureheads]
Wim Duisenberg: No national figureheads
The news has stirred up criticism from Conservative MPs in the UK who say the decision is absurd.

Some form of national emblem was a key demand of the former Tory government during lengthy negotiations on the design of euro notes and coins.

Ministers insisted the public would be more willing to give up the pound if the new currency retained some national identity signalling continued sovereignty.

Surprise

EU finance ministers had agreed informally that a "national" space covering 20% of the notes' surface should be made available for each participating member state to insert the symbol of their choice.

But the final say was left to bankers running the euro - and the newly-formed European Central Bank has wielded its authority by overriding the member states.

The decision was taken some 10 days ago by ECB governors.

But the move caught Euro MPs by surprise on Tuesday when it was disclosed by ECB President Wim Duisenberg.

The decision came to light as he addressed a European Parliament committee in Brussels exactly 100 days before the euro is launched in all EU member states except Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Greece.

Mr Duisenberg told the MEPs: "The process of converting the designs into bank notes has now been completed successfully. Mass production starts in early 1999.

"The governing council of the ECB decided on 11 September 1998 that there will be no national feature on the euro bank notes."

The euro will initially be a currency in name only, with notes and coins only coming into use in 2002.

But the decision to drop Europe's monarchs or other national symbols from the notes completes the technical and design work of the euro notes.

'Warning signal'

Opposition leader William Hague was swift to complain about the ousting of the Queen from the notes.

He called the decision "a warning signal".

The Queen's head on the euro notes is, he said, "a symbol of our ability to run our own affairs in this country, it's a symbol of our ability to set our own taxes, to set our own interest rates, to govern our own country".

The decision was also roundly condemned by other Conservative MPs including Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary John Redwood.

He called on the Prime Minister to overturn the Central Bank's "absurd" decision.

The Queen's head will appear on euro coins, however. Her position on the coins was saved after a battle last year between European politicians.

Opt-out hopes

The Bank of England said there may still be a posibility of an opt-out which would guarantee the Queen's position on the notes.

But a Treasury spokesman said: "The Maastricht Treaty makes it clear that the issue of euro bank notes is a matter solely for central bankers, through the European Central Bank's governing council.

"It is not a matter for governments.

"However, when the European Monetary Institute discussed the design of euro bank notes last year, Governor of the Bank of England Eddie George reserved his position on the right of the UK to include the Queen's head on the reverse side of banknotes issued in the UK, even when the UK participated in the single currency.

"Last year Chancellor Gordon Brown secured agreement that euro coins would have a national face. For the UK, this would be the Queen's head."

The Maastricht Treaty required the European Central Bank to "respect as far as possible existing practices regarding the issue and design of bank notes".

The Central Bank decided there would be no national symbols on bank notes for those countries joining monetary union in the first wave, on 1 January, 1999, but the British government reserved its position.

One EU official justified the decision to keep the Queen's head off Euro banknotes.

He said: "The decision by the European Central Bank is a trade-off between the symbolism of national features on the notes and the convenience for the public of having uniform banknotes which are readily recognised without confusion anywhere in Europe."



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