January 24, 2002

The Euro: Cash in Hand

Opinion Poll Finds Britons Are Warming
To U.K.'s Adoption of Common Currency


LONDON -- For the second time in as many weeks, an opinion poll has found that Britons are warming to joining the euro if the government recommended it and the economics were right, an encouraging result for the country's pro-euro lobby.

A monthly poll for Barclays Capital on public attitudes toward the euro found that 40% of respondents said they would vote yes to the euro, "if the government said that the U.K. had passed the five economic tests for membership" of the common currency, "and recommended that we should join." In the poll, 39% said they would vote no, while 7% said they wouldn't vote at all and 15% were undecided.

"This shows that the public is beginning to draw their own conclusions from the fact that we are starting to lose out by being outside the euro," said Danny Alexander, spokesman for Britain in Europe, the main pro-euro lobby.

The five tests refer to government measures aimed at determining whether the U.K. economy is in sync with that of the euro zone and whether joining would benefit British jobs and investment. The government has said it will assess these tests by mid-2003, and that only if the result is positive will it call a referendum on joining the euro. NOP Research conducted the poll of 2,000 people between Jan. 10 and Jan. 15.

This was the first time that Barclays has asked the question in this way, so the result has no history with which to make a comparison. However, in a poll researched for ITN television between Jan. 4 and Jan. 6, NOP got similar results by asking how respondents would vote in a year or two, if the government and business leaders argued strongly for joining the euro. In that case, the result was 51% for joining the euro, and 43% against.

While neither result is definitive, they will be encouraging for cabinet members -- including Prime Minister Tony Blair -- who have begun to speak out more strongly in favor of the euro in the lead up to the Jan. 1 introduction of notes and coins and since then. NOP is the same research agency used by Mr. Blair's own pollster, Philip Gould.

Bob Worcester, whose MORI polling agency for several years has been tracking how Britons would vote on the euro if encouraged to join by the government, said that while the NOP polls are helpful, Mr. Blair will want to see more "clear water" in favor of the euro before he risks a referendum. MORI's next poll, for Schroder Salomon Smith Barney, is expected next week.

The more common question for euro pollsters, however, is how respondents would vote if a referendum were held today. Here the yes vote continues to trail by close to 2 to 1. But the latest Barclays poll showed improvement there too, with 56% saying they would vote against joining the euro today, and 29% in favor. That compared with 60% against and 25% in favor in December. Mr. Alexander attributed that improvement to the "demystifying" effect of the introduction of euro notes and coins.

Write to Marc Champion at marc.champion@wsj.com1

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