When will the United Kingdom switch to using the Euro? The main group of European countries have adopted it as a common currency and it appears this is the future direction. If not, what are the reasons for not adopting?
I read an account of why the U.K. didn't end up with the euro as its currency in David M. Smick's great book The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy. Chapter 6 of the book is titled "Nothing Stays the Same: The 1992 Sterling Crisis." Here's a very brief excerpt; emphasis mine:
[...] As this story shows, such blindness to the realities of a changing world can be very dangerous. In this case, the result was the brutal collapse of the British pound, which explains why the British people still use their own currency, the pound or sterling, and not the euro. The events that unfolded in the autumn of 1992 were totally unforeseen, yet they reshaped the European monetary world and represent a phenomenon that continues to impact global economies. [...]
Smick's account of the events around 1992 runs about 28 pages. Here's my version, in a nutshell:
At the time, Britain was part of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, or ERM. The belief in Europe was that by uniting currencies under a common mechanism, Europe could gain influence in international financial policy largely dominated by the United States. The ERM was a precursor to monetary union. The Maastricht Treaty would eventually create the European Union and the euro.
Britain joined the ERM later than other nations, in 1990, and after some controversy. Being part of the ERM required member nations to agree to expand and contract their currencies only within certain agreed upon limits called currency bands. Due to the way this had been structured, Germany's strong position placed it at the top of the system.
At some point in 1992, Germany had raised interest rates to curb future inflation. However, Britain wanted Germany to cut rates – Britain was not in as enviable a position, economically speaking, and its currency was under pressure. The currency band system would put Britain in a tighter spot with Germany raising rates.
Enter George Soros, the Hungarian billionaire, a.k.a. "the man who broke the Bank of England." Soros took a huge short position against the Sterling. He believed the Sterling was overvalued relative to the German deutsche mark, and Britain would be forced to devalue its currency and realign with respect to the ERM. Other traders followed and also sold the Sterling short.
With much pressure on the currency, the Bank of England had to buy up Sterling in order to maintain its agreement under the ERM. Of course, they needed to borrow other currencies to do this. Soon the BoE was in over its head defending the Sterling, realizing the exchange rate it needed to maintain under the ERM simply wasn't sustainable.
Britain was forced to withdraw from the ERM on Black Wednesday, September 16th, 1992.
And so, Britain does not use the euro today – and any talk of doing so is politically controversial. Therefore I wouldn't bet on Britain adopting the euro any time soon – too many of the players are still in politics and remember 1992 well. I think if Britain adopting the euro is ever to happen, it will be when the memory of 1992 has faded away.
Not anytime soon, I suspect, but not necessarily for financial reasons. I found this interesting, including the link to the five tests, but I think that this topic is only partially judged through financial eyes, there's a lot of political issues around this with national identity/immigration issues already in the spot light as well as political aspirations.
If there will be a call in the near future to join the Euro, how would that reflect on the financial industry in the UK from a PR perspective? and on the political leadership and how it managed the financial crisis?
I believe that it is in the interest of all the people in the high positions to show the country getting back on track rather than making ground shaking moves.
But what do I know....:-)
When economies are strong, it is particularly alluring to have a single currency as it makes trade and tourism simpler and helps reduce costs. The problem comes when individual member economies get into trouble. Because the Eurozone is a loose grouping of nations, there is no direct equivalent of the US Federal government to coordinate a response, there is instead an odd mixture of National and Central government that makes it harder to get a unified approach to the economy (OK, it's maybe not so different to the US in reality).
This lack of flexibility means that some of the key levers of international finance are compromised, for example a weak economy can't float its currency to improve exports. Similarly individual country's interest rates can't be adjusted to balance spending.
I suspect the main reason though is political and based on concepts of sovereignty and national pride. The UK does the majority of its trade with the Eurozone, so the pros would possibly outweigh the cons, but the UK as a whole (and some of our papers in particular) have always regarded Europe with suspicion. Most Brits only speak English and find France and Germany a strange and obtuse place. The (almost) common language makes it easier to relate to the US and Canada than our near neighbours.
It seems the perception amongst the political establishment is that any attempt to join the Euro is political suicide, while that is the case it is unlikely to happen.
Purely from a personal perspective, I'd welcome the Euro except it means a lot of the products I routinely buy would become a lot more expensive if price is 'harmonised'. For an example compare the price of the iPod Touch in the UK (£209.99) to France(€299). The French pay £262 at the current exchange rate, which is close to 25% more. Ouch.
See also my question about Canada adopting the US Dollar
I can't see it happening because most of the population seems to be against it, even if their reasoning on the whole is wrong. Theoretically, people are against the Euro here as a result of national pride. If it's the best thing to do for the good of the country then national pride shouldn't be taken into account. It'd be perverse in the sense that you'd be stopping your country from progressing because you love it. That doesn't add up.
Personally, I don't think it's possible for an entire continent to have a single currency. There's too many different countries and cultures involved. For it to work you'd have to have centralised fiscal policy and this makes no sense at all for a continent. What works here might not work in France or Germany. What works in Greece might not work here. etc, etc. The make up of each country's economies is different.
A lot of smaller (and/or weaker) countries did not have much choice when Germany and France decided to rename the German Mark as the Euro, as most of their trade was already in Marks. It was even common for their population to have their savings in Marks.
So the question was.
Do we wish to have to use the Euro with or without a seat on the board?
It was a no brainer for them at the time...
The UK has a lot of trade with the USA and other countries outside of the Euro zone, so we are unlikely to have to join the Euro. So in the end it comes down to this point - if the British voters trust a UK government they elected more or less than an EEC government mostly elected by people in the other EEC countries.
I don’t think the UK will be joining the Euro anytime soon, but everything can (and will) change with the passage of time. (After all the USA used to be part of the pound trading zone and please can you pay us all the back dated tax you stop paying after a little tea party!)
Update: Given what has just happen to Grease and Spain and the Conservative Party has the most seats in the UK parliament, I don’t think the UK will not be joining the Euro for the next 5 years at least