Did Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister for Europe, give the game away this week by saying “when” instead of “if” about Britain's membership of the euro? On the BBC's Today programme Mr Hain said that the government's policy “is to join the single currency when the economic circumstances are right“. Most sensible people would think that in context Mr Hain had not departed from the familiar policy of “being in favour in principle, subject to the economic conditions being right” but the government has only itself to blame if every statement by a minister is put under the microscope to see whether there is anything new in it. The public is getting a little tired of strongly pro-euro statements from the prime minister being followed by cautionary comments from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is also irritating not to know whether Mr Hain's statements are intended to reflect the views of the Foreign Secretary, and the Prime Minister, or whether he is just speaking for himself.

A more mature reflection on the euro issue came yesterday from John Major in a Today interview. He said he thought it unlikely that Tony Blair would make a decision and hold a referendum during the life of the present parliament but would wait until immediately after the next election in 2005/6 On this timing, if the referendum result were positive, British membership of the euro would not take effect until 2009 or 2010. Mr Major refused to comment on Ian Duncan Smith's policy of “never” but said that he retained his “open mind” policy. Perhaps the most interesting point about Mr Major's comments on timing was his evident assumption that Labour will win the next general election!

Ray Fleming

Swiss knives are safe

The Swiss Army knife has always been regarded internationally as a miracle of ingenuity.
From opening a bottle of wine to taking a stone out of a horse's hoof it has been seen as a symbol of how the Swiss nation organises itself to get the greatest result from the smallest space. But now it is in disrepute.

Airport security staff at Geneva airport were seen this week to take an army knife out of a passenger's hand luggage, examine the blade, and then give it back to him to carry on the aircraft.

Several passengers complained to the airport and airline staff but were told that the Swiss Civil Aviation Authority had changed the rules just before Christmas to allow people to carry knives with blades up to 6cm long.

No reason was given for this relaxation of restrictions imposed in mid-September after it became known that the Twin Towers terrorists had used blades shorter than 6cm.

The most frightening aspect of this story is that when the pasengers told the crew of the Crossair flight to London about the pasenger with the knife they were informed that it was the responsibility of Geneva airport staff to decide what was safe to carry on board.

One cannot help feeling that if this scene had been enacted at any American airport the passengers would have found ways of stopping the aircraft from taking off - by refusing to fasten seat belts, for instance. Europeans are still too easy-going.



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