British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given his strongest signal yet that he will push for Britain to join the European single currency. Mr. Blair delivered a major speech on Europe Friday at a conference in the city of Birmingham.
Prime Minister Blair said Britain must forge closer ties with Europe in order to protect its own national and economic interests. "Britain's future is inextricably linked with Europe. To get the best out of Europe, we must make the most of our strength and influence within Europe, and to do so, we must be whole-hearted, not half-hearted partners in Europe," he said.
Mr. Blair did not expressly endorse Britain's entry into the European single currency, called the euro. But it was his strongest statement to date on the benefits of European integration, and it comes less than six weeks before 12 European nations introduce euro notes and coins.
Britain says that when economic conditions are appropriate, it will hold a referendum on joining the euro. Public opinion polls indicate most Britons still oppose the idea of swapping the British pound for the euro.
Leaders of the opposition Conservative Party say they will campaign against Britain giving up the pound, whenever a referendum is called.
In his speech, Mr. Blair rejected the Conservative Party's argument that closer European integration will damage Britain's special relationship with the United States. "We are stronger in Europe because of our relationship with the United States, and we're stronger with the United States if we are playing a leadership role in Europe," he said.
There was no hint in Mr. Blair's speech about when he will call a referendum on the euro. His spokesman denies media reports that the prime minister has decided that the referendum will coincide with the next general election, perhaps in 2005.