Why the Euro is special.

Author:Booth, John
Position:Africa/Europe - Brief Article

For the African countries who use the CFA franc as their common currency, a recent book on the march of the euro, the EU common currency to which the CFA was pegged in January 1999, holds a lot of lessons.

The roots of the CFA, the common currency of the former French colonies in West and Central Africa (except Guinea and Congo), go back to 1945. Though France itself is not a member of the CFA, it insured the CFA's convertibility at a fixed price, set and controlled rules for credit withdrawal, and maintained a ratio of 50 CFA:1 French franc (FF) until 1994 when, after a shock devaluation, the CFA slumped to 100:1FF.

In January 1999, the CFA was pegged to the euro instead of the French franc which was about to be phased out, following the introduction of the electronic form of the euro. Since the "note-form' of the euro was introduced a month ago (1 January 2002 to be exact), there has been much speculation about the future of the CFA.

Amid all the fanfare, a senior British treasury official, Gus O'Donnell, let slip that the decision for a European common currency was principally a political one. Which poured more fuel into the fire -- where does the interest of the African CFA countries fit in with the "political" interests of the EU?

Strangely, O'Donnell's comments coincided with interesting revelations about Britain's post-war relations with Europe in the just published book, The Hidden Hand:

Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence -- A New History of the Cold War, by the Nottingham University academic, Richard Aldrich.

Britain's 30-year-rule keeps secret much official government documentation. But Aldrich scoured the archives and turned up some fascinating material on the way the Americans prompted the post-war integration of Europe, a process in which the euro is the latest chapter.

America was motivated by a combination of two interests -- to undermine leftist influence in Western Europe by encouraging integration and halt German re-armament by absorbing Germany into a wider unit.

It was partly done through an organisation called the European Movement, which still exists and is at the forefront of the pro-euro campaign in Britain today.

Describing the early years of the Cold War in his book, Aldrich writes: "The CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] rescued the European Movement from bankruptcy, encouraged...

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