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Europe

Blair Shelves Plans for Quick Euro Entry

A week ahead of the British general election on May 5, polls suggest Prime Minister Tony Blair is all set to win a third term in power. If he does, Britain won't be rushing to join the eurozone.

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Blair sees obstacles ahead for a euro bid if he's reelected

Blair said Wednesday that Britain will not be adopting Europe's single currency in the foreseeable future. "At the moment it doesn't look very likely," he told Sky Television, "because the economics aren't in the right place."

"It doesn't look very likely at the moment that the economics are going to change dramatically," he added. "But the sensible thing to do is to keep your options open."

The UK finance minister, Gordon Brown, has also suggested that a currency switch is not top of Labour's agenda, emphasizing that his government had been right to reject euro entry in the last parliament. "In the next parliament, and at all times, I can guarantee the five tests will have to be met and the results clear and unambiguous," he stressed.

If it doesn't help, don't do it

According to Blair's Labour party election manifesto, euro entry will only happen when these "five tests" -- strict conditions focused on economic convergence with euro-zone nations -- have been met.

Tony Blair und Gordon Brown

"If it won't help your country economically, you don't do it," Blair said. "Now, at the moment there is no part of business and industry clamoring to say we need this for our economy, so it doesn't look very likely."

Blair and Brown have put Labour's economic record at the heart of their campaign, citing low inflation, interest rates and unemployment.

No UK referendum on constitution?

The prime minister also suggested that a planned referendum in 2006 on the EU constitution may no longer go ahead if France votes against it on May 29.

"If what was to happen was France was to say 'No' and then the rest of Europe were to tear up the constitution and say we're forgetting about it, you wouldn't have a (vote) on nothing," he said. "But if there is a constitution, there is a vote."

But even though Britain takes over the revolving EU presidency for the second half of 2005, Europe has not featured heavily in the current election campaign.

Iraq back in focus

Tony Blair's ruling Labour party has retained a steady lead over their nearest rival, focusing first and foremost on domestic issues, including the future of the National Health Service, education, fighting crime, fiscal matters and immigration.

JAHRESRÜCKBLICK 2003 MÄRZ USA GROßBRITANNIEN IRAK

Only this week has the issue of the Iraq war returned to the fore, with both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reiterating their views that Tony Blair misled parliament and the country on the reasons for committing British troops to the military effort.

Conservative leader Michael Howard has gone so far as to suggest that if the Prime Minister was prepared to lie about the reasons for war, he may lie about the reasons to re-elect him.

The Prime Minister insists the character attacks are a poor attempt to distract voters.

Voter apathy

But with talk of voter apathy and the possibility of one of the lowest election turn outs in decades, there is one area that has seen a dramatic increase -- postal voting.

Three million people have registered to cast their ballot through the mail, three times that of previous elections -- sparking concerns of vote-rigging which could be making headlines well after the election result has been declared.

But according to the latest statistics from the UK's Broadcasters Audience Research Board, audiences are switching off the TV news shows in their thousands since Blair announced the poll on April 5.

"For all their efforts to 'connect' with viewers, broadcasters are experiencing the same problem as politicians -- TV audiences are simply finding the campaign a bore," said

Conor Dignam, editor of Broadcast magazine.

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