Europe's plans for a single currency, the euro, took a crucial step closer yesterday, after all 11 countries aspiring to enter European economic and monetary union next year released data attempting to prove they had met the prescribed entry criteria. The figures, which will form the basis of a final selection to be made in early May, showed all 11 countries had cleared one of the most important hurdles for entry: keeping their ratio of public sector debt to gross domestic product at or below 3 per cent. France, Germany and Italy - the three biggest European Union nations hoping to join EMU in the first wave - said they all qualified for the project, although the data released yesterday showed they had not strictly met all the rules for admission. 'This is an impressive confirmation of the policies of the government and particularly Finance Minister Theo Waigel,' German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said. 'I am certain the euro will come punctually as planned on January 1, 1999. It will be a stable currency just as we have grown accustomed to with the mark for almost 50 years.' Germany's data was much stronger than expected, after it revealed its ratio of public sector debt to GDP was 2.7 per cent last year, markedly less than forecast estimates of 2.9 per cent, and comfortably inside the 3 per cent level. France also caused mild surprise after it said its deficit was exactly 3 per cent, slightly better than the government's own forecast last month of 3-3.1 per cent. Analysts however, expressed concern about Italy, which announced a deficit of 2.7 per cent of GDP - much lower than even its own forecast of 2.85 per cent last month - but which had only been achieved after some significant financial restructuring in the national balance sheet. Both Italy and Belgium reported national debt-to-GDP ratios double the required 60 per cent, laid down in the EMU rules. Italy said its debt had fallen to 121.6 per cent, lower than the 122.4 per cent forecast by economists, but still far outside the prescribed 60 per cent, while Belgium's was 122.2 per cent. Germany, whose successful entry is seen as crucial to the future of EMU, showed its national debt was outside 60 per cent, having climbed to 61.3 per cent from 60.4 per cent. In contrast, France proved to be one of only four EU nations hoping to join in the first wave that managed to keep its national debt below 60 per cent. How much flexibility now shown to countries just outside the Maastricht Treaty criteria will be crucial to the success of EMU. Under the treaty terms, there is a degree of leeway that will enable countries to join EMU if their economic policies are deemed to be moving in the right direction.