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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 06:14 GMT 07:14 UK
Blair wants EU president
Euro sign
The government will decide on the euro by 7 June
Prime Minister Tony Blair has outlined his vision for a full-time EU president giving the union a more powerful voice on the world stage.

Mr Blair argued that an enlarged EU of 25 member states needed a full-time figurehead, rather than the current rotating leadership.

One government official summed up the position by saying the EU leader would be "someone the White House can call".

The proposition was raised as it emerged that Downing Street is hoping to soften up pro-European MPs for when Chancellor Gordon Brown delivers a "no" verdict on the single currency next month.

We would be doing irreparable damage to this country's economic prosperity if we slammed the door on a euro referendum now
Chris Bryant
Number 10 is reportedly planning to throw support behind a backbench bill to impose dual pricing in pounds and euros on traders for the two years either side of a move to the single currency.

While the bill is unlikely to become law, The Times claims it is an attempt to make up for MPs' disappointment that a referendum is not imminent.

Mr Blair fleshed out his plan for an EU president at a European Union summit in Athens on Wednesday.

'Foreign minister'

While the proposal is likely to bring him closer to both France and Germany, who back the idea, Romano Prodi, the European Commission President, feared the move could undermine his role.

Mr Prodi told reporters that huge efforts had been made to make the EU more efficient and effective from 2004 when 10 more members are ushered in to create a 25-nation bloc.

However, there was almost unanimous agreement on Wednesday that the EU should have a future "foreign minister", whose job would combine the work of posts held by Chris Patten, the EU external relations Commissioner, and by Javier Solana, the EU's "High Representative", effectively working under control of EU governments.

In the UK, some 93 MPs, including former Labour ministers, have signed a motion calling for an early referendum on the euro.

Hints

Labour's Chris Bryant, who has sponsored the move and is working on the dual pricing 10-minute rule bill, said he believed there was a "strong likelihood we will get the euro in the not too distant future".

He predicted that there will be a referendum in this Parliament, which means in the next two years.

Mr Bryant said he found it "difficult to believe" that Mr Brown would "say a whole-hearted 'no' to Britain joining the euro at this stage".

You will not have a referendum in this Parliament
John Major
"There are so many areas in terms of trade with our European partners ...where we would be doing irreparable damage to this country's economic prosperity if we slammed the door on a euro referendum now," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Mr Bryant argued that there were hints in last week's Budget that a referendum was imminent with the announcement of new Euorpean standards of determining inflation.

'Mistakes'

Mr Bryant said he hoped his dual pricing bill will be part of a euro referendum campaign later this year.

"The point of the dual pricing bill is people will be able to see exactly what they are getting for their money in their old money and in their new money for some considerable period," he said.

"One of the mistakes in France and Spain and other countries was they abandoned dual pricing almost after the notes and the coins came in."

Mr Bryant added: "If the chancellor looks at the economic situation today and doesn't note that inward investment into this country is having problems, that the balance of payments is having problems because of our trade deficit with the eurozone countries, then it will be troubling."

Doubtful

But Labour's Gisela Stuart, the party's representative on the European Constitutional Convention, indicated that Mr Brown is unlikely to assess that now is the time for joining the single currency.

"I think our colleagues in the EU have always accepted that this was an economic assessment as much as a political [one] and I think that as long as economic conditions are not really favourable, I think that will it more difficult," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Tory former prime minister John Major is also adamant there will not be a referendum in the near future.

"You will not have a referendum in this Parliament," he told Today.

"The prime minister will not risk it because he will lose it."




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