Ecu on table at Cannes summit

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The Independent Online
John Major will be expected to discuss the name, design and denominations of a single European currency at the Cannes Summit in June - no matter how politically embarrassing this may prove for him in Britain.

A European Commission Green Paper, outlining the practical options for launching a single currency, is likely to be completed in time for the summit, and will, therefore, form the basis for discussions by the heads of state.

Britain has the right to opt out of the final stage of monetary union, which is to begin with locking exchange rates, followed by the introduction of a single currency. Mr Major is currently attempting to lower the heat of the British debate over the issue.

France, however, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, and has made monetary union a priority, is widely expected to put the Green Paper on the agenda of the summit in order to push the EU into taking concrete steps.

The European Commission, which is charged with the task of preparing for the launch of monetary union, is drawing up detailed plans on every aspect of the changeover.

In view of the delay in political decision-making, the Commission thinks it highly unlikely that the countries can be ready for the introduction of the single currency by 1997, the earliest target date.

In particular, the Commission is crying out for a decision on the shape and design of the currency. Already a report from the EU's national mint directors have advised that they do not have the capacity to meet the deadline.

Unless decisions on the currency are taken urgently, the new money may not be ready by 1999, the latest possible target date: minters and printers cannot start to produce the new money, and shops and industry cannot plan ahead.